Beautiful, defiant and intense, Argentina seduces with its streetside tango, wafting grills, love of fútbol, gaucho culture and the mighty Andes. It's a formidable cocktail of wanderlust.
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Among the Earth's most dynamic and accessible ice fields, Glaciar Perito Moreno is the stunning centerpiece of the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Locally referred to as Glaciar Moreno, it measures 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high, but what makes it exceptional in the world of ice is its constant advance – up to 2m per day, causing building-sized icebergs to calve from its face. In some ways, watching the glacier is a very sedentary park experience, but it manages to nonetheless be thrilling. Glaciar Perito Moreno is as much an auditory as a visual experience when huge icebergs calve and collapse into the Canal de los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel). This natural-born tourist attraction at Península de Magallanes is close enough to guarantee great views, but far enough away to be safe. A series of steel catwalks (almost 4000m total) and vantage points allow visitors to see, hear and photograph the glacier. Sun hits its face in the morning and the glacier’s appearance changes as the day progresses and shadows shift. A closed refugio with glass walls allows for glacier viewing in bad weather. Some 18 times since 1917, as the glacier has advanced, it has dammed the Brazo Rico (Rico Arm) of Lago Argentino, causing the water to rise. Several times the melting ice below has been unable to support the weight of the water behind it and the dam has collapsed in an explosion of water and ice. To be present when this spectacular cataclysm occurs is unforgettable.
West of Fiambalá, the paved road winds through the high desert, past picturesque red rock escarpments known as the Quebrada Angosturas, and into some serious altitude, topping out at the Chilean border. It's a stunning drive, with no services apart from a seasonal white-elephant hotel halfway between Fiambalá and the frontier. Los Seismiles are the peaks above 6000m, and you'll see several of them, including Ojos del Salado (6879m), the world's highest volcano. The transition from desert into the high country is mind-boggling. You'll glimpse glacial streams and icy wetlands teeming with flamingos, yellow tundra home to grazing vicuñas, and then finally the spectacular Seismiles will appear from behind still other snowcapped peaks. During the summer the road is open all the way to the border, but at all other times of year, the road is closed at La Gruta, an Argentine border post 21km from Chile; a precaution against inclement weather on hazardous roads that can be icy and dangerous thanks to gusts of viento blanco (white wind) that may blow in at anytime. Even more awe-inspiring scenery is accessed via a lonely (4WD-only) mining road that leads 90km to Monte Pissis (6793m), the Americas' third-highest peak. It's about five hours return (50km) to a viewpoint over this imposing mountain, with hauntingly beautiful blue, black and turquoise lakes in the foreground. Due to its isolation, this is best by tour; operators in Belén and Catamarca can make arrangements.
One of Buenos Aires' most beautiful monuments, this 22-story building has a unique design inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Its structure is divided into hell, purgatory and heaven; its height (100m) is a reference to each canto (song); and the number of floors (22) mirrors the number of verses per song. Dreamt up by the Italian architect Mario Palanti, Palacio Barolo was the tallest skyscraper in South America when it was completed in 1923. You can walk around the gorgeous lobby for free, but it's best to go on a guided tour of the building: you'll get to ride in a vintage 1920s elevator and admire the panoramic views from the rooftop lighthouse. Palacio Barolo Tours offers a wide range of bilingual tours, including thematic tours focusing on architecture, literature, or photography, and nighttime tours that include a wine tasting. See the website for more details or stop at the kiosk on the building's ground level to book a tour. Note that there's also a new cocktail bar and cafe, Salón 1923, on the 16th floor of Palacio Barolo: the indoor-outdoor space is a wonderful venue for a coffee or a glass of wine, especially around sunset. It's also a (free) way to get a glimpse of the wonderful views from the building's upper levels without paying for a tour.
Dominating the view in all directions along the Chilean border, the snowcapped cone of 3776m Volcán Lanín is the centerpiece of this national park, which extends 150km from Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in the south to Lago Ñorquinco in the north. Come here for some of the region's best hiking, including the ascent of the star of the Lake District – the picture-perfect cone of Volcán Lanín. Protecting 3790 sq km of native Patagonian forest, Parque Nacional Lanín is home to many of the same species that characterize more southerly Patagonian forests, such as the southern beeches – lenga, ñire and coihue. The area does host some unique specimens, though, such as the extensive stands of the broadleaf, deciduous southern beech, raulí, and the curious pehuén (monkey puzzle tree; Araucaria araucana), a pinelike conifer whose nuts have long been a dietary staple for the Pehuenches and Mapuches. Note, though, that only indigenous people may gather piñones (pine nuts) from the pehuénes. The towns of San Martín de los Andes, Junín de los Andes and Aluminé are the best bases for exploring Lanín, its glacial lakes and the backcountry. At the time of writing admission was charged to enter the park only if you were heading toward Puerta Canoa.
