Northern Argentina and Patagonia: The best places to travel & top things to do in each spot
Argentina is iconic for its great wine, even better steaks and unique landscapes. Before coming to Argentina, we were guilty of focussing our research on the Patagonia region. Much to our surprise, the north of Argentina blew us away even more than we expected and is now our favourite area in South America! We’ve compiled this complete list of EVERYWHERE to go in Argentina. From the snow-capped mountains in the south to the Mars-like landscapes in the north, this ultimate travel list is sure to help you find your way around each stop and help you have a fantastic time!
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Purmamarca and Humahuaca (Fourteen Coloured Mountains)
1. Buenos Aires
Of course this one has to make the list! In our opinion, this is the most beautiful capital city in South America. The European inspired architecture makes it easy to walk around the city for hours on end. We stayed two weeks in Buenos Aires and ate enough lomo and drank enough Malbec to last us MONTHS! Although we still couldn’t get enough of it!
Here are our favourite activities to do in Buenos Aires, let us know how many you tick off:
La Bomba De Tiempo – every Monday night there is a drum show at the Cultural Konex centre. Get ready to have your mind blown away by the amazing music, costumes and atmosphere!
Go to a football match (or as we like to call it; soccer). Just make sure you’re wearing the correct colours otherwise you might not be welcome in.
Watch the protest for stolen children - Every Thursday at 3:30pm you can see the women gathering with white rags/diapers on their heads at the pink government building in order to protest for their stolen children
Do a free walking tour with Buenos Aires Free Walks. It is a tip-based company and the guides are very good at their job! We did one around the city and it was one of the best walking tours we’ve done in Latin America.
ANOTHER walking tour in La Boca. We organized our tour through our hostel. La Boca is a vibrant, bright area of Buenos Aires – it feels like you’re in a whole different city! On this tour you will also get to visit the famous Boca Stadium.
Following on from La Boca, here are our favourite areas to explore during our time in BA: San Telmo, La Boca, Palermo, Plaza de Mayo, Puerto Madero, Obelisco, Recoleta Cemetry (this can also be done as a walking tour, however we just walked around on our own. It would have been good to learn about some of the history though!)
Palermo neighbourhood is fantastic for good restuarants, craft beer, street art and shopping. We stayed at Art Factory Soho and it was a great location.
Eat at Don Julio restaurant in Palermo. This is a very famous steakhouse and it’s worth every cent! You can turn up at the restaurant and put your name down on a list, while you wait you get free glasses of champagne and mini empanadas! Honestly, I wish more restaurants would adopt this strategy! We ordered the lomo which was to die for!
Eat at Desnivel if you’re on a tight backpackers budget – Desnivel is a fantastic steakhouse in San Telmo with very affordable prices! We went there THREE times and everytime I ordered the lomo with garlic sauce. DROOL
Visit the secret speakeasy bar “The Harrison”. This was probably one of our favourite experiences in Buenos Aires! You can find this secret bar on Maps.Me, but getting in is the hard thing. When you arrive, you will find yourself out the front of a busy Japanese restaurant and in front of a very important looking bouncer. Tell him you don’t have a reservation but you only want some drink out the back. He will probably refuse you entry but keep persisting and tell him you either have friends inside or you have been there before. An escort will come and take you through the restaurant and into a wine cellar with a vaulted door. She will tell you the famous story of Nicky Harrison and fill you in on the no photography rule. She will then lead you inside the most magnificent 1920’s style bar you probably will ever see in your life! You can pick a cocktail from the extensive list, smoke a cigar and sit back and take it all in.
Go rollerblading – we visited a beautiful park called ‘Rose Garden’ near Plaza Italia and we hired rollerblades for an hour, which was so much fun! We were totally useless in comparison to everyone else but we had a fantastic time scooting around.
2. El Calafate
El Calafate is home to the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier. It is also a gorgeous little town that is filled with good food, great shops and many, many tour companies!
We flew to El Calafate from Buenos Aires and stayed at Folk Hostel which was really nice, new and had a big, fantastic kitchen to cook in!
