Argentina FAQ's & Infos
Comprising almost the entire southern half of South America, Argentina is the world's eighth largest country, covering an area of 2.8 million square km. Argentina possesses some of the world's tallest mountains, expansive deserts, and impressive waterfalls, with the diversity of the land ranging from wild, remote areas in southern Patagonia to the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires in the north.
Its six major regions are as follows:
Cuyo & the Andean Northwest
This area surrounding the Andes began as a colony of Peru, but today only a few miners and herders occupy this unforgiving region of volcanic peaks and salt lakes. Very little rain falls in Cuyo, though to the east are found the fertile river valleys and subtropical lowlands of the Gran Chaco.
Mesopotamia & the Northeast also called LITTORAL
The so-called littoral is an extensive area that includes the provinces of Entre Ríos, Corrientes, Misiones, Formosa, Santa Fe and Chaco. Also known as Mesopotamia because it is surrounded by the Iguazú, Paraná and Uruguay Rivers, this is a region where the landscape surprises with its colors and movement. From the gentle slopes of Entre Ríos to the wet marshes of Corrientes and the red hills of Misiones, everything is a reason for amazement.
The climate of this area can be considered subtropical and it is moderated by the winds from the Atlantic Ocean, frequent rains and abundant vegetation. The assorted fauna completes its natural attractions, turning it into one of the most captivating regions in Argentina.
The main attractions of this area are, undoubtedly, the Iguazú Falls. They are located in the northwest extreme of the province of Misiones, 1,400 km (875miles) from Buenos Aires, where the waters of the Iguazú River (limit between Argentina and Brazil) flow from a height of 70 meters (233 feet) onto the inferior course of the river offering the unique spectacle of its 275 falls that seem to emerge from the virgin jungle of the Iguazú National Park, which protects over 2,000 flora species and 400 bird and wild animal species. ‘Iguazú’ means ‘Great Waters’ in the language of the ‘Guaraníes’, aborigines that inhabited the region prior to white men arrival.
Two thirds of the falls are within the Argentine limits. However, it is necessary to explore both sides since there is a very good panoramic view from Brazil. To feel the falls close enough and enjoy the beauty of its vegetation, birds and butterflies, it is essential to walk along the walkways and paths on the Argentine side.
At the Visitors’ Center, located in ‘Area Cataratas’ (‘Falls Area’) of the Argentine National Park, an open train is boarded for a 15-minute trip up to ‘Estación Cataratas’ (‘Falls Station’) (wherefrom the Superior and Inferior Walkways are reached) and ‘Estación Garganta’ (‘Devil’s Throat Station’) (wherefrom a 1,200-meter walkway leads to the observation balcony of the Devil’s Throat, the most imposing of them all). Another alternative to reach the Inferior and Superior Walkways is a walk along the so-called ‘green path’ (about 15-minute long).
The Inferior Walkway permits a closest contact with the waterfalls and the natural pools, allowing the visitor to enjoy the impressive scenery where beautiful rainbows formed by the mist of the falls contrast with the bright green of the exuberant vegetation. On the banks of the inferior course of the Iguazú River Puerto Peligro is placed, an improvised pier with access through the Inferior Walkway. Here, you may board the small motorboats crossing the river up to the San Martín Islands or the zodiac motorboats to get close to the most plentiful waterfalls such as Arrechea, San Martín, Tres Mosqueteros, Bozetti and Devil's Throat falls.
The Superior Walkway stretches along the upper part of the falls, over the Iguazú River superior course, where the cascades start. It is possible to observe from this walkway the Dos Hermanas, Chico, Ramírez, Bozetti, Adán y Eva and San Martín falls.
From the observation balcony of the Devil’s Throat you get a magnificent view of this impressive fall, indeed the most plentiful and imposing of the whole arc of the falls. The fall is 150 m. (500 feet) wide, 700 m. (2,330 feet) long and the Iguazú River flows 1,700 m3 of water per second therein.
A good way to explore the hidden life of the subtropical jungle is to take a drive in 4WD vehicles along the different paths purposely open in the jungle. On the Argentine side, the Yacaratia Path travels 7 km through the heart of the jungle reaching Macuco Pier, embarking or disembarking pier for the ‘Great Adventure’. Another path specially designed for photographic safaris and bird watching is the Macuco Path on the Brazilian side. Both paths, leading to the inferior course of the Iguazú River, are part of an excursion which may turn into an unforgettable experience. With different names, at each side of the border, they are the passport to a thrilling adventure that starts at the very moment of putting on the life jackets and comes to its best when reaching the very point where the falls meet the waters of the inferior course of the river. This excursion is known as ‘Great Adventure’ on the Argentine side and ‘Safari Macuco’ on the Brazilian side.
Near Puerto Peninsula, on the banks of the Paraná River, 7 km (4 miles) southwest from Puerto Iguazú stands a Natural Reserve Area ideal to practice adventure or eco-tourism activities. Arriving by 4WD vehicles, visitors can fully enjoy the subtropical rainforest, with the possibility of getting to know its flora and watch the quite abundant bird fauna of the region. Activities such as rappel, Tyrolese, trekking and canopy can be practiced in the reserve. This tour, called ‘Iguazú Forest’, is another option to keep exploring the beauties that nature offers in the area.
A few kilometers from the falls, in Brazilian territory, stands the Itaipú Dam, considered a masterpiece of engineering. The dam is 8 km (5 miles) long and has a spillway that can pour 60,000 m3 of water per second, a channel and an artificial lake with a surface of 1,350 km2. It is an enormous power plant, which can produce up to 12,6 thousand megawatts, considered one of the seven wonders of modern world, according to the ‘Civil Engineering American Association’. Technical and tourist visits are available.
Only 60 km (37 miles) from the Iguazú Falls, situated over the Superior Course of the Iguazú River, the Yacutinga Lodge and its Wild Life Refuge are settled in the core of the subtropical jungle, were the sounds and images of the forest seem to fit perfectly with the natural-looking constructions built with local materials such as stone and wood from fallen trees. An important eco-touristic project never attempted before in Argentina, whose philosophy is to preserve nature and to teach visitors, through an array of different activities, to love and respect it.
On the Uruguay River, 200 km (125 miles) from Iguazú, the Moconá Falls, which can only be reached in small expedition groups, appear in the middle of the jungle. Located in the border between the Argentine province of Misiones and Brazil, the Uruguay River forms a beautiful and imposing fall when it splits its waters in two arms and flows over its own course in a cascade parallel to the coast which is about 3 km (2 miles) long with waterfalls that range from 5 to 12 m. (16 to 40 feet) in height. Tourist facilities are scarce and the area can only be reached by 4WD vehicles from the small town of El Soberbio.
A few kilometers south from Puerto Iguazú, you can visit the precious and semi-precious stone Mines of Wanda (agate, quartz, amethyst, among others, can be found there). A few kilometers further south, you reach the small city of El Dorado with its citrus, pine tree forestations, yerba mate and tea plantations. Going on southward, along National Route 12, the city of Montecarlo stands surrounded by thick forestations in an area of hilly slopes, 130 km (82 miles) from the Iguazú Falls and 185 km from Posadas. This village, located on the banks of the Paraná River, houses the small Zoo Bal Park, with a wide variety of autochthonous fauna species. Montecarlo stands out for its citrus production, its reforestation activities, and cellulose production. The nearby complex ‘Celulosa Argentina’, situated in Puerto Piray is an example of it. In October, the ‘National Festival of the Orchid’ and the ‘Provincial Festival of the Flower’ are held in the city. From here, the road goes through the small cities of Puerto Rico and Jardín América, wherein it is interesting to see the small 10-meter (33 feet) high cascade called 'Salto Tabay' appearing in the middle of the thick surrounding forest of autochthonous species. After a drive of 240 km (150 miles) from Iguazú you reach San Ignacio, Santa Ana and Loreto Jesuit Ruins just a few kilometers before the city of Posadas.