The spectacular rock formations and canyons of this dusty desert national park are evidence of the erosive creativity of water. The sandstone cliffs are amazing, as are the distant surrounding mountainscapes. You must enter by guided visit, arranged at the visitors center. The standard 2½-hour trip is included with your entrance fee. You'll be ferried in comfortable minibuses and there’s little walking involved; nevertheless, take water and protection from the fierce sun. For a little extra, you can extend the visit to another nearby canyon or do the route on the roof of a truck. Guided walks (AR$300 to AR$500) and trips on bicycles (AR$400) are also available; more appealing ways of exploring if the heat’s not too intense, though you'll still likely have to pay for transport into the park if you arrive on foot. There are often night excursions (AR$350) when there's a full moon. Be aware that the various excursions are operated by different companies, so it can be difficult to get complete information on what's available.
On the Argentine side of the marvelous falls, this park has loads to offer, and involves a fair amount of walking. The spread-out entrance complex ends at a train station, with departures every half-hour to the Cataratas train station, where the waterfall walks begin, and to the Garganta del Diablo. You may prefer to walk: it’s only 650m along the Sendero Verde path to the Cataratas station, and a further 2.3km to the Garganta. You may well see capuchin monkeys along the way. The entrance complex has various amenities, including lockers, a couple of ATMs and a restaurant. There’s also an exhibition, Yvyrá-retã, with a display on the park and Guaraní life essentially aimed at school groups. There’s enough in the park to detain you for a couple of days; admission is reduced by 50% if you visit the park again the following day. You need to get your ticket stamped when leaving on the first day to get the discount. Last entry is at 4:30pm.
The region's most famous park is Parque Provincial Aconcagua, home of 6962m (22,841ft) Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak outside the Himalayas and a favorite climbing destination. Reaching the summit requires a commitment of at least 13 to 15 days, including acclimatization time. Non-climbers can hike to base camps and refugios (rustic shelters) beneath the permanent snow line; easily, the best and most accessible long hike is to Confluencia from the park entrance at Laguna Horcones. From December to March, permits are obligatory for both trekking and climbing in Parque Provincial Aconcagua. Park rangers at Laguna Horcones, located only a kilometer past Horcones, the immigration and customs station for travelers entering Argentina from Chile, will not permit visitors to proceed up the Quebrada de los Horcones without one. Fees vary according to the complex park-use seasons.
A 1.1km walkway across the placid Río Iguazú leads to one of the planet’s most spectacular sights, the 'Devil’s Throat.' The lookout platform is perched right over this amazingly powerful, concentrated torrent of water, a deafening cascade plunging to an invisible destination; vapors soaking the viewer blur the base of the falls and rise in a smoke-like plume that can be seen several kilometers away. It’s a place of majesty and awe, and should be left until the end of your visit. From Cataratas train station, train it or walk the 2.3km to the Garganta del Diablo stop. The last train to the Garganta leaves at 4pm, and we recommend taking it, as it’ll be a somewhat less crowded experience. If you walk, you’ll see quite a lot of wildlife around this time of day, too. Another option is to visit at lunchtime, as most organized tours stop to eat for an hour around 1:30pm. The entire trail is wheelchair acessible.
One of Argentina's most-visited national parks, Nahuel Huapi occupies 7500 sq km in the mountainous southwestern Neuquén and western Río Negro provinces. The park's centerpiece is Lago Nahuel Huapi, a glacial remnant over 100km long that covers more than 500 sq km. The lake is the source of the Río Limay, a major tributary of the Río Negro. Some of the region's best hiking is found here, from challenging multiday treks to easy rambles. Rafting and kayaking on the Río Limay has become increasingly popular in recent years. The best time to be on the river is November through February, though you can raft October through Easter. The national park office is in Bariloche.