Our favourite things to do in El Calafate:
See the famous Perito Moreno Glacier - We visited the glacier on a tour and combined it with the mini-trekking activity where you wear crampons and walk on the glacier for one hour. We booked through Always Glaciers
Experience the Glacier Boat Ride - If you have some spare pesos, this is a great activity to do if you want to get up close and personal to some of the largest glaciers in South America. The best part is, they have a bar on the ferry so you can warm up with some baileys along the way! Once again, we booked through Always Glaciers.
Eat at “Isabel Al Disco” - Make sure you order the Hunter Style Lamb - our favourite meal in all of South America!
Explore the gorgeous town and admire the souvenirs - We certainly aren’t souvenir people, however my favourite purchase on our trip has been my sheep wool Patagonia socks - I’ve taken them on all our mountain treks and night buses. THE COSIEST!
3. El Chalten
This is the typical snowy mountain town, totally cute and full of the most welcoming people we have met. El Chalten is the base town for some of the best hikes in South America. There are no national park fees and most hikes are a few minutes walk from the town centre. We stayed at Ranche Grande hostel which features a 24 hour kitchen which was great for when you are planning on leaving early in the morning!
Our list of best things to do in El Chalten:
Hike to Mount Fitz Roy – our most favourite (and first) hike in South America! This is a medium difficulty hike with a hard, uphill in the last hour. It was tough but the view is 120% worth every step. I was so overwhelmed with the beauty I actually cried when I got to the top!!
Hike to Cerro Torre – this is an easy 24km hike with beautiful scenery through the forest
Eat the freshly made empanadas at Che Empanadas
Try one of the many craft beers available in town after a long day hiking!
Being the most southern city in the world, how could you not go here! It is the starting point for all the cruises to Antarctica and home to some beautiful hikes. We went to Ushuaia hoping to score a last minute cruise, unfortunately the only one available was US $7,000 each, which we weren’t prepared to pay!
What to do in Ushuaia:
Obviously, we will start with a luxury cruise to Antarctica - Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to do this! We called into a tour agency to try and get a last-minute deal, however the price of USD$7,500 was still too much for us! Even though we didn’t do it, we can assure it’ll be a once in a lifetime experience.
Eat the best empanadas in South America (in our opinion) - We searched A LOT and we found them at a small shop called Buen Un Lugar on the edge of town. It’s mostly open at nighttime, however if you’re lucky you can catch them during the day! Our favourites were…well, everything. However, if we had to narrow it down to only a few it would be the lamb option, corn option and blue cheese option.
Hike to Laguna Esmeralda – this was a beautiful hike to the laguna but VERY muddy!! We’re talking nearly knee deep. Some people were prepared with wellington boots, unfortunately we weren’t. We managed in our hiking boots but it took quite a while and every step was extremely careful. If you can hire or borrow some boots, do it.
Visit Tierra del Fuego National Park – You can organise to get to the national park through your hostel, however it is certainly possible to hitchhike your way there, like everywhere in Patagonia. The entrance to the park is quite expensive, but it’s worth it for a night or 2 of camping. We just went for the day and wish we had some equipment to stay overnight and make the most of the relaxing environment.
Take a tour through the Beagle Channel and pass hundreds of sunbaking sea lions
Visit the penguins with the company PiraTour - A famous experience in Ushuaia, the only company that allows you to step foot on the beach where all the penguins are.
If you didn’t get a change to dine at it Isabela al Disco - This is your last chance! Get there and enjoy our favourite dish in South America, The Hunter Style Lamb. This restaurant in Ushuaia overlooks the water and is a really relaxing place to eat and enjoy a drink or two.
You can’t go wrong when you visit Bariloche. We stayed here for two whole weeks and loved every minute of it. This town is famous for its impeccable craft beer, high-quality chocolates and scenic hikes. Bariloche sits overlooking a large lake that provides scenic walks and bike rides around the town.
The full list of what to get up to in Bariloche:
Visit Manush Brewery for the best beer and food in town - It’s a busy little restaurant so make sure you don’t get there too late!
Don’t miss Rapanui and El Reino - for the best chocolates in Bariloche (we did a lot of research on those facts)
Catch the Cerro Otto cable car - This is where you can visit the incredible revolving restaurant and enjoy a Pisco Sour overlooking the lake!
