Argentina.  in South America

Argentina

in South America

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Argentina

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 - Cerro
	Torre
Cerro Torre.
One of the world’s largest and most varied countries is often regarded as the pearl of South America and has, for decades, been the continent’s most visited nation, along with Brazil. It’s certainly not difficult to understand why that would be. From the rugged, mountainous areas of the Andes in the west, to the sensationally dramatic Patagonian south and luscious central Pampas region, this is the one nation which boasts the best of the continent in one (rather huge) spot.

The country’s capital, Buenos Aires, is an architectural and cultural gem, renowned as a mecca where tango, flowing wine and great food reign supreme. The arid wilderness of the gaucho outback, considered the birthplace of the Latino macho, is outstanding and the splendid southern glaciers breathtaking beyond words. Yet it’s the Argentinian culture which renders the country perhaps the most endearing of all in South America. Between the delectable cuisine, passionate dancing, football fanaticism and contagious joie de vivre, the Argentinian zeal has the ability to captivate the imagination, and wanderlust, of even the most apathetic traveller. Argentina is one of the countries you visit, and then dream or revisiting again and again.

Argentina at a glance

  • Capital: Buenos Aires.
  • Population: 41.5 million.
  • Size: 2.8 million km², the 8th largest country on earth.
  • Government: Federal Republic.
  • Languages: Spanish.
  • Currency: ARS, Argentinian Peso.
  • Religion: 80% Roman Catholic, 12% Agnostic, minor fractions of Jewish, Muslims, Protestants and Atheists.


    • Fitz Roy - Patagonia - Argentina
      Fitz Roy - Patagonia - Argentina. Photo by Trey Ratcliff

      A step back through history

      Considering the fact that Argentina is South America’s second largest country, after Brazil, the Spanish conquistadores were surprised to find the entire area mostly uninhabited when they first arrived in the 1500s. It is for this reason that Argentina boasts only a small fraction of indigenous inhabitants nowadays, out of all the South American countries. The Spaniards named the country Argentina after argentum, the Latin word for silver, believing its soil to be rich in the precious metal, just as they had found in Bolivia and Peru. They were wrong, of course, yet they did discover that, instead, the soil was incredibly fertile and simply ideal for farming and grazing. By the mid 19th century Argentina became one of the world’s wealthiest nations and still ranks as one of the most resource-rich countries, even though it suffered terrible bouts of both political and economic instability through the decades. Its colourful history, dotted with decades of extreme military dictatorships, has created a culture of both resilient and incredibly sensitive people. Argentinians are a friendly lot nowadays, be assured of that, but visitors must remember to pick their topics of conversations very carefully. The wounds, in this country, are still very raw.

      Argentina’s most mystifying years

      The country suffered through a full century of political instability, during a time when all South American nations were fighting for independence. Yet no matter how difficult the situation became, and how many decades Argentina spent being ruled by military dictatorships, none were more polarizing, or infamous, as the years spent under the rule of General Juan Peron (Wikipedia Article). His second wife, Eva Peron (Wikipedia Article) (known mostly as Evita), is arguably the world’s most famous First Lady and many historians believe that her character and female empowerment movement is now ingrained in Argentinian psyche in a way most foreigners will never understand. The Peronista movement, which is still rather widespread, is seen as an iconic Argentinian ideal, whereby supporters believe that only through a heavy handed regime can one hope to control an entire nation and eliminate poverty.

      The jury is still out as to whether the Perons were favourable or antagonistic to the Argentinian cause. Their supporters point at the overwhelming economic stability they brought to the nation, whilst opponents believe all was done whilst siphoning funds abroad, sympathising with Communists, Fascists and Nazis, and generally acting in a self-serving manner. The ‘Sinners or Saints?’ argument is probably one of the world’s most ongoing political debates but, as a visitor, you are certainly recommended to steer well clear of the subject.

      The Dirty War

      The heavy handedness adopted by the military junta after the death of Peron in 1974, led Argentina down its darkest tunnel to date. The Dirty War (Wikipedia Article), as it later became known, lasted for an entire decade and was, in effect, a period where the country was ruled via state-sponsored terrorism. During this period, anyone believed to be critical or threatening to the junta was secretly eliminated. Argentina’s desaparecidos (or ‘missing ones’) are believed to have numbered in the tens of thousands. Political assassinations carried out by death squads became almost a daily occurrence, and the whole country soon became isolated from not only its neighbours but also the rest of the world.

      If all this were not enough, Argentina also embarked on a war with Great Britain over control of Las Islas Malvinas, known in English as the Falkland Islands. Argentina was outnumbered and surrendered but has never, to this day, abandoned a claim to the isles off its coast. Along with the Perons, the subject of the Falklands is the most sensitive to all Argentinians.

