There’s something intoxicating about Argentina, and it’s not just the red wine. From Patagonia’s glaciers to Salta’s salt flats, the thunderous falls of Iguazú to the equally loud nightclubs of Buenos Aires, every corner of this sizzling South American destination lures backpackers like a bottomless bottle of Malbec. The country is huge — the drive from Ushuaia in the south to the Bolivian border in the north clocks up 50+ hours, about the same time it takes to drive from London to Bucharest and back again, so it’s hard to know where to visit in Argentina. But whether you’re looking to tango, trek or take it easy on the beach, these are the 13 best places to visit in Argentina.
1. Buenos Aires
Welcome to one of South America’s most mesmerising metropolises. Buenos Aires is most backpackers’ gateway into the country — either via the Ezeiza international airport, or the ferry from Uruguay — and what an introduction to Argentina it provides. Tango halls (called milongas) and nightclubs (or boliches) pump until dawn. The kaleidoscopic streets of La Boca and San Telmo’s Sunday markets throb with atmosphere. The architecture feels like it’s been pinched straight off the streets of Paris or Madrid, with stunning landmarks like the president’s Casa Rosada mansion in the city centre and the ornate graves of the Recoleta Cemetery. A visit to Boca Juniors’ Bombonera and River Plate’s Monumental is a tick that every football fan needs to make on their bucket list. Oh, and then there’s the food, glorious food — first steak in a parrilla, then some dulce de leche-laden alfajores for dessert. This spectacular city hums 24 hours a day, and well and truly deserves to headline any discussion of places to go in Argentina.Compare all hostels in Buenos Aires
More than 250 towering waterfalls form Argentina’s natural border with Brazil and Paraguay in the sweaty north-east of the country. And although the views of the falls might be more panoramic from the Brazilian side, the experience is more immersive on the Argentine edge, where you can hop on a boat right under the cascades and navigate a web of walking trails scything through the mist, dodging the resident coatis along the way. Iguazú means ‘big water’ in the indigenous Guaraní language and you get a fuller sense of just how big the water is when you hear the roar up close and personal in Argentina’s Parque Nacional Iguazú, accessed from the hostel-friendly town of Puerto Iguazú.
The super central Tangoinn Downtown and Bar guarantees a good time around its busy pool and jacuzzi.Compare all hostels in Puerto Iguazú
Wonder where that outdoor sportswear brand got its name? Look no further than the sparse southern tip of South America — a mammoth region spread across Chile and Argentina that basically covers everything from the Argentine province of Río Negro south. The highlight, of course, is the Perito Moreno glacier, a 30km long river of ice that advances two metres a day and sends huge chunks of ice tumbling 60 metres into the water with an almighty thump. And it’s not just the scale of the glacier that’s impressive — it’s how accessible it is, with a convenient peninsula providing a front-row seat to this thunderous show. El Calafate is where you’ll spend the night before popping into the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares for the day, crossing the Chilean border into Torres del Paine, or jumping on a boat tour through glassy glacial lakes.
A little further north, Mount Fitz Roy is Patagonia’s other postcard-perfect picture. This craggy peak towers over the town of El Chaltén, a hiking paradise linked to a tangle of breathtaking treks right on its doorstep. Best to visit during the warmer months before the trails freeze over mid-year — plenty of hostels completely close between April and October.Compare all hostels in El Calafate
4. Tierra del Fuego
The very bottom of the country is home to one of the top places to visit in Argentina. Cut off from the rest of Patagonia by the Strait of Magellan, the Tierra del Fuego archipelago feels like the end of the earth — a rugged region of forests, bogs and glaciers shadowed by the southern stretch of the Andes. Ushuaia — the southernmost city on the planet — is the jumping off point for cruises of the starkly beautiful Beagle Channel, the dazzling mountain scenery of the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, and trips to Antarctica if you’ve got a spare few grand in your backpacking budget.Compare all hostels in Ushuaia
5. Salta and Jujuy
The bone-dry north-west is overlooked on many backpackers’ itineraries, but the provinces of Salta and Jujuy are two of the most otherworldly places to go in Argentina. Base yourself in Salta — a quaint colonial city infused with indigenous culture — then cherry-pick the day trips that tickle your fancy. Quebrada de Humahuaca is a gorge of rainbow-coloured rocks wandering up towards Bolivia, peppered with ancient Quechuan villages like Tilcara and Humahuaca. Valles Calchaquíes produces fruity bottles of torrontés wine, with a trail of wineries within cycling (or stumbling) distance of Cafayate. The Salinas Grandes salt flats might not be as vast as the much-Instagrammed Uyuni in Bolivia, but they’re a helluva lot easier to get to. And you’ll also have plenty to photograph in the rocky Quebrada de los Conchas, the Cerro de los Siete Colores (hill of seven colours) near Purmamarca, and the cactus-covered landscape of Catamarca. Remember the backdrop of those Road Runner cartoons? That’s pretty much exactly what this part of the world looks like for real.
