Well, we could turn the question around and ask, "Why shouldn't one go to Argentina?" The South American country of Maradona and Lionel Messi needs no introductions when it comes to football. But it is also home to some majestic mountains, the most amazing grasslands in the world–the Pampas, and the grand Iguazu Falls. But its also home to that most cosmopolitan of capitals, Buenos Aires. The home of the tango and the fantastic Teatro ColÃ³n opera, the capital is also a culinary hub. So celebrate all things Argentina with this list.
1. A COLOURFUL STROLL THROUGH HISTORY
Literally meaning ‘the mouth (of the Riachuelo river)’, La Boca used to be the entry port for hordes of European immigrants (mainly Italians) between 1880 and 1930. Today, it provides an untreated insight into the culture and history of those who arrived and stayed. Just take a stroll on Caminito street, which hosts the famous Conventillo housing and a multitude of tango and sketch artistes. The Caminito street museum owes its current form to the brush of Quinquela Martin, who in 1959 with his art¬ist friends recreated the La Boca of old. Pick up a souvenir in the port area, or take a stroll through history at the Benito Quinquela Martin Museum of Fine Arts. A half-day walking tour through La Boca and the nearby San Telmo neighbourhood costs $125 for three people (buenostours.com).
2. DINO TRAILS AT VALLE DE LA LUNA
If you’re an unapologetic dinosaur geek (Ã la Ross in F.R.I.E.N.D.S.), you cannot miss out on Ischigualasto Provincial Park, also called Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Known for its eccentric landscapes that look literally out-of-this-world, the provincial protected park that lies in the northeast of San Juan province has some of the most well-preserved fossils from the Triassic era (245-208 million years ago). Six geological formations here contain fossils of dinosaurs and ancestors of present-day mammals and plants that provide an insightful window into evolution. The park is bordered in the north by the Talampaya National Park, located in La Roja Province; both the parks combined were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2000. Among its many strange sights are rocks that look like worms, one that looks like a giant mushroom, and a field full of what look like bowling balls. There are trekking and biking tour circuits in the park that cost ARS 150; a traditional day tour costing ARS 250 would take you through the most prominent tourist attractions here. See ischigualasto.gob.ar.
3. WITNESS THE MIGHTY IGUAZÃš FALLS
If a river’s name translates to ‘big water’, you know what to expect. The semicircular IguazÃº waterfall system, made up of many white cascades, is one of the biggest and most remarkable in the world. The image of its biggest cascade, Devil’s Throat, has become symbolic of the mighty falls, nearly 80m high and spanning 2,700m in diameter. The waterfalls are located on the northeastern tip of Argentina and are surrounded by a subtropical rainforest that is home to over 450 species of birds, and animals including giant anteaters, cavies, red brocket deer, gold tegus, howler monkeys, jaguars and caimans. If you do just one place in Argentina, let this be it. See iguazuargentina.com for tour info.
4. RIDE THROUGH WINE COUNTRY
Among other fine things, Argentina is known for its wines. While you’re here, you must head to Mendoza city, located in the province of the same name in the Cuyo region. It has the highest concentration of vineyards and wineries in the country. Go winery hopping and get a sneak peek into what goes behind creating your favourite Malbec. Mendoza is full of bodegas that offer wine tastings and tours. Some travel operators even offer bike tours in wine country. Hop on, and ride on dirt roads through the many vineyards for a different high. Who says drinking and driving don’t go together? The Mendoza province is about 1,030km away from Buenos Aires and the route is serviced by many airlines (2-hr flight). See mendozawinebiketour.com for a mountain-bike tour to two wineries.
5. KAYAKING AMID CAIMANS
Imagine kayaking in a freshwater reservoir and spotting a giant, 10-feet-long anaconda slithering across in the water populated with caimans. The second largest wetland in South America after Brazil’s Pantanal, the IberÃ¡ wetlands span across 13,000 sq km–a mix of lakes, lagoons, bogs, swamps and rainwater streams. In 1982, the wetlands were declared protected (IberÃ¡ Natural Reserve). IberÃ¡ gives opportunities to encounter some rare wildlife including neotropical river otters, greater rheas, swamp deer, pampa deer, carpinchos, anacondas, capybaras, howler monkeys, caimans and over 300 bird species. If you’re lucky, a jaguar, a giant anteater or a maned wolf might make an appearance. Located in the province of Corrientes, 800km from Buenos Aires, the wetlands can be reached from Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, a small village of about 700 people. See esterosdelibera.com for boat tour info.