      Modern day Argentina

      1983 saw a new dawn in Argentina, and was when the country’s first free and fair elections were held. Yet the elected President, Raul Alfonsin, received pressure from the still-too-powerful military to grant amnesty to anyone involved in the disappearance of political critics during the preceding years. The fact that this amnesty was only reversed in 2005 goes a long way into explaining the country’s inability to get over its past. In effect, it has only been allowed to deal with it over the last 10 years. Trials, compensation lawsuits and investigations into thousands of disappearances are still very much a part of Argentina’s present and reported in the news on a near daily basis.

      The final blow

      By the mid-1990s stability had returned to Argentina (at least economically) and the country was again rated as one of the world’s richest. Before its catastrophic depression of 2000, its currency was pegged one to one with the US dollar and its economy was booming like never before. Yet at the turn of the second millennia, a series of unfortunate economic crisis the world over spurred the US to offer Argentina an ultimatum: either dollarize your economy or devalue your peso. Once word got out, local inhabitants headed to their banks to withdraw their life savings fearing loss, which resulted in the country going bankrupt almost overnight.

      By 2002, USD1 equalled 10 Argentinian pesos and ensuing protests and riots descended the country into near-anarchy. Stability seemed to return in 2003, with the Kirchners (first husband Nestor Kirchner (Wikipedia Article), then wife Christine Fernandez de Kirchner (Wikipedia Article)) being elected presidents in close succession. Prosperity and internal peace has yet not returned in full force yet some beacon of bright future looms ahead, in a country which has suffered more than its fair share of tumultuous turmoil.

      Highlights

      Buenos Aires
      Buenos Aires
      This enigmatic country boasts an incredible number of highlights, all within relatively easy reach of the capital. Spend your first few days in Buenos Aires to get your bearings and then dive right into its furthest reaches.
      Following are Argentina’s most memorable highlights.

      Buenos Aires

      South America’s most beautiful capital city is a feast for all the sense, and a city boasting striking architecture, a vibrant nightlife, amazing food, impressive museums and insanely great shopping. Even if you’re not a huge fan of big cities, you’ll find BA an immensely enjoyable place to explore, so plan to spend at least four days here either at the beginning or end of your trip to Argentina. Visit Evita’s famous Casa Rosada, meander through the numerous galleries of Calle Florida, admire the obelisk of Plaza de la Republica and catch a tango show in one of La Boca’s many side street cafes.

      Garganta
	del Diablo - Iguaçu National Park
      Garganta del Diablo - Iguaçu National Park. Photo by unknown


      Iguazu Falls

      Iguaçu National Park
      Iguaçu National Park
      UNESCO listed Iguazu Falls are one of the world’s most magnificent natural landmarks and a highlight you ought not to miss when visiting Argentina. Of the myriad of highlights the country has to offer, Iguazu Falls are arguably the most bucket-list-worthy of all. Take a boat and feel the might of 275 cascading falls as you explore Devil’s Throat, spend hours meandering on the boardwalks on the edge of the cataracts, and include an extra day to pop over to Brazil to view the falls from different angle. Puerto Iguazu is the base town from where Iguazu can be visited, and is easily reached from Buenos Aires either by plane or 18-hour bus ride. At times, you may find more economical flights to Foz do Iguazu instead, which is the Brazilian town on the other side of the falls. Hopping between countries at this strategic point is both swift and hassle-free.

      Bariloche

      Argentina’s chocolate capital is a picture-perfect little town found on the edges of the Nahuel Hapi Lake, a stunning glacial lake set on the foothills of the mighty Andes and within the borders of its eponymous national park. Winter and summer activities abound here, in what is arguably the most gorgeous Argy town of all. Skiers, mountain hikers and bikers, as well as horse riders, fishermen and chocaholics make their yearly pilgrimage to bariloche from all over the country, making this one of the buzziest hamlets in Patagonia.

      Camino a la laguna esmeralda - Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego
      Camino a la laguna esmeralda - Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego. Photo by Lucas Zallio


      Patagonia

      There are very few places on earth that can match the breathtaking beauty of Patagonia, the most southern region of the American continent. The wilderness and dramatic landscapes, coupled with the remote location, make for an arduous yet infinitely rewarding place to explore. Here you’ll find some of the country’s most famous landmarks, like the Perito Moreno and Viedma Glaciers, Tierra del Fuego, El Chalten and Ushuaia, the southernmost inhabited city on earth. This is a nature lover’s paradise, although the tremendously vast uninhabited landscape can be quite overwhelming to the uninitiated. This is the end of the world as you’ve never seen it before. Head here to dive into Mother Nature’s (at-times) ruthless arms and you’ll be just a skip, hop and swim stroke away from Antarctica. Patagonia is a region shared by Argentina and Chile.