Prisamata — a colonial house in Salta full of hammocks in its generous common spaces — is a great place to chill out after all your exploring.Compare all hostels in Salta
Speaking of wine, you’ll find it by the barrel in Mendoza — South America’s capital of vino. This leafy city represents the hub of Cuyo, the grape-growing region where lofty Andean peaks provide a stunning backdrop to your bottle of red. Mendoza is famous for the Malbec varietal and the area is brimming with bodegas where you can sample a world-class drop minus the price tag (which makes a nice change from the stuff you normally swill out of a coffee mug in the hostel common room). Maipú, a short trip down the Uco Valley, is full of wineries and olive farms, too. Time your trip in March or April to sample the fresh harvest under golden autumn leaves.Compare all hostels in Mendoza
7. Península Valdés
Wondering where to visit in Argentina for whale watching? Book a bed in Puerto Madryn. Jutting out into the Atlantic on the east coast of Patagonia, the Península Valdés features more marine life than a screening of Finding Nemo. This UNESCO World Heritage site covers more than 400km of coastline, home to southern right whales, elephant seals, orcas, guanacos, rheas, penguins and even sea lions you can snorkel with. Whale-watching season runs from June to November, as these majestic mammals migrate to breed in the Golfo Nuevo — you can even spot them from the mainland between July and September.Compare all hostels in Puerto Madryn
Only four hours’ drive from Buenos Aires, Rosario is a city that drops off a lot of backpackers’ plan of places to go in Argentina. But those who do spend the night in Rosario are spoiled by a stylish city packed full of history and culture — the birthplace of Che Guevara, Lionel Messi and the Argentine flag, with a string of monuments dotted around town. Perched on the banks of the Paraná River, Rosario plates up a sample of Argentine city life without the craziness (and the tourists) of the capital.
Boasting a bright blue facade and an even warmer welcome, Bon Voyage hostel earns near-perfect reviews from guests, with a dizzying Hostelworld rating of 9.7.Compare all hostels in Rosario
Bariloche’s snow-capped mountains, verdant forests, mouth-watering chocolatiers and Swiss-style chalets could have been transplanted straight out of Europe. Another popular part of Patagonia straddling the Chilean border, San Carlos de Bariloche (to use its full name) sits on the serene shores of the Lago Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by slopes that welcome skiers and snowboarders over winter (June to October), then hikers and mountain bikers during the warmer months. Some of the best views of the lake come from Hospedaje Penthouse 1004, a homely hostel with huge windows gazing out over the water.
The Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi is the oldest national park in the country, and reportedly inspired the setting of Bambi after Walt Disney visited the magical forest back in the day. Nearby, the chilled-out town of El Bolson is a hotspot for hippies and hikers alike.Compare all hostels in Bariloche
10. Iberá Wetlands
Brazil’s mighty Pantanal is the only place on earth you’ll find wetlands bigger than these. The Parque Nacional Iberá covers 13,000 square kilometres — that’s larger than the whole of Qatar or Jamaica — and this giant collection of swamps, bogs, lakes and lagoons is crawling with alligators, deer, monkeys, anacondas, capybara and more than 300 bird species, best tackled on a tour or a horseback adventure. A little off the beaten track en route to Iguazú, the Iberá Wetlands don’t pop up on every list of top places to visit in Argentina — but they sure reward eager wildlife-watchers who do make the effort.
Argentina’s second city pulses with a huge student population, putting on a party that backpackers will love too. And no fiesta is bigger than the annual Oktoberfest — one of the biggest anywhere outside Germany. On top of the nightlife, Córdoba boasts beautiful colonial-era architecture, a trove of museums, art galleries, parks, cafes and craft markets, and a stack of outdoor adventures at the foot of the Sierras Chicas mountains nearby — the Agua de Oro river is a particularly picturesque stream trickling through the countryside.
Back in the city, Onas Hostel and Suites in the glam Cerro de las Rosas neighbourhood feels more like a boutique resort than a hostel with its uber-contemporary design touches.Compare all hostels in Córdoba
12. The Pampas
Make room for steak — La Pampa is where to visit in Argentina if you want to experience the authentic gaucho culture this nation is famous for. Cowboy country occupies the centre of the map, sprinkled with a few sleepy pueblos and millions of cows grazing on the grasslands. This is what makes steak such an integral part of Argentine cuisine, and tiny towns like San Antonio de Areco and Tandil are a great place for a taste — literally — of the gaucho traditions that Argentina cherishes.
13. Mar del Plata
When the city swelters over summer, there are two beach escapes from Buenos Aires. One is the ferry to Uruguay to get to Punta del Este, one of South America’s liveliest resort towns. The other is Mar del Plata, five hours’ drive down the coast from the capital, which swells over summer (December and January) while the city sizzles. This beach town is the best place to surf in Argentina, but you’ll have plenty of competition for a patch of sand with so many visitors piling in over the warmer months — things are more chilled during the week and outside peak season.Compare all hostels in Mar del Plata
Aren’t you ready for Argentina? Hopefully this list has inspired you to explore this stunning country and head on the backpacking trip of a lifetime! Do you think there’s a place that should be included? Tell us in the comments!
About the author:
Tom Smith is an Australian writer living in Manchester. Obsessed with sport and travel, Tom has watched cricket in Cardiff, football in Fortaleza, baseball in the Bay Area, and there’s still plenty more to tick off the bucket list yet. Read more of his work here.