6. OPERA ESPLENDIDO
Counted among the finest opera houses in the world, Teatro ColÃ³n is a must-visit site for cultural aficionados in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina and its most lively one too. The theatre itself is now 160 years old, but its current building , situated between Cerrito, Viamonte, TucumÃ¡n and Libertad streets, was inaugurated in May 1908 with the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. With a capacity of almost 2,500 attendees, it’s as famous for its architecture and remarkable acoustics as the performances it hosts. The first headquarters of the Teatro ColÃ³n functioned between 1857 and 1888; no wonder a performance here entails an immense amount of prestige and the theatre boasts of shows by many famous singers, dancers and directors of the 20th century. Guided tour info and a calendar of performances, including ballets and concerts, are available at teatrocolon.org.ar.
7. FOR ART’S SAKE!
With its prolific production of art, Buenos Aires has acquired the nickname, ‘Paris of South America’. One of the must-visits here is The Museum of Modern Art, located in San Telmo district, which exhibits both its permanent collection and contemporary art. Created on April 11, 1956, it was conceived to incorporate genres like photography and design besides traditional visual arts. In its first year, it held the First Floating Exhibition of Fifty Argentine Painters, aboard the ship YapeyÃº, thus touring 22 cities around the globe in 164 days. The museum’s current structure hosts remarkable artwork spanning decades in the form of sculptures, graphic works, paintings, photographs and more. Signature Tours offers a private three-hour tour of the city’s museums like Museo Arte Moderno, MALBA, Museo de Bellas Artes and the work of local artists at Recoleta’s art galleries. (From â‚¹9,420, signaturetours.com.ar)
8. NAME YOUR SPORT
The city of Bariloche, earlier known as San Carlos de Bariloche, is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and sits neatly tucked by the crystal-clear blue waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi. The lake might host rumours of a prehistoric creature but the city of Bariloche has too many activities and attractions to need any legends in order to attract tourists. Many of the surrounding hills, all over 2,000m in height, get plenty of snow and lure skiers in winters and trekkers in summer. Mountain biking, horse-riding, angling and kayaking are other popular activities in the area. The lazy traveller can also take guided tours of the city or drive around in a rented vehicle. The popular tourist destination is located 1,650km from Buenos Aires and can be reached by flight or bus. A list of travel operators and services can be found at bariloche.org.
9. TAP YOUR FEET TO TANGO
If you’re the kind who likes their dinner garnished with a live performance, Argentina will have you tapping your feet to Tango. Upbeat, intimate, elegant, fast and sensual, Tango can be a lot of things. And the country, which has a rich history of extraordinary Tango artistes, delivers a variety of performances in the many cafÃ©s and restaurants of its capital. Esquina Carlos Gardel, named after the great Carlos Gardel, delivers remarkably choreographed Tango performances with surprisingly good food. Alternatively, there’s a 19th-century coffee house, CafÃ© de los Angelitos, that makes you time-travel through the history of the dance form with its unique shows. Centro Cultural Borges also hosts sumptuous Tango shows on Monday nights. If your feet are itching to give it a go, there are venues like Complejo Tango and Sabor a Tango that provide beginners’ lessons in Tango before dinner. They finish off the experience by letting the pros take the stage to show you how it’s done. It’s a feast for the senses!
10. GO GLACIER HUNTING
Few people dream of glaciers. But if you knew of the spectacle they can provide, you’d add them to your bucket list. But wait, there’s no need to start packing for Antarctica! Located in the Austral Andes in Argentina, in the southwest of Santa Cruz, the Los Glaciares National Park comprises glaciers born on the Ice Caps, which form the second-largest continental ice extension, next only to Antarctica. The Patagonic Continental Ice creates 47 big glaciers, 13 of which flow to the Atlantic. Additionally, there are over 200 smaller glaciers that aren’t connected to the Ice Cap. The glaciers feed two lakes, Lago Viedma and Lago Argentino. The biggest spectacle of the region is where the Perito Moreno Glacier, an enormous constantly moving glacier, meets Lake Argentino and calves icebergs from its 5km-wide front into the waters. The fragments plummeting nearly 60m down produce thunderous sounds. The park welcomes visitors almost through the year (losglaciares.com).