Posadas, capital of the province of Misiones, is located 1,000 km (625 miles) from Buenos Aires and 330 km from Puerto Iguazú. It was founded in the second half of the XIX century and was built on the banks of the Paraná River just where an aborigine reservation had been settled in the XVII century. It is a relatively modern urban complex with some old buildings in ‘Bajada Vieja’ district. The city has a beautiful central square with local tree species such as lapacho, jacarandá, pindó and petiribí. A few regional art museums exhibit sculptures from the Guaraní Jesuit Missions. It is also possible to visit the Botanical Garden, the Provincial Casino and the Palace of the Mate, which houses a museum devoted to yerba mate (kind of green bitter tea). The city is linked with Paraguay by the San Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz Bridge that leads to the city of Encarnación.
The main centers of production and growing processes of products such as tea and yerba mate are located in the central area of the province. Such is the case of Oberá, a city located 95 km (60 miles) from Posadas and the second city in the province. It was named like this after a Guaraní cacique and it means ‘the one that shines’. It has over 150 industrial companies where wood, tung and tobacco are processed (the main yerba mate processing plants are established in Oberá and Apóstoles.) Most of its inhabitants are Swedish, German, Norwegian, Spanish, French, Polish and Russian immigrant descendants, which accounts for the more than 30 different temples in the city. During the first week of September, the ‘Festival of the Immigrant’, that gathers people from everywhere in the province, is held and each community takes part exhibiting its traditional garments, cuisine, crafts and dances. In the surroundings there are two nice falls called ‘Berrondo’ and ‘Escondido’, which may be watched from its corresponding belvederes. Oberá also houses one of the most important motorcar racetracks in Argentina, where TC2000, South American Grand Prix (F3) and Turismo Carretera races take place. In the central area of the province, the city Aristóbulo del Valle, one of the most important villages due to its tea, tobacco and yerba mate plantations rise at about 500 m. (1,665 feet) above sea level. Only 4 km (2.5 miles) from Aristóbulo del Valle, more falls can be visited: ‘Salto Encantado’, ‘Salto Piedras Blancas’, ‘Salto Alegre’ and ‘La Olla’, among others. In the same area it is located the town of San Vicente, especially apt for processing the typical local products thanks to its moderate temperatures and humid climate. In December, the ‘Agro-Industrial and Artisan Exhibition’ takes place, where machinery for the wood industry is exhibited, accompanied by a 6-day long festival with folk performances and typical dances. Within short distance from the village, a wide variety of animal species can be admired, such as parrots, hummingbirds, tapir, tamandú, yaguareté and capybaras.
There are several Jesuit ruins around Posadas.
Most Jesuit settlements were located in this region: eight in Paraguay, seven in Brazil and fifteen in Argentina. Some of them appear in rather good conditions but some others have completely disappeared. They are the result of the evangelical determination of the Jesuit priests to convert the Guaraní aborigines to Christianity. This attempt did not produce the expected results so the priests decided to live with the converted ones within missions (reservations of converted aborigines). They had a well-organized urban outline: a main avenue leading to the central square where a big church, the most important building in the village, was located. Next to the church stood the priests' houses, the school, the offices of the artisans and the warehouses, and on the opposite side of the church, the cemetery. Around the square, the aborigines’ houses were located. The administration of the village was in charge of a ‘Council of Caciques’. Three ruins were declared Historic Heritage by the United Nations, Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO). The best preserved in Argentina are those of San Ignacio Miní, located only 222 km (140 miles) from Iguazú Falls and 55 km (34 miles) from Posadas. It is possible to visit the remains of the imposing temple, the vestry, the school yard with a few classrooms around, the priests' refectory, the orchard, the square and the aborigines’ houses around it. This mission sheltered about 5,100 inhabitants. The buildings date back to the XVII century and its carvings and architecture reveal the advanced culture of the Guaraní aborigines. Some of the red sandstone walls are 10 m (33 feet) high; the best preserved parts are the columns, the galleries and the steps of the church that reveal the magnificence of the building, finished in 1724. San Ignacio Miní was burnt in 1817 by order of a Paraguayan dictator and its remains were covered by the jungle until their discovery in 1897.
Other missions in the Argentine area are: Loreto, Santa Ana, Corpus, Candelaria, San Carlos, San José, Mártires, San Javier, Santa María, Concepción, Apóstoles, Santo Tomé, Yapeyú and La Cruz.
What is left of the missions in Paraguay are also ruins in different states of preservation, located in the south of the country near the Paraná River. From an architectural point of view, the missions of Santísima Trinidad del Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangue are the most beautiful and important. Trinidad has buildings of baroque features. The stones of the church façade, the tower and the door of the vestry carved by the Guaraní aborigines are outstanding. It also has stone sculptures, woodcarvings, musical instruments and paintings made also by the aborigines. The construction of this imposing mission took 61 years, from 1706 to 1767 and sheltered up to 3,500 aborigines. Ten kilometers from Trinidad the Spanish style buildings of the ruins of Jesús de Tavarangue arise. The three large doors with arches reveal Moorish-Christian influences and the high stone walls area also outstanding. Other missions in Paraguay are: Santa María, San Ignacio Guazú, Santa Rosa, Santiago, and San Cosme y San Damián.
In Brazil, the ruins of San Miguel Arcángel are one of the most beautiful sets of buildings with its monumental baroque church, its façade, its towers, some huge lateral walls with arches and doors. There is also an interesting site museum, which holds a collection of statues and carvings coming from many of the missions that have been lost forever. These ruins were the old missionary capital of the seven missions of Brazil. At the time of splendor, San Miguel Arcángel sheltered about 6,500 Guaraní aborigines. The seven missions were: Santo Angelo, San Juan Bautista, San Lorenzo, San Luis Gonzaga, San Nicolás, San Borja and San Miguel Arcángel.
RESISTENCIA AND FORMOSA
These cities Aare capitals of the provinces of Chaco and Formosa, which constitute a region known as ‘Gran Chaco’ that occupies the vast lowlands of center-northern Argentina, as well as parts of Bolivia and Paraguay. The climate here becomes drier from east to west, splitting the region in two merging parts. The ‘Dry Chaco’ in the west is likely to appeal only to the most adventurous spirits. Its wildlife is very diverse, specially with regards to snakes, but even reptile-lovers may find to get around in the region a daunting task, for the country is covered with dense thorn thickets, scarce roads and no facilities for visitors at all.
The area of the Argentine littoral called ‘Wet Chaco’ stretches towards the northwest in Formosa and Chaco provinces, both covered with subtropical forests. Although it has undergone some major clearance for agriculture, it still contains beautiful tracts of woodlands interspersed with marshes. Its marshes and rivers are habitat for diverse fauna species, which lead to the creation of the Pilcomayo River National Park, on the right margin of the mentioned river, in the Province of Formosa. Created in 1951, this park protects an area where marshes and the Palma Blanca and Caranday savannah prevail. There are woods in the highlands, and dense jungle on the riverbanks. One of the gateways to this area is the route starting in the city of Clorinda, some 40 km (25 miles) from Asunción in Paraguay and 15 km (9 miles) from the park, continuing afterwards along its southern boundary. Another access is Formosa airport, situated 112 km (70 miles) away.
In the province of Chaco, some 100 km (63 miles) northwestward from Resistencia, stands the Chaco National Park with examples of all characteristic ecosystems of the Eastern Chaco District. The southern and center areas are covered by forests where ‘quebracho colorado’ trees stand out; the western area represents the typical ecosystem of savannah with Caranday palm-trees; finally, in the southeastern area, the Panza de Cabra Lagoon exhibits an abundant aquatic vegetation. The local fauna consists of a wide variety of mammals, such as howler monkeys but the main attraction for visitors are, no doubts, its widely assorted birds. It is better to avoid the wet season in summer (from December to March) for heat is intense and roads become impassable.
In the provinces of Chaco and Santiago del Estero there is a large area called 'Campo del Cielo' (Sky Land), where 13 iron-nickel meteorites have been found. The so-called ‘Chaco’ meteorite weighs 33,400 kg and stands out among them for being the biggest among the ones ever fell in our country and the third one in the world.
