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A Guide to: Argentina

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Guide to: Argentina

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STE_2583I often get questions about Argentina, where to go, what to do, how many days in each place, and what are the things one should not miss in a trip to this wonderful country…The latest one was from a family friend that was traveling to Argentina for a 7-10days, and was in doubt if they should stay the whole week in Buenos Aires or what other places were worth visiting during their vacations in the South. Here were my recommendations:

Known for its tango, meat, soccer and few icons in arts & sports (Mercedes Sosa, Piazzolla, Maradona, to name a few), there are attractions for all types of tourists – from the party-all-the-time youngster to the socialite, or the outdoor hikers to the intelectual geek.

“Buenos Aires is indeed a wonderful city, but you can visit the best touristic points and more in about 3-4 days, so I would definitely recommend for you to do a side trip in the remaining days if you can. If you’re really tight in time, one option could be taking a boat or fly to Uruguay –  Punta del Este is very popular for their beach and have lots of activities and events going on during summer (though it gets empty during the rest of the year), and you can get to see enough of Montevideo if you stay a day there before going to Punta. If you’re really interested in visiting Uruguay but don’t want to go all the way to Montevideo or Punta, I would suggest a day trip to Colonia, a small town right on the other side of the river from Buenos Aires, that you can go by boat (Buquebus does that trip) and get to know the town on foot in just a day, and you’ll get an idea of the country.

If you have a couple more days however, I would suggest going to the Patagonia instead. You can fly to San Carlos de Bariloche, that although it is famous for its ski resort area in winter time, is beautiful during summer time as well, as it is surrounded by lakes and mountains. If you’re interested in outdoor sports, they have options for hiking, horseback riding, golf among other, but also excellent places for dining and shopping. Apart from Bariloche, you can also do some side trips to Villa La Angostura, and San Martin de los Andes, both my favorite in Argentina. They are less popular than Bariloche, thus less ‘commercial’, which some people might prefer. This whole area is called Región de los Lagos (Lakes region), and you can drive from Bariloche to San Martin through the Seven Lakes – a longer but fun drive. A good website to learn about lodging, sports & attractions and general information for this region is: www.interpatagonia.com

Another option is the Wine country, where most of the famous wines (Malbec) from Argentina come from. The main city is Mendoza, very close to the Chilean border in the Andes, and where the mount Aconcagua is located. You can also fly to Mendoza from Buenos Aires, and do side trips from there, such as the wine route, for a tasting in the local wineries. It is also close to the best ski resort in the country, Las Leñas, though in spring/summer it’s also a great place to enjoy the outdoor. (More info on www.welcomeargentina.com/mendoza)

As for Buenos Aires, most guidebooks will probably already give some information on the most important places to visit in the city. The Casa Rosada, Avenida de Mayo (Avenue where the Casa Rosada is), Calle Florida (Florida Street, several shops, where you can buy high quality leather coats too), Boca (where Diego Maradona’s Boca Juniors soccer team’s stadium is located) and San Telmo neighborhoods I would say are the most popular ones and not to be missed.

Apart from those historical sites, the food and music in Argentina are excellent. A typical breakfast would include Medialunas de Manteca (their croissant), Empanadas (a stuffed pastry) for snack or appetizer, and some type of meat in the ‘Parrilla’ (= Grill) and potatoes (baked potato or any other type) for the main meals. The best cuts of meat in the menu are Lomo, Bife de Chorizo and Ojo de Bife. For the more adventurous, a very typical dish is the Parillada, a mix of sausages, blood sausages, kidneys and other ‘interesting’ items… You will probably notice some people in the streets carrying a thermo bottle – they drink Mate (local tea) the whole day, especially in winter, so they carry a big bottle and the Mate herb everywhere they go, especially when going to parks.

Caminito5

For music, the Tango is everywhere. There are some broadway-type shows that include dinner (Senor Tango, Cafe Tortoni or Viejo Almacen), that are a lot of fun, but you can also find the authentic Tango right in the streets, or in a Milonga (Tango Houses where the locals go to dance).If you’re looking for the real experience, I would recommend going to a Milonga to see the locals dancing and enjoying the music – most places also offer tango classes before they open the dance floors. La Viruta is a very popular and known one. You can find out about other ones with a quick search on the internet, but make sure to look for reviews or ask at your hotel about them to make sure you’re going to a good one…

Other favorite places include:

– Restaurants in Puerto Madero, overlooking the river (Cabaña Las Lilas, La Caballeriza and El Mirasol for good options – although the first two are a bit pricier – for Argentine meat, Aires de Patagonia for food from Patagonia). There’s also a Casino close to the main street, in a Mississippi house boat style, at the port, since gambling is not legal in the city.

– Restaurants, Coffee Houses and walking around the streets of Las Cañitas neighborhood, starting at the intersection of Baez and Arevalo streets. Argentines are also famous for their ice cream, and although Freddo is the most popular, the best in town according to the locals is Persicco – you can find a branch also in this neighborhood.

– Craft fair and flea market in San Telmo

– Walk around Palermo Viejo and Palermo Hollywood (one next to the other, new area with several design furniture stores and also good restaurants)

– Tango street dancers in Calle Florida, Recoleta (corner of Av. Quintana and Plaza Francia, this is also a very nice/fancy neighborhood), and in Caminito (touristic neighborhood, next to Boca, where the houses are all painted different colors)

Note to the wise:

– Take sneakers or low heels, as you’ll walk a lot! It is very easy to use public transportation (taxis are very cheap and subways are safe) and as the city is reasonably flat, it’s feasible to do most areas on foot.

– Calle Florida may seem great for shopping, though prices there are typically higher than in shopping centers or other areas in town. It’s only worth buying things there if you don’t have much time, as a lot of stores are concentrated in the same place. Beware of pick pocketing in this area as well, as in any crowded touristic place.

– Fake money in Buenos Aires is very common and unfortunately I was caught with at least one fake bill in my hands every time I’ve been there (costing me several hundred pesos!) as I didn’t know how to detect them. The locals will know how to identify them, being a tourist you’re more likely to end up with one and only to notice when you’re trying to pay something. Smaller currency houses (Casa de Cambio) may give you fake bills, so always look for a larger or a chain brand (i.e. Metropolis or Western Union; see the post I wrote about exchanging money), but the most common is through taxi drivers, who are known to give fake bills. Beyond giving back fake money as a change, a typical situation would be you wanting to pay for the trip with a $100 peso bill, and the driver makes a quick switch and returns the fake $100 saying your bill is not acceptable. To avoid being ripped off, learn how to identify the real bills, and also try to carry smaller bills in your wallet, especially to pay for cab rides.

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