Welcome to Argentina, the largest Spanish speaking country on Earth. With the Andes Mountains to the north and west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Patagonia (not to mention Antarctica) to the south, there’s enough eye-popping geographical diversity here to put even the most seasoned adventure seekers to the test. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before any massifs are skied or glaciers are hiked or waterfalls are rappelled, your first introduction to this South American heavyweight will inevitably be its culture. Don’t worry, though; that part of the country doesn’t disappoint either.
A land of Inca mythology, Jesuit theology and Spanish imperialism, Argentineans have a heritage and personality distinctly their own; and we’re not just talking about sensual tango dancers along the pulsating streets of Buenos Aires or heart-pounding rhythms emanating from the nightclubs in Bariloche, either. Every city you visit, be it the academic Cordoba or the colonial Salta, has something to uncover, some facet of history to learn about and engage with. From Che Guevara and Jorge Luis Borges to fire-grilled asado and Mendozan Malbec, to be here is to revel in life lived at its most passionate and exuberant limits. And yes, that sometimes involves wildly dancing with abandon until 7am (because, after all, this is a country that knows how to throw a party).
While we’re on the topic of exuberant limits, this may be a good spot to point out just a few of Argentina’s nearly ubiquitous natural wonders. Here you can journey across some of our world's largest glaciers, watch the sun rise atop the highest mountain in the western hemisphere, camp out beneath the southernmost stars in the Americas or witness Orcas snatching beached sea lions off one of the Atlantic Coast's most biologically diverse peninsulas. Its rivers are home to white water rapids of unmatched beauty and intensity, and its ski slopes offer first class winter excitement during most of the world's blistering summer months. Heard enough? Good, then pack your bags - because while you may be able to find a good bottle of Malbec down the road, the authentic Argentina experience is an all-around adventure you definitely don’t want to deprive yourself of.
US citizens, as well as citizens from most American and European nations, can enter Argentina visa-free for visits of up to 90 days. Still curious? Check out the official government site to see if you make the list.
The Argentine peso (ARS) will cost you approximately: .17 USD / .13 EUR / .11 GBP. For up to the minute exchange rates, click here.
Argentina is what's known in the biz as a presidential representative democratic republic. In other words, its head of state is the President, with additional powers held in the legislative National Congress and the Judiciary. Its politics are divided predominantly between the Justicialist Party (founded by the well known Juan Peron) and the Radical Civic Union.
It's important to note that Argentina is, first and foremost, a Spanish speaking country. Should your journey here be limited strictly to the tourist attractions of Buenos Aires, Mendoza and the like, you'll likely be able to get by just fine using English. Still, with a generally friendly populace who won't bat an eyelash if you butcher their language making an honest attempt to speak it, why not do the right thing and brush up on your basic Spanish, hmm? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Generally speaking, Argentina is a safe country to visit. Need proof? Well, you'll be happy to know that it sits right near the bottom of the list of South American countries with the highest annual homicide rates. Political violence and organized crime rates are low, and civil unrest is generally relegated to the occasional street-blockade. That said, crime certainly does exist, especially in highly populated urban centers like Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Mendoza. If you're planning a trip, we'd strongly advise adhering to the general list of travelers' safety precautions, including carrying a photocopy of your passport, avoiding opulent displays of wealth and only using ATMs in public areas. As long as you use common sense, your Argentinean adventure should go off without a hitch.
It's safe to say that the bulk of domestic Argentinean travel is done on the road. It certainly has its share of national and international airports (130+), so those who don't mind spending a little more money can jet to and fro without much difficulty. There are also a few long-distance trains in operation, with plans for a high speed rail line that will connect Cordoba and the capital somewhere in the works. Still, cars and a well developed bus system constitute the most common and affordable forms of overland transportation here, with a healthy network of roadways that run the gamut from unpaved routes to multiple-lane expressways. There are even a few behemoths in the bunch, with National Routes 40 and 3 traversing 5,000 km and 3,000 km respectively.