The city of Corrientes, located on the banks of the Paraná River, is the outset of assorted circuits of interest for tourists. It has local importance its Carnival celebrations with parades, music, dances and fancy-costumes. The province stands out for its important water resources consisting of an extensive system of rivers, marshes and lagoons, fed by the abundant rains of the region, which cover a surface of 14,900 km2 (5,750 sq miles), that increases up to 20,000 km2 (7,700 sq miles) during the season of heavier rains (March, April and September). The biggest concentration of water in the littoral is the Iberá Marshland. Iberá means ‘Shining Waters’ in Guaraní. The marshland, with an area of more than 1 million hectares, covers more than a third of the surface area of the province of Corrientes and are one of the biggest fresh water reserves in the Americas, and the second largest swampland in South America. Iberá retains a relatively pristine condition due to the natural isolation it was kept in until relatively recent years. This area offers unforgettable landscapes for lovers of off-the-beaten-tract destinations wherein mysterious stories about this magical and fascinating land are constantly related by locals. This reserve is one of the most attractive places in the country for adventure tourism such as photographic safaris, fauna watching, horseback riding, canoeing, fishing and trekking outings. The variety of trees is infinite but the main feature is aquatic vegetation (‘irupés’ –royal water lilies-, hyacinths, irises and small ferns, among others). The area shelters four of the fauna endangered species in Argentina, declared Natural Monuments of the province: maned wolf or small river wolf, ‘aguará guazú’, Pampas deer, and marsh deer, that live together with other species such as two varieties of ‘yacarés’ (caimans) as well as countless fish and bird species (the area holds more than 350 bird species). The main surrounding inhabited areas are Ituzaingó, Colonia Carlos Pellegrini and Mercedes. The best way to explore the reserve is staying at one of the estancias in the area and from there set out on foot, on horseback or in a boat guided by a local expert (almost essential) either park rangers –guardafaunas- or ‘baqueanos’ –locals-. Thus you will get to know the essence of the region. An advice: start very early in the morning. Take your time and enjoy every minute.
Entre Ríos province is located to the south of Corrientes province by the Paraná River. The name of this province means “between rivers” and is due to its geographical position since its coasts are bordered by the Paraná, Uruguay, Guayquiraró and Mocoretá rivers as well as by the Basualdo and Tunas streams. It has picturesque landscapes ideal for the practice of all the aquatic sports. About 1,000,000 hectares are covered with forests and only 10 % of them are artificially cultivated. This is one of the few Argentine provinces that preserves its original fauna such as vizcachas, armadillos and foxes. Some of the most important tourist centers of the province are located on the banks of the Paraná River; the following are the most important among them from north to south: Paraná, capital of the province; Diamante, an important center for the practice of aquatic sports; Victoria, called the city of the seven hills; and Gualeguay.
On the Uruguay River, the coast is completely different. The soft undulations of the colorful land with its fine sand beaches and a great amount of birds stand out. A road that runs parallel to the coast of the Uruguay River links the main urban and tourist centers. Concordia, called the “Capital of the Citrus”, is the most important town of this coast. Large orange and grape plantations surround it. It has numerous beaches, campsites and sporting clubs. One of the most beautiful cities of the province is Colón, which keeps its colonial aspect. Between both cities stand
El Palmar National Park
Its 8,500 hectares (33 sq miles) protect the last habitat of the once abundant Yatay forest. The Yatay is an endangered palm tree due to the action of the cows. The Park is a place of crystal clear streams and soft soil covered with ferns and palm trees, some of which are over 800 years old. The excavations that were carried out here allowed scientists to discover numerous fossilized specimens.
This parched area in the west is part of the enormous Gran Chaco, a region that Argentina shares with Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. The Chaco contains both grassland and thorny forest.
These fertile plains are Argentina's bread- basket. They consist of the Humid Pampas along the seaboard and the Dry Pampas in the west and south. The region includes Buenos Aires, as well as the world- class beaches of its surrounding area.
Patagonia and the Lake District (see also below "Southern Patagonia")
South of the Rio Colorado, experiences a desert climate, although temperatures range from mild to subzero and terrain varies from bucolic river valleys to the gigantic, ice-capped southern Andes. Its cool grazing grounds support enormous flocks of sheep, and numerous fruit and vegetable farms can be found in the valleys. Patagonia also holds vast reserves of oil and coal.
Tierra del Fuego (see also below "Southern Patagonia")
The Land of Fire is actually an archipelago including the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (which Argentina shares with neighbouring Chile) and numerous smaller islands. Northern Isla Grande is similar in terrain to Patagonia's plains, while the mountainous area in the south is filled with forests and glaciers. Its climate is usually mild year-round, although storms are frequent.
The southern extreme of Patagonia offers tourist resources unique in the world. A thousand emotions invade the spirit when discovering the region situated just at the end of the world. A land of legends that many audacious spirits in the world have dreamt to travel. A land rather bleak, barren, inhabited only by those who have accepted to challenge of loneliness and the only company of nature at its best. A land where the visitor will be enraptured by such beauty. Due to its geographical position, it is exposed to strong winds, which is proven by its low constructions and the lack of vegetation in the cities, whose only trees grow bent following the wind direction and are thus called ‘flag-trees’ for the shape they adopt. ‘Los Glaciares National Park’ heads the long list of sites that, passing by the mythical Tierra del Fuego and the Islands of the Southern Atlantic Ocean, ends in the captivating ‘white continent’: Antarctica. A visit along these vast lands will make it possible to get in touch with some of the wonders of nature in constant creation. But once one has been there, it is impossible not to be prompted to return again and again.
The main cities of this region are: Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and El Calafate, the gateway to an impressive land of glaciers.
It is the capital city of Santa Cruz province, 2,700 km (1688 miles) and about 3 hours away from Buenos Aires (by direct flight). Located on the banks of the river of the same name by the Atlantic Ocean, it concentrates all the commercial and administrative activities of the southern region of Patagonia, carried out around the deep-water port from where wool and coal production is exportedt. The international airport links the city with the rest of the country. In the outskirts, stands 'Isla de los Pingüinos' (Penguins' Island), in 'Cabo del Buen Tiempo', that can be reached on foot during low tide. 62 km (39 miles) southward from Río Gallegos is situated the geological reserve of 'Laguna Azul' (Blue Lagoon), formed at the bottom of an inactive volcanic crater, surrounded by the moon-like landscape of lava and stones characteristic of 'Cadena del Diablo' (Devil’s Range - Mount Aymond). The lagoon depth is estimated in some 1,000 m (3,330 ft.). Further on, 134 km (84 miles) south from Río Gallegos, is located 'Cabo Vírgenes' where stands the beautiful and lonely 26-meter (87 feet) tall lighthouse, built at the beginning of the XX century, that indicates the end of Continental Argentina, 2,700 km (1,688 miles) away from Buenos Aires. There is in the area a reserve of Magellan Penguins that houses 80,000 couples of these birds which nest here from October to March. Near the cliff can be seen the meager remains of ‘Ciudad del Nombre de Jesús’ (Christ’s name city) founded by one of the first pioneering Spanish explorers that reached the region in 1584. Southward, it is possible to see the Strait of Magellan, witness of the innumerable attempts made by those pioneers that in the XVI and XVII centuries sailed these waters in search for the passage that linked Europe with the Eastern realms. The strait separates the continent from the island of Tierra del Fuego.
Río Gallegos was formerly the entrance to the glacier region because the closest airport was situated in this city, though there is now a modern International airport in El Calafate, now the real gateway to the glaciers. Anyway, if you wish to catch the true spirit of the Patagonian steppe you may travel at least one way the 320 km (200 miles) northwestward to El Calafate along the never ending Patagonian roads through the vast plateau with the only company of the sky, the poor arid vegetation and the horizon. 150 km from Río Gallegos the tiny town of 'La Esperanza', is the only place to refresh for a while. There is a gas station, a police station, a first-aid ward and a coffee-shop.
It is a nice tourist village of a little more than 3,000 inhabitants, that nestles at the base of the cliff on the shore of the vast Lake Argentino (‘Argentine Lake’) and which offers very good and varied accommodation. It is surrounded by small farms that grow vegetables and fruit trees forming a belt around the small urban center. The city is crossed by El Calafate Stream, which divides the village in two. A few meters from the center of the city, a gravel road leads to Nimes Lagoon, near the lake shore, a small bird reserve which houses an important population of black-necked swans, flamingoes, ducks and upland geese surrounded by a dark sand beach. Some 8 km (5 miles) from El Calafate the Punta Walichu Cave which gathers some replicas of paintings made by the local aborigines more than 4,000 years ago stands. These reproductions help visitors to understand a world unknown to them.
