Mountaineering, hiking and skiing have long been Argentina’s classic outdoor pursuits, but these days locals and visitors alike are doing much more. They’re kiteboarding in the Andes, paragliding in the Central Sierras, diving along the Atlantic coast and pulling out huge trout in the Lake District.
Hiking & Trekking
Argentina is home to some superb stomping. The Lake District is probably the country’s most popular hiking destination, with outstanding day and multiday hikes in several national parks, including Nahuel Huapi and Lanín. Bariloche is the best base for exploring the former, San Martín de los Andes the latter.
Patagonia, along the Andes, has out-of-this-world hiking. South of Bariloche, El Bolsón is an excellent base for hiking both in the forests outside of town and in nearby Parque Nacional Lago Puelo. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares offers wonderful hiking in and around the Fitz Roy Range; base yourself in El Chaltén and wait out the storms (in the brewery, of course).
Head to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, in Chile but not far from El Calafate in Argentina, for epic hiking. Tierra del Fuego also has good routes in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.
Then there are the high Andean peaks west of Mendoza. Although these areas are more popular for mountaineering, there’s some great trekking here as well. The northern Andes around Quebrada de Humahuaca are also good.
Bariloche, Ushuaia, El Bolsón and Junín de los Andes have a hiking and mountaineering club called Club Andino, which is good for local information, maps and current conditions.
The Andes are a mountaineer’s dream, especially in the San Juan and Mendoza provinces, where some of the highest peaks in the western hemisphere are found. While the most famous climb is Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas, there are plenty of others in the Andes – many of them more interesting and far more technical. Near Barreal, the Cordón de la Ramada boasts five peaks more than 6000m high, including the mammoth Cerro Mercedario, which tops out at 6770m. The region is less congested than Aconcagua, offers more technical climbs and is preferred by many climbers. Also near here is the majestic Cordillera de Ansilta, with seven peaks scraping the sky at between 5130m and 5885m.
The magnificent and challenging Fitz Roy Range, in southern Patagonia near El Chaltén, is one of the world’s top mountaineering destinations, while the mountains of Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi offer fun for all levels.
Patagonia’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, home to Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy, is one of the world’s most important rock-climbing destinations. Cerro Torre is considered one of the five toughest climbs on the planet. The nearby town of El Chaltén is a climber’s haven, and several shops offer lessons and rent equipment. If you don’t have the time or talent for climbs of Cerro Torre's magnitude, there are plenty of other options.
Los Gigantes, in the Central Sierras, is fast becoming the country’s de facto rock-climbing capital and has lots of high-quality granite. There’s also climbing around Carolina.
In Mendoza province, Los Molles is a small, friendly hub for rock climbing, and there’s more nearby at Chigüido (near Malargüe). Around Mendoza city are the draws of Los Arenales and El Salto.
There's good climbing around Bariloche – Cerro Catedral especially has popular crags. Finally, in the Pampas, there’s some climbing in Tandil and Mar del Plata.
Together, Patagonia and the Lake District constitute one of the world’s premier fly-fishing destinations, where introduced trout species (brown, brook, lake and rainbow) and landlocked Atlantic salmon reach massive sizes in cold rivers surrounded by spectacular scenery. It’s an angler’s paradise.
In the Lake District, Junín de los Andes is the self-proclaimed trout capital of Argentina, and lining up a guide to take you to Parque Nacional Lanín’s superb trout streams is easy. Nearby Aluminé sits on the banks of Río Aluminé, one of the country’s most highly regarded trout streams. Bariloche and Villa la Angostura are other excellent bases.
Further south, Parque Nacional Los Alerces (near Esquel) has outstanding lakes and rivers. From El Chaltén, you can do day trips to Lago del Desierto or Laguna Larga. Río Gallegos is a superb fly-fishing destination. Other important Patagonian rivers include Río Negro and Río Santa Cruz.
The city of Río Grande, on Tierra del Fuego, is world famous for its fly-fishing. Its eponymous river holds some of the largest sea-run brown trout in the world.
Deep-sea fishing is possible in Camarones and Puerto Deseado; near Gobernador Gregores there's a lake with salmon and rainbow trout.
In subtropical northeast Argentina, the wide Río Paraná attracts fly-fishers, spin fishers and trollers from around the world, who pull in massive river species, such as surubí (a huge catfish) and dorado (a trout-like freshwater game fish). The dorado, not to be confused with the saltwater mahi-mahi, is a powerful swimmer and one of the most exciting fish to catch on a fly.
Guides & Services
In smaller towns such as Junín de los Andes, you can usually go to the local tourist office and request a list of local fishing guides or operators. Another good option for independent anglers heading to the Lake District is the Asociación de Guías Profesionales de Pesca Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi y Patagonia Norte (www.guiaspatagonicos.com.ar), which maintains a list and contact details of licensed guides for northern Patagonia and the Lake District. For information about fly-fishing, contact Asociación Argentina de Pesca con Mosca (www.aapm.org.ar).
Many anglers use tour agencies based outside Argentina for guided fishing excursions.
Rules & Regulations
In the Lake District and Patagonia, the season runs from November through April or May. In the northeast, the season runs from February to October. Certain lakes and streams on private land may stay open longer.
Trout fishing is almost always mandatory catch and release. Throughout Patagonia (including the Lake District), native species should always be thrown back. These are usually smaller than trout and include perca (perch), puyen (common galaxias, a narrow fish native to the southern hemisphere), Patagonian pejerrey and the rare peladilla.
Fishing licenses are required and available at tackle shops, clubs de caza y pesca (hunting and fishing clubs), and sometimes at tourist offices and YPF gas stations.