As for getting around town, Buenos Aires is currently the only Argentinean city to boast an underground metro, though plans have been made to complete one in Cordoba as well. Mendoza has a public light-rail network dubbed the Metrotranvía Mendoza, which comes in handy in a pinch. A plethora of affordable taxis and buses, however, can be reliably found in just about any mid-to-major size metropolis nationwide, so travelers needn't feel stranded in the big city here.
Like most countries with such diverse landscapes, the weather in Argentina varies greatly depending on where you go and what you plan to do. In general, northern Argentina experiences hot, wet summers and dry, mild winters. Central Argentina experiences moderately cool winters, with hot, dry summer conditions. As you travel south, the winters become colder and longer with heavier accumulation of precipitation, especially at higher elevations. In other words, all you crazy mountain climbers, skiers and snowboarders had better bundle up. Keep in mind that, like all countries in the southern hemisphere, Argentina's hottest months run between December and February, and its coldest between June and August. Check out trusty ol' Wikipedia for a more thorough synopsis.
It is customary, though not required, to tip around 10% in Argentinean restaurants. Gratuity charges are included on the bills in some establishments, however, so you'd be wise to check the bill. No need to tip bartenders or cab drivers, but should you decide to "round up" and leave your change you'll likely get an appreciative smile in return. As for eating times, well... let's just say you'd better prep yourself at lunch. Most Argentinians don't sit down to dinner until after 9 pm, and on weekends don't be surprised if your meal begins closer to 11.
The legal drinking age in Argentina is 18, and in most tourist-frequented establishments it's a restriction that's strictly adhered to. As for the country's beverage of choice there's only one name you need to know: Malbec. On top of being a beloved destination for vino lovers everywhere Argentina is the world's 5th largest wine producer - and it's all thanks to this tasty, unassuming, thin-skinned little grape. Haven't tried it yet? Don't worry; you'll have plenty of time to see what all the fuss is about. This is a country renowned for its fiestas that last well into the daylight hours, with many clubs nationwide opening their doors around 1 or 2 in the morning. The moral of the story here: think twice before challenging an Argentinian to a drinking contest.
And if you're in the market for something a little more unique to the country, try sipping on Hesperidina. It's a nationally imbibed aperitif consisting of mint and orange flavors that makes for a delicious start to any meal
Looking for a little psychoanalysis? Then you've come to the right place. At 196 practicing psychologists per 100,000 residents (2011), Argentina has the highest per capita amount of practicing therapists on planet Earth. Which just goes to show that sometimes a rare mixture of incredible natural beauty and delicious red wine is simply too much for a person to handle.
Peak season:December - February
Currency:Argentine Peso (ARS)
Religion:Predominantly Roman Catholic
Like just about every Latin American nation, Argentina loves its Carnival. Celebrated annually in February or March (depending on the date of Easter), this week long festival is observed throughout the country with parades, dances, parties and no shortage of face-painting, mask-wearing and alcohol-drinking. Unique to Argentina (and Uruguay), however, is the Murga: a circus-like dance performed in the streets to the rhythm of marching bands, with satirical lyrics usually designed to criticize the corrupt political system. It's truly a spectacle to be experienced.
BA Tango Festival and World Cup
Visitors to Buenos Aires in August have no excuse to miss the BA Festival and Wold Cup: an international competition and celebration of the city's most unique and distinctive dance. During this two week period you'll have the opportunity to watch the world's best take the stage, as well as participate in tango-related activities taking place all throughout the capital. It's a great way to heat up the cool winter months in Buenos Aires.
July 9th Dia de la Independencia
Thanks in no small part to the leadership of General San Martin (whose statues and parks are nearly ubiquitous throughout the country), Argnetina signed its Declaration of Independence from Spain on July 9th, 1816. Today, Argentinians commemorate this anniversary with festivals, parades, fireworks and, of course, a day off of both school and work.
Pepsi/Quilmes Rock Festival
Music lovers make sure to check out April's Quilmes Rock Festival and October/November's Pepsi Rock Festival in Buenos Aires. Touted as the largest joint music festivals in Argentina, these two celebrations of rock (and other genres) from around the globe are consistently listed among the world's top 10, giving visitors the opportunity to catch bands they might otherwise never get the chance to see. Check them out.