El Calafate is the National Capital of the Glaciers and the most important city in the area. Traveling 51 km from El Calafate, you reach the 'Parque Nacional Los Glaciares' (Glaciers National Park), which protects an area covered by glacier tongues coming down from the 'Campo de Hielo Sur' (Southern Patagonian Ice Cap), relicts of the last glaciations in the Quaternary Period. Its core is in the Andes between the 40ß and 51ß parallels of southern latitude. This field adopts a longitudinal shape running from north to south with an extension of about 350 km (219 miles) and a surface of 14,300 km2 (5,520 sq miles) approximately. 47 major glaciers descend from this ice field, some of them belonging to the Atlantic basin, such as: Marconi, Viedma, Moyano, Upsala, Bolados, Onelli, Agazzis, Peineta, Spegazzini, Mayo, Heims, Ameghino, Perito Moreno and Frías. All of these spill over the Argentino and Viedma Lakes, which determines the particular turquoise color of their waters due to the sediments and minerals dragged from the rocky beds of these ice rivers on the mountain slopes, that remain in suspension in the waters since their specific weight is lower to the water's. This allows natural light to penetrate only to a certain depth. The most renown of all the glaciers is the Perito Moreno Glacier. Situated 80 km (50 miles) from El Calafate, it is the most easily reached among them. This is an imposing ice river, 3-kilometer wide and 70-meter (233 feet) high in its front wall, that descends from the 'Campo de Hielo Sur' down to the lake, at 'Canal de los Témpanos' (Icebergs’ Channel), only 200 meters (666 feet) above sea level. It is the only glacier in the area which is considered to be in equilibrium, that is: not receding. It has always been the most important attraction of the region thanks to its spectacular beauty, but specially because of its unusual behavior. The glacier slowly advances down the mountain slope towards the lake, producing, as it spills down, thunderous noises and ruptures. Till a few years ago, the glacier used to grow till reaching Península Magallanes, on the opposite margin of the lake, across the Canal de los Témpanos, blocking the natural flow of the water from one arm of the lake into the other, thus the pressure of the water trying to recover its natural course increased from year to year until it pierced the ice dam, producing the famous ‘fracture’. This unique phenomenon took place every 4-year periods or so, with tons of ice yielding to the force of the water, and bursting in a fascinating and thunderous dance of huge deep blue and green ice blocks turning upside down. This process lasted up to 36 hours; peace and silence returned afterwards. The last fracture took place in 1988 and from then onwards the glacier has not been able to reach the peninsula; some scientists think it is a natural cycle matter while some others think that the global warming is to be blamed. The Perito Moreno Glacier was declared Mankind’s Heritage by UNESCO. The front wall of the glacier can be appreciated from a series of walkways and belvederes situated on the peninsula.
Adventure tourism has strongly developed in the last decades and it has made it possible for many people to enter intangible areas where there is very little infrastructure. This is the case of the so-called Minitrekking on the surface of the Perito Moreno Glacier. Sailing from Bajo de la Sombra Pier, located on the road that goes to the Perito Moreno Glacier, 7 km (4 miles) before reaching the walkways, the Rico Arm of the lake is crossed towards the southern margin of the lake. A short walk through a virgin forest up to the lateral moraines (or glacial sediments) of the glacier, allows visitors to reach the glacier. Here, the expert guides assist the inexperienced visitors to put on the crampons in order to enjoy an expedition on the millenary ice. An unforgettable experience that does not require any special training.
Other ways to approach to the Perito Moreno Glacier are the boat excursions that depart from the local piers: the Nautical Safari, a 1-hour navigation facing the south wall of the glacier, embarking at Bajo de las Sombras Pier; or the Moreno Fiesta, another 1-hour navigation along the north wall of the glacier, embarking at Moreno Pier.
Some of the other glaciers are accessible by boat, most of the excursions departing from Puerto Bandera, situated 47 km (30 miles) from El Calafate. A few kilometers away from the port the boats reach the narrowest strait of the Lake Argentino, known as 'Boca del Diablo' (Devil’s Mouth). It is 1.5 km (1 mile) wide and it is the gateway to the North Arm of the lake. Pushed by the wind, numerous icebergs detached from the glacier fronts drift majestically on the water surface. The Spegazzini Glacier, located on the channel of the same name, has a surface of only 66 km2 (25 sq miles), and is one of the most beautiful glaciers in the area with easy access. It is the one that boasts the highest wall over the lake surface due to its position between mountains. Once in the Onelli Bay, located on the channel of the same name, it is possible to disembark at the Juan Piñeiro Pier to walk through an ancient forest of lengas and ñires. After an 800-meter (2,665 feet) walk, you reach Lake Onelli where the Bolado, Onelli and Agassiz glaciers come down together towards the lagoon filling the waters with drifting icebergs. On the shore of the Onelli Bay, there is a comfortable restaurant where it is possible to shelter from the cold and enjoy a bit of the simple but delicious local cuisine.
The Lake Argentino reaches its deepest point (over 1,000 m/3,330 ft.) in front of Upsala Glacier, located two and a half hours away from Puerto Bandera. It is the largest continental glacier in the southern hemisphere with 595 km2 (230 sq miles). The vessels approach to the glacial front as much as it is permitted by the mass of drifting icebergs. The glacier can also be reached by land, navigating into the Cristina Channel, towards the west of the Upsala Channel, and disembarking on the east bank of Península Herminita, at Estancia Cristina, to start a 3-hour walk upward along an old path opened by the Argentine Navy. During the walk, you will go across a lengas and ñires forest with a series of carved terraces and rocks perfectly polished by glacial erosion. The 'Cañadón de los Fósiles' (Gorge of the Fossils) is a very good example thereof. Some 800 meters before arriving at the east wall of the glacier the Upsala Refuge, former seat of the ‘Instituto del Hielo Continental Patagónico Argentino’ (‘Argentine Patagonian Continental Ice Cap Institute’), built in 1953 to study the behavior of the glaciers of the area is based. The final point of this walk is a natural belvedere with a magnificent view of the Upsala Glacier, the valley and Mounts Cono, Bertachi and Murallón and their hanging glaciers.
Sailing across the South Arm of the Lake Argentino, it is possible to reach Bull’s Bay. In this area, the highest mountains reflect into the bottom of the lake and create an imposing combination of green forests and eternal glaciers. This is the image of Mount Mayo with its glacier and of Mounts Negro and Ballena. A small black sand beach on the Toro Bay allows the access to a sector of the Andean-Patagonian forest of particular beauty where, besides the typical flora of the region, it is possible to see huge trees whose trunks are over 2 m. (7 feet) wide and up to 25 m. (83 feet) tall. Going through this forest, you arrive to the Del Toro Cascade, whose last fall is 60 m. (200 ft.) high. The most important glacier in this area is Glacier Mayo, located in one of the most abrupt fjords of the Andes, surrounded by a dense forest. The icebergs of this glacier flow in a small lagoon, under the imposing towering mass of Mount Mayo.
Lake Roca, located to the south of Lake Argentino, only 65 km (41 miles) from El Calafate, is an ideal place to walk around, horse ride, fish and camp. The way up to this place is a typically Patagonian road, where it is possible to observe the local flora (broom sedge, calafate shrubs and other weeds) and several ovine cattle-raising ranches, where is interesting to visit the huge shearing barns, which come to life during the shearing season from December to February. It is also possible to observe a few original rupestrian paintings that will allow visitors to get in touch with the history of the primitive inhabitants of this lands. Passing by Lake Roca, the road finally ends at Estancia Nibepo Aike, located on the South Arm of Lake Argentino, where you can take advantage of the chance to taste some delicious Patagonian lamb. From here you can take a walking path that skirts the shore of the South Arm towards the 'Tres de Abril' and Fría Lagoons, offering a great view of the majestic mountains of the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile (in spite of the proximity between the national parks 'Los Glaciares' and 'Torres del Paine', there is no direct road that links them).
