Argentina is one of the most popular destinations in South America, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Home to lively cities and tranquil wildernesses, majestic waterfalls and soaring mountains, not to mention wildlife-filled wetlands, glorious architecture, rich culture and renowned steakhouses, it’s the whole South American package.
But Argentina is a big country, measuring 3800 km (2360 miles) from end to end, so there’s some serious ground to cover.
For those unsure where to start, we can help you narrow it down with this list of our favorite 12 places that shouldn’t be missed, from national parks carved by glaciers to vineyards in the shadow of the Andes.
1. Buenos Aires
Best for eating out
Sultry tango clubs and cacophonous football matches, beautiful barrios (neighborhoods) and historic cemeteries, world-class museums and raucous nightlife – Buenos Aires has everything you need for an immersive, big city experience.
Above all, the Argentine capital is a fantastic place to eat out. Its parrillas (steakhouses) – such as Don Julio, named the best restaurant in Latin America by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants – serve what could be the finest beef on the planet.
You’ll also find a multitude of international joints, serving everything from Armenian to Peruvian cuisine, plus an ice cream parlor on virtually every block.
Planning tip: Buenos Aires is a big city, so it pays to base yourself close to the areas you want to explore. The neighborhoods of Recoleta, Retiro, Palermo and San Telmo offer a great mix of sights, places to eat, and local character.
2. The Pampas
Best for experiencing cowboy life
The flat, fertile grasslands that cover much of central Argentina are known as the Pampas, a place dominated by the cattle industry and synonymous with gaucho (cowboy) culture.
For an introduction to rural life, head to the town of San Antonio de Areco, whose museum and annual Dia de la Tradición festival showcase all things gaucho.
Planning tip: To get the best from a trip to the Pampas, stay a few nights at one of the many estancias (ranches) scattered across the region, which offer horseback riding, polo lessons and traditional asados (barbecues).
Want some help? Let Elsewhere plan your next trip.
3. Buenos Aires province
Best for beaches
Argentina isn’t well known for its beaches, but the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires is dotted with appealing seaside resorts.
Although big, brash Mar del Plata draws the largest crowds, there are several smaller, quieter and more appealing stretches of sand. They include the forest-fringed beaches of Cariló, Mar de las Pampas and Mar Azul, great spots for sunbathers and novice surfers alike.
Planning tip: Although you can explore the beaches of Buenos Aires province by bus, hiring a car makes things a lot easier.
4. Iguazú Falls
Best for epic waterfalls
Shared between Argentina and Brazil, stretching for 3km (1.85 miles) and flanked by subtropical rainforest, this magnificent string of waterfalls is one of the greatest natural wonders on Earth.
A network of trails, walkways and bridges run through the surrounding national park, allowing visitors a close-up look at the 250-plus cascades and cataracts.
The centerpiece is the Garganta del Diablo (“Devil’s Throat”), a seething mass of white water that produces a deafening roar and sends up great clouds of spray.
5. Parque Nacional Iberá
Best for birdwatching
The hot, humid wetlands of this recently created national park in northeastern Argentina are home to more than 360 species of birds, including kingfishers, jabiru storks and roseate spoonbills.
Dubbed the “Argentine Pantanal,” the reserve is undergoing a major rewilding process that is introducing rare or endangered creatures, such as red-shouldered macaws.
Its reed-lined channels and lagoons are best explored by boat, from which visitors can also expect to spot an abundance of mammals and reptiles, from caimans to capybaras, the world’s biggest rodent.
Planning tip: The best way to explore Parque Nacional Iberá is on the water. Guided boat and kayak trips are easy to arrange in the village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, the main gateway to the park.
Best for historic architecture
In the far northwest of Argentina, near the Chilean and Bolivian borders, this charming city is known as “Salta la Linda” (“Salta the Beautiful”).
On the edge of the Lerma valley, overlooked by mountains, Salta is filled with historic mansions, churches, municipal buildings and plazas, some of which date back to the city’s founding in 1582.
It also has a varied cultural scene encompassing excellent museums and galleries – such as the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, which explores Inca culture and the practice of human sacrifice – and atmospheric folk-music clubs called peñas.
7. Mendoza province
Best for wine tasting
Argentina is the world’s fifth biggest wine producer and the industry’s heartland is Mendoza province.
In the midwest of the country, close to the Andes, the region is carpeted with vineyards and wineries, many of which offered guided tours, tastings, accommodations, and even the chance to help out with the harvest.
And while Mendoza is rightly famous for its Malbec, plenty of other delicious wines – reds, whites and rosés – are also produced in the province.
Planning tip: Try to time your visit to coincide with the grape harvest from February to April. Expect plenty of demand for accommodations during the popular Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia wine festival in March, Mendoza’s biggest celebration.
8. The Argentine Lake District
Best for stunning landscapes
Glimmering bodies of water, emerald-green forests, and towering mountains and volcanoes dusted with snow – it’s not hard to understand why Argentina’s Lake District is a traveler hot spot.
The gateway to this verdant region, the northwestern part of Patagonia, is the attractive lakeside city of Bariloche. Here you can pick from a wealth of outdoor activities – from hiking and mountain biking to fishing, kayaking and skiing – inside the surrounding Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.
Planning tip: In winter (corresponding to the northern hemisphere summer), Bariloche becomes Argentina’s premier ski hub. It’s a busy time at the resorts around the city, but the powder is some of the world’s best.
9. Cueva de los Manos Pintados
Best for ancient art
In a remote canyon surrounded by the Patagonian steppe, the Cave of the Painted Hands has an enigmatic collection of rock art created between 13,000 and 9500 years ago.
This Unesco World Heritage Site takes its name from the 800-plus stenciled outlines of human hands covering the walls.
Red, white, black or ochre in color, their purpose remains a tantalizing mystery. There are also images of pumas, guanacos (a wild relative of the llama) and rheas, as well as hunting scenes. Guided tours are offered from the towns of Perito Moreno and Posadas.
10. Península Valdés
Best for whale watching
The frigid waters off Península Valdés, a chunk of northeastern Patagonia jutting out into the Atlantic, teem with life.
A breeding ground for endangered southern right whales, who arrive in their hundreds between mid-June and mid-December, they are also home to elephant seals, sea lions and orcas, as well as more than 180 species of birds.
Accessed from the town of Puerto Madryn, this Unesco World Heritage Site offers a variety of boat, kayaking and diving trips, though marine life can often be spotted from the shore.
Further down the coast, 250km (155 miles) south of Puerto Madryn, Punta Tombo has South America’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins.
Best for uplifting isolation
A famous sign in Ushuaia informs you that this is the “Fin del Mundo” – the physical end of the world. The far-flung capital of Argentine Tierra del Fuego sits on the shore of the Beagle Channel, more than 3000km (1865 miles) south of Buenos Aires.
It is the gateway to rugged Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, the world’s most southerly railway line, and several winter sports centers, as well as the embarkation point for cruises to Antarctica, just 1000km (620 miles) to the south.
12. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
Best for awesome glaciers
Spanning more than 5956 sq km (2300 sq miles) of iceberg-filled lakes, jagged Andean peaks and – most notably – gigantic glaciers, this park in southern Patagonia is one of Argentina’s signature tourist attractions.
The southern section – famous for the Perito Moreno Glacier – is accessed from the touristy town of El Calafate, while the northern part, a haven for hikers and climbers, is best visited from the rustic village of El Chaltén.
Planning tips: All manner of treks are possible from El Chaltén and El Calafate, from day hikes to multi-day adventures, and many routes can be attempted without a guide.