Skiing & Snowboarding
Argentina’s mountains have outstanding skiing, offering superb powder and plenty of sunny days. Many resorts have large ski schools with instructors from all over the world, so language is not a problem. At some of the older resorts, equipment can be a little antiquated, but in general the quality of skiing more than compensates.
There are three main snow-sport areas: Mendoza, the Lake District and Ushuaia. Mendoza is near Argentina’s premier resort, Las Leñas, which has the best snow and longest runs; the resort Los Penitentes is also nearby. The Lake District is home to several low-key resorts, including Cerro Catedral, near Bariloche, and Cerro Chapelco, near San Martín de los Andes. Although the snow doesn’t get as powdery here, the views are superior to Las Leñas. And Esquel, further south in Patagonia, has great powder at La Hoya.
The world’s most southerly commercial skiing is near Ushuaia. The ski season everywhere generally runs from mid-June to mid-October.
Cycling is a popular activity among Argentines, and spandex-clad cyclists are a common sight along many roads (despite a decided lack of bike lanes in the country). There are some outstanding paved routes, especially in the Lake District and, to a lesser extent, in the Andean northwest.
In the northwest, there are several excellent road routes, including the highway from Tucumán to Tafí del Valle, the direct road from Salta to Jujuy, and, arguably most spectacular of all, RN 68, which takes you through the Quebrada de Cafayate. The Central Sierras are also great candidates for cycling, and the mostly paved network of roads rolls past a countryside that is at times reminiscent of Scotland. Mendoza boasts some epic routes through the Andes, but most are doable only for the seasoned cyclist – those lacking thighs of glory can entertain themselves by pedaling between wineries in Maipú.
In the Lake District’s Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, there are several excellent loops (including the Circuito Chico) that skirt gorgeous lakes and take in some of Patagonia’s most spectacular scenery. Cyclists often take their bikes on the Cruce de Lagos, a famous two-day boat-bus journey across the Andes to Chile.
Patagonia is a popular and mythical destination, with its desolate, beautiful landscapes and wide-open skies. However, be ready for fierce, multidirectional winds and rough gravel roads. Take four-season gear, even in summer, when long days and relatively warm weather make for the best touring. The classic road down here is RN 40, but cycling is tough because of the winds and lack of water; most cyclists alternate sections with Chile’s Carretera Austral.
In recent years, Buenos Aires has become a more bike-friendly destination, with an expanding system of dedicated bike lanes, along with a free bike-share program. Mendoza and Córdoba also have some dedicated bike lanes.
Mountain biking is fairly undeveloped in Argentina and you’ll find few places have true single tracks for mountain bikers. However, at most outdoor hubs (such as Bariloche) you can rent a mountain bike for a day of independent pedaling or for guided mountain-bike rides – a fantastic way to see parts of an area you wouldn’t otherwise explore.
Good places with mountain-bike rentals include San Martín de los Andes, Villa la Angostura, Bariloche and El Bolsón in the Lake District; Esquel in Patagonia; Mendoza and Uspallata in Mendoza province; Barreal in San Juan province; Tilcara in the Andean Northwest; and Tandil in La Pampa province.
White-Water Rafting & Kayaking
Currently, Río Mendoza and Río Diamante in Mendoza province are the reigning white-water destinations, while Río Juramento near Salta is an exciting alternative.
If you want great scenery, however, it’s all about Patagonia. The Río Hua Hum and Río Meliquina, near San Martín de los Andes, and Río Limay and Río Manso, near Bariloche, are all spectacular. So is Río Aluminé, near wee Aluminé. From the Patagonian town of Esquel, you can join a rafting trip on the incredibly scenic, glacial-fed Río Corcovado. A relatively unknown rafting destination is Barreal, but it’s more about the epic Andean scenery than the rapids. Scenic Class II to III floats are possible on most of these rivers, while Class IV runs are possible on the Ríos Mendoza, Diamante, Meliquina, Hua Hum and Corcovado. Experience is generally unnecessary for guided runs.
Kayaking is possible on many of the rivers mentioned, and also around Ushuaia, El Chaltén, Viedma, Puerto Madryn, Paraná, Rosario and Salta. Sea kayakers have options at Río Deseado and the estancia (ranch) at Bahía Bustamante.
Paragliding & Skydiving
Paragliding is popular in Argentina and it’s a great place to take tandem flights or classes. Many agencies in Bariloche offer paragliding. Tucumán is especially big on this sport, but Salta, La Rioja and Merlo also have options in or near the Andean Northwest. Perhaps the best place is La Cumbre, in Córdoba’s Central Sierras, also a thrilling place to try skydiving.
In San Juan province’s Parque Nacional El Leoncito, the lake bed of Pampa El Leoncito has become the epicenter of carrovelismo (land sailing). Here, people zip across the dry lake bed beneath Andean peaks in so-called sail cars. If you’re interested, head straight to Barreal.
You can’t say you’ve done it all until you’ve tried dogsledding, and Argentina’s a great place to start. Obviously, this activity is possible only when there’s snow, during the winter months of June to October – though in Ushuaia the season might be longer. Here are a few places to check out:
Caviahue A village on the flanks of Volcán Copahue.
San Martín de los Andes A picturesque town north of Bariloche.
Ushuaia The southernmost city in the world!
Windsurfing & Kiteboarding
From around the world, windsurfing and kiteboarding fanatics drag an insane amount of gear to an isolated spot in the central Andes: Dique Cuesta del Viento, literally ‘slope of the wind reservoir.’ The reservoir, near the small village of Rodeo in San Juan province, is one of the best wind-sports destinations on the planet. Its consistent and extremely powerful wind blows every afternoon, without fail, from October to early May. We checked it out and it blew us away!