The legendary peaks of the Mounts Torre and Fitz Roy stand out in the middle of the flat Patagonian steppe and they attract numerous professional climbers and amateur trekkers from all over the world. Short lateral valleys stretched before the mountain chains make the access to this amazing scenery quite difficult. A wide variety of walks differing in difficulty and length can be done in this region. From El Calafate, this area is reached through 220 km (138 miles) most of which are done along the legendary Route 40, that runs parallel to the Andes up to the north of the country. El Chaltén was the name given by the local tehuelche aborigines, primitive inhabitants of the region, to the mountain known nowadays as Mount Fitz Roy. The word 'Chaltén' means ‘mountain that smokes’, probably because its summit is always covered with a layer of clouds. Its particular shape, huge height and the constant clouds must have served them as an orientation signal during their annual migrations from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andes. Its summit can be easily seen from different places. This tiny village, of less than 500 inhabitants, situated at the foothill of this impressive massif, is in constant growth. It has inns, hostels, restaurants and campsites. The town is the starting point of several paths that lead to places that offer unique scenic beauties. One of the most popular walks is the one that leads to the first camping site of Mount Torre, from where is possible to admire the pick-carved-like granite walls of the summit which for many decades was considered inextricable, until it was conquered for the first time by the expedition headed by the Italian Cesare Maestri in 1970. The road up to Torre Lagoon is well indicated and easy to follow. There are about 10 km (6 miles) along a difficult steep path through forests, valleys and rivers of extraordinary beauty. The effort is rewarded, however, by the astonishing landscape offered by the mountain that reflects into the lagoon at its foothill. Another of the walks that are a ‘must’ in the area is the one up to Mount Fitz Roy camp base. The first stop is at Capri Lagoon, reached after a one and a half-hour walk, to get an impressive view of Mount Fitz Roy, which does not diminish, however, the beauty of the unique and lonely landscape of the lagoon and its surrounding forests and peaks. Going on westward you reach the Blanco River, from where the camp basis is just a few steps away. Therefrom the last effort up the steep slope that separates the Laguna de los Tres from the campsite is faced, to reach finally the most outstanding and rewarding view of the lagoon and the huge massif reflecting into the waters.
A shorter walk leads to Chorrillo del Salto, another of the attractions of the area; and another path leads to Piedra del Fraile from where a great view of the whole massifs of Mount Torre and Fitz Roy is obtained. It is also interesting to visit by car or on horseback the renown Lago del Desierto.
Besides these classical full day hikes, there are several other adventures that take a few days spending the nights at campsites. The most interesting ones are those that ascend to the gates of the Continental Ice Field up to the spot called Paso del Viento or to the one known as Paso Marconi. But the most challenging experience is to traverse a portion of the enormous ice cap, joining some of the organized expeditions, called ‘Continental Ice Cap Traverse’. They take about 12 days, to cross the extraordinary mass of ice from Paso Marconi to Lake Viedma. These traverses involve walking across glacial moraines; climbing up and down sharp slopes; traversing over the bare ice itself or over deep, fresh snow blanketing the glacier surfaces and traversing over crevasses as well, which often make it necessary to rope the expedition members. The experience requires not only a strong sense of adventure, but also psychological and physical conditions to afford one of the most severe climate conditions in the world.
Route 40 goes on northward and following it will provide an endless variety of impressive landscapes, as it pierces the Central Patagonian steppe.
The tiny town of Río Turbio is situated in the southwest extreme of Santa Cruz province, near the Chilean frontier, 278 km (17 miles) from Río Gallegos and 300 km from El Calafate. It has a permanent population of about 7,000 inhabitants, most of whom work in the coal industry. There is also a cross-country and alpine ski station called Valdelen, near the Chilean border, visited mainly by local people. From the top of the slope, it is possible to see the deep bays and fjords of the Chilean channels on the Pacific Ocean and the summits of Torres del Paine National Park. From Río Turbio, it is possible to reach Puerto Natales, Chilean city deemed as the gateway to the National Park. The area is more closely accessible from El Calafate through the border crossing of Cancha Carrera – Cerro Castillo.
Torres del Paine is, undoubtedly, the most attractive of the Chilean National Parks, specially because of the characteristic bold features of the Paine Range Peaks reflected in the deep bluish waters of its glacial lakes. Paine, as well as the Mount Fitz Roy area, is worldwide considered a trekking paradise. The highlight of the Park is the Paine Massif, a set of mountains towering at the southwestern rim of the Continental Ice Field, outstanding due to the attractive shapes of its peaks: The Horns, colored horn-shaped spires of intrusive granite into dark sedimentary rock, and The Towers, consisting of three granite tower-shaped peaks with perfectly vertical walls, with the dark glacial lake stretching at their feet, increasing the dramatic beauty of the landscape. Hiking or driving around to discover the most fascinating views in the park, a ‘must’ for any visitor. Surrounding the Paine Range, the impressive views of Lakes Pehoé, Njordenskjold and Grey; the latter with bluish icebergs detached from the enormous glacier of the same name. Mighty rivers, powerful cascades, dense forests, and a varied fauna give the final touch to this marvelous scenery. One of the most challenging adventures available, is a traverse all around the Paine Massif, that takes 9 to 11 days.
From Argentina, its is possible to reach the region through any of the five border crossing that follows:
*Cancha Carrera (AR) – Cerro Castillo (CH): it is the one closest to the Torres del Paine area, located 88 km (55 miles) from the administrative center of the National Park and 292 km (182 miles) from El Calafate. This pass is closed in winter.
*Río Turbio: (AR) – Casas Viejas or La Laurita (CH): it links Río Turbio with Puerto Natales
*Mina Uno (AR) - Dorotea (CH): it also links the cities of Río Turbio and Puerto Natales; located 350 km from El Calafate and 247 km (155 miles) north from Punta Arenas. It is open all year round.
*Monte Aymond (AR): it links Río Gallegos with Punta Arenas (252 km/157 miles).
*San Sebastián (AR): it is the only border crossing which links Tierra del Fuego to the continent. There are ferries that cross the Magellan Strait from San Sebastián to Porvenir in two hours. From there to Ushuaia there are 456 km (285 miles) by land, passing by the city of Río Grande.
USHUAIA (Tierra del Fuego)
Under the Patagonian sky, between Cape Horn and the Magellan Strait, an extended archipelago emerges. The largest island is Tierra del Fuego , a land of legends that lit the popular imagination in the era of the conquerors; it attracted gold chasers, adventurers, pirates, missionaries and scientists. The widespread idea of Tierra del Fuego as a barren and icy region, is far from reality. This is a lively and fertile land full of flowers, woods and birds. This is a paradise of eternally snowed peaks, majestic millenary glaciers, the so-called ‘flag trees’ shaped-by-the-wind and a great deal of marine fauna.
At the southern end of the American Continent, the Andean Cordillera plunges into the ocean producing a large archipelago of islands and rock keys, where there is a variety of channels, fiords and bays, glaciers, lakes and peat bogs, with lush forests and important fauna reserves. Here, the so resistant Nothophagus species of trees impose their almost exclusive presence. Likens, ferns and mosses appear all over, as well, particularly the sphagnum moss that form huge peat bogs.
The island is divided between Argentina and Chile. The capital city of the Argentine Tierra del Fuego province, known as the southernmost city in the world, is 3,040 km (1,900 miles) from Buenos Aires. It is located in the southern end, facing the Beagle Channel, and surrounded by the Martial Mounts Range, towering at its back. In fact, the city stretches over its slopes, framed by a one-of-a-kind scenery of mountains, ocean, glaciers, lakes and woods. Southwards from the coast, the view of the Ushuaia Bay and the Beagle Channel, and the Chilean islands of Navarino and Hoste is superb. The End of the World Museum exhibits an important patrimony related to the history of the city and its primitive inhabitants. Near downtown, the Ushuaia Maritime Museum occupies the building belonging to the former maximum security presidium of Ushuaia called ‘Presidio y Cárcel de Reincidentes’. Very dangerous convicts and well known political prisoners made this prison famous. It worked as a prison until 1947 though one of its buildings is still kept in its original conditions, relating the history of this prison that played an important role in the history of the city, since all its staff lived therein and even the prisoners contributed with their work to its development. The Admiral’s Berisso Navy Base operates here.