       - Los Glaciares National
	Park
      Los Glaciares National Park. Photo by Frank Kehren


      El Calafate

      Perito Moreno
	Glacier
      Perito Moreno Glacier
      Sitting on the fringes of the Patagonian ice field, El Calafate is a cold and windy spot, and an ideal base for trips to Los Glaciares National Park. This is where you’ll find the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, renowned as one of the few glaciers on the planet which is actually increasing in size. Take helicopter rides, hike on glaciers and explore the region on foot with the aid of professional tour guides, and you’ll experience one of the most enticing places on earth.

      El Chalten

      Also found on the shores of the Los Glaciares National Park is El Chalten, a sort of sister-town to El Calafate. This is the base town from where hikers head off to conquer Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, two of the most iconic peaks in all of Patagonia. Both mountains boast relatively agreeable heights (just over 3,000m) yet due to the climatic conditions both have only been successfully conquered in the last few decades. Hard core mountaineers consider this to be the ultimate travel destination of all, yet even if you’ve never climbed more than a mere hill, you’ll find the challenge of mountain exploration simply too hard to resist.

       -
	Fitz Roy
      Fitz Roy. Photo by PuttSk


      Tierra del Fuego

      Ushuaia
      Ushuaia
      Across the Strait of Magellan, on the southernmost tip of the Americas, is where you’ll find Tierra del Fuego, most often referred to as the ‘Fin del Mundo’, or ‘The End of the World’. The city of Ushuaia is the springboard for Antarctica trips, and offers a plethora of fun activities across the Beagle Channel, including glacier kayaking trips, helicopter rides and hiking excursions on one of the many sea lion brimming islands of the bay. Tierra del Fuego is one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth, as well as one of its harshest, where winds of up to 150km/hr are the norm. If planning to visit this southern mecca of Argentina you should pack and plan accordingly.

      Hiking Through Tierra
	del Fuego - Tierra del Fuego
      Hiking Through Tierra del Fuego. Photo by Baron Reznik


      Mendoza

      Mendoza can seem to be a world away from the harsh reality of the country’s south, and that’s probably because it is. This bustling city is the capital of Argentina’s wine country, often regarded as one of the world’s best. Luscious, grape filled valleys frame the town in every direction and one could easily be excused for not realizing that one is, in fact, right in the heart of desert country when visiting Mendoza. Wine aficionados the world over flock here to taste and stock up on Malbecs and Cab Savs, as well as to savour the country’s best food.

      Salta

      In the north-west region of Argentina, right in the heart of the Lerma Valley is where you’ll discover Salta, the most visited town in this part of the country. People flock here to admire the stunning colonial-era architecture, red-soiled wilderness of nearby canyons and delicious drops of nearby wineries.

      Cordoba

      This is Argentina’s most historic hub and one of the most Spanish influenced cities of all. The country’s second largest metropolis was the site where the first Jesuit missions were created and is nowadays the base city for explorations of the famous -Pampas (Wikipedia Article). These immense fertile lowlands cover over three quarters of a million square kilometres, and are home to the legendary gauchos, Argentina’s most testosterone-fuelled cattle herders.

      Cuisine

      Of all culinary inclinations, being a carnivore is by far the most rewarding when visiting Argentina. Vegetarians, by consequence, usually have a hard time finding varied dishes to suit their liking. No matter how much they manage to cope with neighbouring Chile, Bolivia and Brazil, the overwhelming majority tend to become flexi-tarians once they hit culinary hubs like Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Bariloche. The country’s overabundance of space and verdant pastures obviously makes for some very happy cows, making Argentine beef (Wikipedia Article) renowned the world over for being the tastiest and most tender.

      Incredibly tasty and juicy meat may be the star of every gastronomic show in Argentina, yet there are many more delicacies you should try, aside the famous asado.
      Here are a few delectable Argentinian dishes you really ought to savour whilst here.

      Asado

      The Argy BBQ, also called parrilada depending on where you are, is the national dish par excellence and the best you will ever savour anywhere on the world. The incredibly diverse meat-gorge, which usually contains beef, pork, chicken and a host of different sausages, originates from the gaucho regions of the country, at a time when all they had to feast on were countless (but happy!) livestock. Asado is a tradition enjoyed in company and as often as possible!
      Alongside grilled meats, you may find (some) grilled vegetables or salads, but do note that to locals these are considered mere table decorations. What you will definitely find is the delectable sauce chimichurri, an absolutely taste-bud exploding herb and garlic sauce, the ubiquitous basting sauce of choice here. NB. The ever friendly locals do tend to get a little incensed when foreign visitors request ketchup or BBQ-sauce, so consider this a warning!