Only 12 km (7 miles) west from Ushuaia the access to the Tierra del Fuego National Park is reached. The park is a fantastic natural space where numerous flora and fauna species live together in harmony. The park offers a different landscape during each season of the year; the flowers and the varied bird species are the main attraction in the summer. About 500 flower species, distributed from the sea level to a height of 700 meters (2,300 feet) have been classified. Thirty percent of the total surface of the park is occupied by the Andean-Patagonian or Sub-Antarctic Woods with trees belonging to the family of the Nothophagus, such as: ñires (low deciduous beach tree), coihues or guindos (evergreen beach tree) and the most important: lengas (high deciduous beach tree) as well as some other species in a lower proportion. Due to the diversity of climates and vegetation of this territory, over 200 bird species have been registered including the majestic Condor, known as the ‘King of the Andes’. In the woods, two mammalian species stand out : the rabbit and the beaver (both species exotic to the local environment). The latter is the one that has caused the greatest impact on the environment, specially on the hydraulic system, building dams that change the course of the waters and flood extended sections of the woods. The park is also an excellent place for adventure tours. One choice is a one-day hike focused on flora and fauna understanding, visiting beaver dams and climbing up to a panoramic view point that allows to get a great view covering the area from Lake Roca to Lapataia Bay. A more demanding choice is a three-day trekking to the Laguna del Caminante ('Walker's Lagoon’), whose extraordinary beauty framed by one of the most beautiful landscapes of Tierra del Fuego, is rarely visited in spite of being so close to the city, due to its difficult access.
On the way to the park, the road goes through the 'Estancia Río Pipo' where the typical Restaurant Tolkeyén, offers the possibility of tasting the delicious Patagonian lamb barbecue, one of the typical dishes of the regional cuisine, along with the king-crab. Nearby, the Central Station stands close to Pipo River. This is the departing point of the already famous Southern Fuegian Railway, renown as the Train of the End of the World. It is a small 120-seat train that enters the National Park stopping at different interesting sites. The train follows the old terreplein of the small train that worked until 1947 carrying prisoners from the Ushuaia Presidium to the woods in search of wood for heating. Traces of this destructive activity are still sadly notorious in the woods. The train goes through Pipo River across the ‘Burnt Bridge’ and makes its first stop at 'Cascada de la Macarena' (Macarena’s Cascade). Here, you can see a reconstruction of an aboriginal Yamana or Selknam settlement, called ‘Río Ajej’. The final section of the journey, runs along the 'Cañadón del Toro' (Bull’s Canyon), to reach finally the end of the railways. It is possible to choose then between continuing the excursion to the National Park, or undoing the way back to the Central Station. The excursion goes on to Lapataia Bay, the southernmost tip of Argentina, on the coasts of Beagle Channel, and the final end of National Route 3, at 3,300 km (2,063 miles) from Buenos Aires. It is most interesting to observe there the ‘concheros’, invaluable archaeological sites which have produced incredible information about the customs of the primitive local inhabitants, their habits and their every day life. Other interesting places within the National Park are, Lake Roca and its nearby tea-house, Pipo River Cascade and Ensenada Bay, from where it is possible to embark into a little boat towards 'Isla Redonda' (Round-shaped Island), an intangible zone of the park, where an interesting flora interpretation path has been outlined and where the southernmost post office in Argentina is located.
Sailing the waters of Beagle Channel is a ‘must’, the gateway to the waters of the ‘end of the world’. Different vessels set sail from the ‘Tourist Pier’, near downtown. Sailing across Ushuaia Bay, a charming view of the city and the surrounding mountains is admired, till reaching 'Paso Chico' (Narrow Pass), which indicates the entrance to the mythical Beagle Channel, which still preserves its halo of mystery and ancient memories of old shipwrecks. However, it is the perfect place to observe marine fauna in its natural environment. The boat reaches the Birds’ Island, close to Bridges Archipelago, where, as guardians over the rocks, the Imperial and Magellan cormorants deceive visitors with their appearance of penguins, living along with a wide variety of marine fauna formed by albatrosses, petrels, seagulls and ducks. Within short distance, the Sea Lions' Island, emerges packed with both one-haired and tow-haired sea lions that seem to be sunbathing. Nearby, the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, only witness to the wreckage of the German ship Monte Cervantes, back in 1930, stands on the island of the same name. Further on, the Martillo Island, known as Penguins’ Island, boasts an important rookery of Magellan penguins. Just in front of it, Estancia Harberton is located on the homonymous bay, facing the crystal clear waters of the channel. The estancia may also be reached overland from Ushuaia. It belongs to the Bridges family and it is the oldest construction of the Island with elements brought directly from England in the XIX century. From Harberton Bay, it is possible to glimpse the Chilean Hoste Island, chosen by Jules Verne as the setting for an improbable republic in one of his novels. Further east from the estancia, which is probably the most unexplored section of the island, stretches a 5,000 km2 (1,930 sq miles) triangle inhabited only by guanacos, foxes, geese and varied marine fauna, including penguins, sea lions, and occasionally, even some whales. It is called Península Mitre. It was a mythical land for the Onas, primitive inhabitants of the land and also the stage of the first encounter of these cultures with white men. Hundreds of vessels shipwrecked near its coasts, and the relics of some of them still remain laid on the beaches as well as devices that belonged to the old gold searchers that lucklessly wandered in the region; speechless witnesses of the useless attempts of ‘civilized men’ to tame this hostile land. A ten-day horse riding expedition along the coast to the eastern extreme of the island is a superb choice for those in search of challenging adventures.
The western portion of Tierra del Fuego Island, in Chilean territory, stretches in an enormous peninsula where the highest peaks of the Insular Andes soar up. Massifs up to 2,000 meter-high (6,660 feet) seem to emerge out of the ocean such as the 'Cordillera Darwin', a legendary territory largely covered by a massive ice layer, just a small example, of what was the last glacier period. The deep fjords characteristic of its coastal line are another fantastic trace left by the erosive action of the glaciers. Glaciers that slide unnoticed from the Ice Field towards those fjords, finally breaking off in hundreds of incredibly bluish or greenish icebergs. The iced peaks of 'Cordillera Darwin', most of them unconquered, are always amazing for the few visitors that have the rare privilege of admiring them. A cruise sailing from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia (or vice versa) makes it possible to get in touch with this untouched beauty. Another way is joining one of the few trekking and climbing expeditions explorations organized in this area.
Leaving Ushuaia northbound, bordering the river that descends from Mount Olivia, symbol of the city, the road goes through the Andes. The landscape is featured by a series of beautiful valleys and mountain ranges such as the Carbajal Valley and the Alvear Range that extend up to the Garibaldi Pass (430 meters/1,430 feet above sea level). Many winter sport resorts have taken advantage of these most proper terrain for the practice of different activities such us cross-country ski, mainly, and also Alpine ski, dog sled, snow cat and hiking with racquet snowshoes. Some of them are: Cerro Castor, Tierra Mayor, Las Cotorras, Valle de los Huskies and Haruwen. From Paso Garibaldi, a great view of the Lake Escondido (Hidden Lake) in the first term, and Lake Fagnano as a backdrop, is obtained. Down, by the lake shore, the charming Hostería Petrel is settled. Going on northbound, towards Lake Fagnano, along the main route, it is possible to observe several sawmills, most of which are nowadays closed, even if they were prosperous in the past. Traveling just a few miles away from the main road, you enter a harsh and barren land, with quite rare traces of human presence, without paved roads or human settlements. The ideal setting for those who love nature, adventure and solitude. Notwithstanding wandering in such a terrain poses some obstacles, such us overcoming fallen trees, walking over beaver dams, crossing dense woods, avoiding peat bogs and crossing rivers though improvised trunk bridges or, sometimes, fording barefoot through the cold water. The difficulties involved in the task are a lot, but they precisely bring along its main attractiveness: to feel an intimate contact with pristine nature. One of the best trekking alternatives available, is to cross the Beban's Pass. Beban was an old inhabitant of the island who, around 1920, while he was chasing some prisoners escaped from the presidium, reached the pass for the first time, discovering the mirror of water that the local aborigines used to call Kami. The area still preserves the same mystery and amazing beauty that Beban found in the old times. Lake Kami is the one known nowadays as Lake Fagnano. The lake, that occupies an important geological fault, parallel to the one that formed the Beagle Channel, is the largest one in the island (110 km/69 miles long and 5 to 8 km/3 to 5 miles wide), and flows into the Pacific Ocean. Lake Fagnano appears in the middle of a bleak and mostly inhabited area, with the only exception of Tolhuin, town situated in the eastern head of the lake, just in the ‘Heart of the Island’, as the area has come to be called. And the name itself is an Ona aboriginal word meaning ‘heart-shaped’. The town is starting point of many different alternative tourism excursions. North from Lake Fagnano, an area of transition between the Andean and the steppe environment appears, the area where Lake Yehuín and Lake Chepelmut are situated. Their turquoise waters flowing southwards, across a system of connected mountain valleys, lead to Lake Fagnano. Canoeing along this streams and connected lakes, facing a myriad of obstacles becomes a unique experience that allows a close contact with nature.