      Dulced e leche

      South America’s beloved caramel filler is taken on a whole new level in Argentina, a place where you’ll be hard pressed to find ANY sweet not filled or otherwise decorated with super-sweet Dulce de leche (Wikipedia Article). It is really quite amazing how a boiled can of sweetened condensed milk can send an entire continent into culinary bliss. For foreigners, dulce de leche may be a little sickly sweet and, although it’s certainly delicious in small doses, the fact that Latinos don’t seem to even grasp the meaning of ‘small doses’ may make this treat a bit hard to digest, several times a day.

      Empanadas

      All the countries within South America claim to make the best empanadas in the continent and, rest assured, wars have started for far less hotly-contested convictions. The revered empanada, a delectable pastry pocket filled with either sweet or savoury yummies, started off as a very humble snack of working-class Spanish immigrants, yet has grown to be one of the most recognisable South American culinary treat in the world.

      There’s no way to ever determine which is best of course, yet generally speaking the ingredients used in Argentina (particularly meat) are of better quality than those in other countries. The country offers more varieties of empanadas than any other, and usually boasts both fried and baked versions as well. Do note that raisins, which are found in almost every Chilean empanada, are mysteriously absent here. Whether or not that spells good news for you will depend entirely on your personal preference.

      Yerba Mate

      The Argy obsession with meat is equalled only by its obsession with mate, a caffeine-infused tea which is savoured by locals all day long. Drinking mate is intrinsically cultural in several South American countries, with Argentineans being among the most addicted. Everything about drinking this rather bitter beverage is a ritual: from the way the tea is prepared, to the way it is served, the cups used, the way it’s offered to be shared and even the way the ‘guest’ is to behave when he/she is offered a taste. If you value your life, you will NEVER touch the metal straw or ‘stir’ the tea in any way, shape or form!

      Choripan

      Choripan is to Argentina what hot-dogs are to the USA: the late night treat of choice after a sporting event or big night out. The Argy version, which is infinitely tastier we might add, is made with a crispy baguette and filled with pork and beef spicy chorizo sausage, caramelized onions, roasted aubergines and pickled peppers.

      Best time to visit

      For a country this size, it would seem superfluous to note that the best time to visit is highly dependent on WHERE you wish to head to. But first things first: Argentina lies south of the equator hence it’s summers are during North America and European Christmas time and winters fall in the middle of the year.

      Here’s the more detailed lowdown:
      • The northern Andean region enjoys cool, delightful summers and very cold winters, especially (and rather obviously) at high altitudes.
      • The Pampas an Cuyo regions (where you find Buenos Aires and Mendoza, respectively) are instead very temperate, with cold but bearable winters, gorgeous springs and very hot and humid summers being the norm.
      • Patagonia, on the other hand, is never going to be a very balmy place to visit. In summer it is splendidly refreshing and an absolute delight. Although temps drop and winds pick up considerably in Autumn, this is arguably the most rewarding time to visit. It is then that you’ll find the lush wilderness at its most colourful best, with hues of every shade of red and brown imaginable. Winters here are for the clinically insane, with temps reaching -4 °F and winds of up to 200km/hr. Unsurprisingly, all lodges and tour operators cease to offer services during the harsh winter months.
        • Transportation and Infrastructure

          Argentina may be massive but all its provinces are easy to access thanks to the country’s extensive list of regional airports and long-haul bus services.

          Flying in and out

          Aerolinas Argentina is the country’s head carrier and the most popular airline in the whole continent, due to its extensive flight routes, great service and competitive prices. Along with Lan Chile, this is the most popular airline used by foreigners to reach South America. No matter where you wish to fly to (from the USA, Australia or {Europe]), it is usually cheaper to fly to either Buenos Aires or Santiago, and then take a shorter flight from there.

          Buenos Ares’ Ministro Pistarini International Airport (Wikipedia Article) is the country’s main international hub, located about 20kms south of the city’s centre. If coming from abroad you will land here, yet if you’re flying in from a nearby South American country, chances are you’ll be coming in on the Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, which is actually the city’s domestic hub. Unfortunately, the two airports are on opposite ends of the city, so it is imperative you confirm which one you’ll be flying into, especially if you have organised connecting onward flights.

          To reach your hotel from either airport, we recommend you book a transfer or take a black, registered0 feeted taxi from the stands outside the respective airport’s arrivals’ terminals.