By then, all traces of the Andean-Patagonian woods have been left behind. Landscape is definitively dominated by the characteristic steppe vegetation. The city of Río Grande is located in this area. It is mainly dedicated to oil exploitation and exploration but there are also some industries, mostly electronic and textile companies, that are what remains of the Law of Industrial Encouragement dating back to 1972. At present many of them are closed. In the outskirts of the city, there are numerous estancias devoted to sheep raising. Its location, by the homonymous river, makes the city an important center of game fishing, specially for trout and salmon. From there, National Route 3, to the north, leads to San Sebastián, from where it is possible to cross the border to Chile and then, across the Magellan Strait, reach the continent.
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This complex, energetic, and seductive port city, which stretches south-to-north along the Rio de la Plata, has been the gateway to Argentina for centuries. Portenos, as the multinational people of Buenos Aires are known, possess an elaborate and rich cultural identity. They value their European heritage highly--Italian and German names outnumber Spanish, and the lifestyle and architecture are markedly more European than any other in South America. One of the world's finest opera houses, the Teatro Colon, flourishes here on the plains alongside the river. Portenos are intensely involved in the life and culture of their city, and they will gladly share the secrets of Buenos Aires if you lend an ear and relate your own stories in return.
Buenos Aires' physical structure is a mosaic as varied and diverse as its culture. The city has no dominating monument, no natural monolith that serves as its focal point. Instead, Buenos Aires is composed of many small places, intimate details, and tiny events and interactions, each with a slightly different shade, shape, and character. Glass-sheathed skyscrapers cast their slender shadows on 19th century Victorian houses; tango bars hazed with the piquant tang of cigar smoke face dusty, treasure-filled antique shops across the way.
The city's neighbourhoods are small and highly individualized, each with its own characteristic colors and forms. In the San Telmo district, the city's multinational heritage is embodied in a varied and cosmopolitan architecture - Spanish Colonial design couples with Italian detailing and graceful French Classicism. La Boca's pressed tin houses are painted a rainbow of colors, and muralists have turned the district's side-streets into avenues of color.
For all its diversity, the elusive spirit of Argentina as a country is present everywhere in Buenos Aires. The national dance, the tango, is perhaps the best expression of that spirit--practiced in dance halls, parks, open plazas, and ballrooms, it is a dance of intimate separation and common rhythm, combining both an elegant reserve and an exuberant passion.
Cuisine and Nightlife
The dining options in Buenos Aires are endless. This is a city that takes dining seriously, and meals can easily last a few hours. Like the national norm, nobody here really starts eating until 9pm. Main courses usually consist of an asado, a barbecue of excellent quality beef. Beef is dominant, and it also comes in the forms of bife de chorizo (sirloin steak) or empanadas (meat pies). The local wine is also good, especially the reds. You also might want to try mate, the traditional gaucho drink. The national deserts are dulce de leche, a milk jelly, and alfajores - Argentine sweets made from dulce de leche.
Buenos Aires is never more alive than it is at night. It is what you'd expect from a city that invented tango. Avenues come alive with people on their way to restaurants and theaters, especially Puerto Madero or Recoleta. People like to dress up and stay out until dawn, and anyone who visits the city should go and see a tango show. There are several major venues, most of them in San Telmo. After dinner or a night of dancing, Porteños like to grab a coffee at one of the city's myriad cafes, chat, and perhaps watch the sunrise.
The Teatro Colon needs little introduction to those familiar with the opera. As one of the world's premier opera houses, it has hosted the likes of Maria Callas, Toscanini, Stravinsky, and Caruso. Tickets are hard to come by, as many of the theater's 3,500 seats are held by season ticketholders. A guided tour lets the visitor glimpse the inner workings of this eminent center of opera.
Plaza de Mayo
The Plaza de Mayo is the city center (the city, in fact, was literally built around it), some of Argentina's most important historical events took place here. Surrounding it is the Government House, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Cabildo (town hall). Today the Plaza probably owes most of its fame to the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the women who still show up in the square seeking information on the desaparecidos, their loved ones who vanished during the Military rule.
This area is the most fashionable place in Buenos Aires to dine; it is adjacent to the Cementario de la Recoleta, Eva Peron's final resting place. Along with Evita's much-visited grave, there is Our Lady of the Pilar Church, the Cultural Center, and the Palais de Glace, a major gallery. You can walk along the Pilar, which brims with a wide variety of restaurants and venues featuring live music every night.
San Telmo is widely hailed as the most picturesque part of Buenos Aires. Cobblestone streets and colonial buildings set the atmosphere for an array of shops and boutiques, tango parlors and cafes.
Perhaps the most colorful area in Buenos Aires is La Boca (the Mouth), which sits along the port. Here an assortment of brightly painted low houses made of wood and metal burst upon the eyes in a scene that could almost be from some- where in Scandinavia. The main street here is Caminito, which has an artisans and painters fair, open air tango shows, and typical Italian cantinas.
The Parque Lezama
This is one of the city's most attractive parks--enormous magnolias, palms, and cedar elms grace the winding paths among the hills, and a smoothly-flowing river cuts through the park center. At the Museo Historico Nacional, Argentina's turbulent history is reviewed, from the 16th century to the present. It features a collection of paintings by Candido Lopez, a primitive stylist and one of Argentina's most important artists. The Catedral Russo Ortodoxo, with its soaring and majestic onion domes, is one of the city's many fine architectural ornaments. Curiously enough, it is still owned by Russia.
Palermo is area of woods and lakes, on large park composed of many small ones. Among the attracts are a pleasant rose garden filled with sculptures, polo fields, and the Japanese Garden.
Situated on the Parana River Delta, Tigre is a natural playground consisting of 350 rivers and streams and an ecological reserve. You can partake in water sports and fishing, or check out crafts at the Fruit Dock. There are also two museums here, the Navy Museum and the Sarmiento.
A great excursion from the city is a visit to one of the many Estancias, or Argentine ranches. Here you can get a sense of the traditional life of the gauchos. Many Estancias offer accom- modations, traditional food, live folk music and dancing, and exhibitions of gaucho horseback skills.
When it comes to shopping, Buenos Aires can be one of the most charming places anywhere. From its grand boulevards to the winding streets of Arroyo, the city offers an endless variety of boutiques, galleries, and antique shops. The Sunday Flea Market in San Telmo provides excellent, leisurely people-watching and shopping, and there is a very good Sunday Antiques Fair at the Plaza Dorego.
Most of our Buenos Aires hotels are located close by the Florida St. The main shopping area with Galeria Pacifico the best and most traditional mall in all of Argentina
Fall - ranges between 10-21C.
Winter - ranges between 2-12C.
Spring - ranges between 13-25C.
Summer - ranges between 21-31C.
Air - International flights arrive at Ezeiza, about 40 minutes ($35 taxi ride) from downtown Buenos Aires. Domestic arrivals land at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, 10 minutes from downtown (by taxi, about $7).
Major carriers include: Aeroflot, Avianca, Aerolineas Argentinas, Air France, American Airlines, Alitalia, Aeroperu, Austral, British Airways, Canadian Airlines, Dinar, Iberia, KLM, Lan Chile, LAPA, Lloyd Aero Boliviano, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Pluna, South African Airways, Swissair, TAM, United, Varig, Vasp.
Taxis - Taxis are black and yellow. Available ones have a red light on the front, and the fare is metered. Arriving as the airport you have the choice of booking a "remise" with predetermined prices for every possible destination within Buenos Aires.
Rail: Service is good to the suburban areas, but it is nowadays limited for longer distances.
Subway: Five lines connect the city, all of them safe and fast. Service is punctual.