          Getting around the country

          Although bus services to all major hubs around the country do exist, they are actually much more expensive than in neighbouring countries. Travelling by bus from the capital to Patagonia, for example, can easily cost in excess of USD400 per person. This, couple with the fact that no 50-hour bus ride will ever be a pleasure, leads many visitors to fly around major cities instead. Although foreigners pay more than locals for flights, it is still cheaper to reach far-out places like Ushuaia by plane.

          Budget airlines, like LADE, Andes and Solare convenient and cheap alternatives to Aerolinas and, more often than not, cover way-out destinations not normally offered by the main airline.

          For shorter distances between provinces, however, buses are popular and convenient, despite the fact that all love to play super loud, action movies, 24/7. Do note that very long distance bus routes require you to swap vehicles, as there are few nationwide companies who ply entire routes. More often than not, provincial companies work in unison cross-country.

          Getting around cities

          Buenos Aires boasts a great Hop-on/Hop-off Bus which covers the main tourist sites. Collectivos (public mini vans) are a great way to reach those suburbs (barrios) not covered by the tourist bus. Learn which collectivos you can take to where, from your hotel concierge, and you can reach every corner of the city for just a couple of dollars.

          Collectivos (sometimes also called micros) are popular in all cities and towns. Once you get the hang of them, and learn to be super vigilant about your bag (these minivans are beloved by pick-pocketers) , you’ll learn to appreciate their convenience.

          Buenos Aires also boasts a great subway system, however it is only recommended to be used during the day. At night, always opt for the more expensive, but infinitely safer, registered taxis.

          Safety

          Generally speaking, Argentina is one of the South America’s safest countries, although considering the entire region is not one of the world’s most crime-free, it pays to be cautious and vigilant regardless. In big cities, your biggest threats will come at night and in less-than-desirable areas, or in the city’s buses and trains. Knowledge is half the war won. In Buenos Aires, steer clear of Retiro and La Boca after dark. While you’re at it, you may as well leave all valuable jewels at home, keep your camera tucked away and try not to look like a tourist with a huge wad of cash bulging out of your back pocket. To get around take only registered metered taxis and, if at all in doubt or heading back in the wee hours of the morning, head to the nearest hotel and ask the concierge to organise a taxi for you. All will be more than happy to comply.

          All major cities boast gorgeous touristy suburbs which are perfectly fine to frequent at night, with a plethora of locals, foreigners and police keeping areas safe and hassle-free.

          The two major issues here are traffic accidents (of which Argentina is the leader in the entire continent) and petty theft. Pick-pockets are not uncommon in crowded places, so keep your eye on your belongings and never leave your bag out of sight. When dining, don’t hang your handbag from your chair but keep it between your legs instead.

          Since the fall of Argentina’s economy, in the early 2000s, once-very-safe Buenos Aires has certainly developed a bit of a dodgy atmosphere. The disparity between rich and poor has always been a problem here, yet the economic destruction of the country gave rise to a brand new ‘poor class’ who had been, until then, doing perfectly fine. Incidents of serious crime against tourists are a rare occurrence, so if you are vigilant about your belongings in crowded places, and take precautions when going out of an evening, you should encounter no problems at all.

          Upsala Glacier up Close - Upsala Glacier
          Upsala Glacier up Close. Photo by David

          Fun & Interesting Facts

          • Argy, as the country is lovingly called by its people, is the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country.
          • The number of European migrants who made the big move to Argentina, over the years, is second only to that of the USA.
          • The highest and lowest points in the country, Mt Aconcagua (6,959m) & San Julian Great Depression (-105m) are the highest and lowest points in both the southern and western hemispheres.
          • Tango, the most famous Argy dance of all, was considered vulgar and indecent, until it was adopted by the Parisian elite in the 1920s.
          • Argentinosaurus is a dinosaur genus discovered in the country and specimens were believed to be 38m in height and 75,000kgs in weight.
          • Francisca Rojas, a local of Buenos Aires who was found guilty of murdering her children in 1892, was the first person in the world to be incarcerated thanks to evidence derived from fingerprinting. Argentina then became the first country to introduce fingerprinting evidence in criminal cases.
          • Argentina was the first South American country to legalize gay marriage.
          • Che Guevara, the famous Cuban revolutionary, was actually Argentinian born and bred.
          • South America’s lowest and highest recorded temperatures were in Argentina. In 1907, the small Patagonian town of Sarmiento recorded a chilli -27 °F, and in 1920, 120 °F degrees were felt in Cordoba’s Villa de Maria.


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          Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Jun 03, 2015

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