The main hospitals in Buenos Aires are the German Hospital, Fernandez Hospital, Clinica Suizo Argentina, Clinica Bazterrica, Rivadavia Hospital, French Hospital, Clinica de la Trinidad, and Italian Hospital. For emergencies, Asistencia Medica SAME.
Is it dangerous to travel to Argentina?
Democracy has brought forward many changes. In places where a city regards tourism as serious business, policing has been heightened dramatically.
Ten years ago, group tourism to Argentina, in a manner similar to European tourism, did not exist.
It is unwise anywhere to leave valuables lying around or flaunt one's wealth, and the traveler generally does not venture far from the main stay (just as you would avoid certain parts of large U.S. cities.) Argentina can be regarded as no less "safe" than any region where rich and poor meet. Just be discreet!
Although unemployment has risen sharply between 1999 and 2001 and although as a big city Buenos Aires does have it's spots it is still regarded as a safe travel destination.
As much as you know where the places are in your city which you would never go or take other people to, we know Argentina. At 4starSouthAmerica we do not wish to hide anything from you. However, our tours and destinations steer clear of such dangers.
That's also why we decided to offer escorted tours to Argentina. 4starSouthAmerica works only with specially trained, experienced and licensed local guides and tour directors, who'll share their best advice to keep you safe!
SouthAmerica tours do not visit places where the World Health Organization recommends - or a Government organization requires vaccinations.
However, we do recommend that if you are heading for the Amazon on our Post-extension Amazon Ariaú Jungle Lodge or for the Pantanal on our Brazilian Exuberance that you get prophylactic Malaria medication (and take it, too!) If you are planning on exploring deeper into the rainforest or other unusual places in earnest on you own, please get advice from a specialized hospital or medical center.
The Jungle Lodge is located on the Rio Negro arm of the Amazon, which contains less nutrients for mosquitoes, and therefore attracts fewer!
Still, parts of Argentina and Argentina are a tropical countries. Be prepared, bring or buy repellent and eat only in hygienic places.
The peso is currently at approx 4 to 1 to the US Dollar (ARS 1.00 = US$ 0.25)
Local drinks (beer, wine, cocktails, soft drinks, and bottled water) cost about half what they do in the U.S. Tap water is safe, but only because it contains a lot of disinfectants. For your tastebuds' sake, ordering water sin gas" (without gas) is an inexpensive alternative.
When you desire American standards and/or American food, expect prices as you would pay in the U.S. As with anything that is imported, expect to pay more, at times much more!
One nice thing: there is no sales tax to pay on top of the bill (Although, hotels, if indepently booked usuall -and legally- add the 21% VAT on top of the hotel bill. Tips in restaurants should not exceed 10%.
As just mentioned, restaurant tipping is about 10 %. Otherwise, where you would hand out one dollar, give one Peso. You need not tip taxi drivers.
It is customary to tip your highly trained, bilingual tour director about US$3 to $5 per person per day, and your coach driver about US$2-$3.
Yes, but no communication problems. Everybody loves to practice the little English they know. But do not expect everyone to speak English fluently. Use body language! In larger cities, everybody knows someone who speaks a bit of English, at least. In the more remote areas, Spanish is best. French, with a bit of patience, is often understood.
Hotels usually carry at least one TV-channel is English (CNN). Many cable channels broadcast their programs (like American sitcoms) in English with Spanish subtitles.
Just learn the two magic words:
Please! Por favor! (easy, isn´t it!)
Thank you: Gracias!
it gets you a lot of friendly smiles.
The Argentine currency is the Peso, which had been pegged one to one to the dollar. On January 9th, 2002, the peg was removed, and the currency has dropped to approx. 4.00 Pesos to the dollar.
Please ask us about this just before you travel, the situation is constantly changing!
Bolivia borders Peru to the northwest, Argentina to the north and east, Paraguay to the southeast, Argentina to the south, and Chile to the west. La Paz, the seat of government, is the world's highest capital city. It contains many museums and provides visitors with modern and comfortable hotels.
Cochabamba, the garden city, boasts a long tradition of local culture and folklore and Tarija City's excellent climate, combined with beautiful flowers and fine wines, makes it ideal for finding peace and quiet. The states of Beni and Pando, in the heart of the jungle, occupy a region offering visitors dramatic and colourful landscapes. The 'Golden' Pantiti's many rivers provide popular land and water excursions.
National dishes include empanada salteña (a mixture of diced meats, chives, raisins, diced potatoes, hot sauce and pepper baked in dough) and lomo montado (fried tenderloin steak with two fried eggs, rice and fried banana). Cruzena, is considered to be one of the best beers on the continent. La Paz has many nightclubs, which generally open around midnight. On Fridays and Saturdays there are folk music and dancing shows which start late in the evening.
Two-thirds of Argentina's population lives near the coast, meaning that life is a beach for locals and tourists alike.
People are the essence of the country, and while Argentina is home to a multitude of ethnic groups of varying economic status, there are some characteristics that everyone shares - energy and passion.
It's not all reserved for football either; Argentinaians enjoy a good party whatever the circumstances.
Rio is the hottest of destinations, particularly around Carnival time. Dancers gyrate, the music beats and the summer temperature rises. Almost anything goes. Bodies of all ages, colours and sizes don the very minimum in beachwear and idle away the days on the sun-kissed Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Volleyball, swimming and people-watching are but a few of the activities in which you can indulge.
Argentina's landscape is as diverse as the people who inhabit it. A rich colonial history exists, and the town of Parati is an exquisite example of eighteenth-century Portuguese architecture. The jungles and rivers of the Amazon, home to lush vegetation and exotic wildlife, incite notions of exploration amongst the intrepid, while the thundering Iguassu Falls are simply a spectacular wonder. Argentina's massive assortment of people and places renders it ripe for choice.
Chile is situated in South America, bounded by Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, the Antarctic and the Pacific Ocean. Home of the Andes mountain range, it is a thin ribbon of land, 4200km (2610 miles) long and nowhere more than 180km (115 miles) wide.
Arica, near the northern border with Peru, is an excellent tourist centre. It has good beaches and the famous San Marcos Cathedral. Chile's central region and the islands feature the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, rolling green fields, vineyards and orange groves. The modern capital city, Santiago, has a good range of hotels to suit all tastes and pockets. Easter Island, west of the mainland, is famous for the Moai, gigantic stone figures found all over the island. National dishes include empanada (meat, chicken or fish, with onions, eggs, raisins and olives inside a flour pastry) and humitas (seasoned corn paste, wrapped in corn husks and boiled). Chile is, of course, famous for its wine and pisco is a powerful liqueur also distilled from grapes. While many restaurants and hotels offer entertainment there are also a number of independent discotheques, nightclubs and late night cabaret spots.
Argentina (short review)
Argentina is a land of extremes, its hectic urban centres contrasting with a staggeringly remote hinterland, and can be simultaneously hot in one region and cold in another. The one common thread is that the people possess a curiosity, passion, and fervour for life, most visible when it comes to football, the national obsession. Evita, the Tango, gauchos and estancias are the country's clichéd attractions, but what strikes visitors most is that life here is for living - the fast pace only letting up for the afternoon siesta.
Referred to as a grimy Paris, Buenos Aires is a sophisticated capital brimming with character and an excellent spot for shopping and watching the world go by - whether it's pedestrians strolling or motorists driving at break-neck speed. Nightlife is second to none and the restaurants are a food-lover's delight.
Argentina's national parks teem with wildlife and incredible mountainous vistas, while the colossal Perito Moreno Glacier and Iguazú Falls are natural wonders. Endless hiking opportunities abound in the south, where Patagonia is stunningly barren and mystifying and the Tierra del Fuego feels like the end of the world. The Andes offer excellent skiing - the ski-resort of Bariloche being the country's most established. Horseriding, adventure sports and birdwatching are just a few of the other activities on offer throughout the country.
Argentina, vastly unexplored and undiscovered by most tourists, is an adventure waiting to happen.
We accept online or written check, Visa, Mastercard, Discover & American Express for deposit on our tours. Bulk consolidator fares for airlines often can only be paid by check, and must be paid within 5-14 days of reservation (depending on airline and fare). We shall notify at the time of reservation. Please let us know at time of booking if you wish to pay by credit card, and we shall try to make special arrangements.
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