Visit Colonia Suiza on a Sunday - Indulge the traditional cooking with leaves and coals and live music, it’s definitely a can’t-miss activity! PRO TIP: make sure you line up early for the return bus because it gets super busy and you don’t want to miss out!
Cycle the Chico Circuit - A beautiful 25km bike ride around Lake Perito Moreno. Take in the spectacular views along the way and remind yourself how lucky you are to be in this beautiful part of the world.
Visit Patagonia Cerveceria - This was actually our favourite stop in Bariloche! Enjoy the afternoon here drinking the best beers and an unforgettable view of the blue lake. We stopped in here for a few hours whilst on our Chico Circuit bike ride.
Easy hikes - Llao Llao which can be done in 30-40 minutes during the above bike ride loop. Cerro Campanario which has the best view of Bariloche you can find!
Medium-difficult hikes - Frey hike and Laguna Negra are both great hikes to do whilst in Bariloche, get your heart pumping with these tough climbs, it is even possible to also stay overnight at the refugio’s if you wish.
Visit the Saint Bernard (Whisky Dog) in the town square - Known for rescuing lost people, these gorgeous dogs are part of the mountain lifestyle. Get a photo with the one in the town square or just visit him for a big cuddle!
5. El Bolson
El Bolson is great place to get away from the hustle and bustle. We went there for a short weekend during our Bariloche stay to recharge and relax. It’s about 1.5 hours away from Bariloche a great place to stay for a few days.
What we got up to on our weekend in El Bolson:
Explore the “Carved Forrest” – a sculpture park that has been carved out of trees after a fire went through the area in the 90’s. A 12km dirt road leads up to the entrance of the park, we managed to hitchhike our way up and down the hill to save on taxi fees.
Hike to Cajon Azul - a beautiful easy hike through the forest. You’ll come across beautiful, bright blue water and rushing waterfalls! A great day trek or you have the option to camp in the tranquillo refugio.
Visit the markets in town on a Sunday - These hippie markets were everything wonderful! From fresh foods, incredible berry jams and juices, it was a great way to spend the Sunday in a food coma!
Don’t forget to check out Brewers Patio El Bolsón - They serve up great craft beers and have a nice open patio to relax in (and really fast WIFI, hello Netflix downloads). Our favourite was the raspberry beer, make sure you give it a go!
With the Andes right your doorstep and the countless wineries serving up some of the best Malbec in Argentina, Mendoza is a city not to miss!
Some of the best activities to do during your stay in Mendoza:
Cycle around the wineries in Mendoza – we went to Maipu Bikes and rented a bike for $300 pesos for the full day. They gave us a good rundown of what wineries to visit AND we got a happy hour with free food and wine once we finished our tour at 5pm. Let’s just say, we don’t remember much from that night!
Go horseback riding through the vineyards – like a scene from a movie, you can see more of the Andes mountains whilst horseback riding through the beautiful Mendoza vineyards. Tours can range from half a day to a full 10 days, so take your pick!
Indulge in the best Argentinian cuisine – Mendoza is known for some of the best steaks in Argentina. So take advantage of this! Try and get to El Patio Jesus Maria for the best (in our opinion) Bife de Chorizo.
Hang out and people watch in Plaza Independencia – Of course you can’t miss the city’s main plaza. Here you can admire the fountains dancing water show, relax with some street food, stroll through artisan stalls and visit the theatre and modern art museum.
Cafayte, also known as The Tuscany of Argentina is a hidden gem that HAS to be included in your itinerary! Not only is it famous for it’s high-altitude wine, wine ice cream and great empanadas but it also has some of the most incredible landscapes in South America, in fact the drive through the Quebrada de la Conchas has been our main highlight for our entire trip!
Here are our top highlights from our time in Cafayate:
Enjoy the multiple bodegas (wineries) close to town – we had a car during our stay so it was quite easy to get around, many people also rent bikes and cycle around due to the wineries being in such close proximity to the town centre. Our FAVOURITE and most beautiful winery was called Bodega Piatelli, enjoy a wine and some lunch overlooking the fantastic vineyards with the picturesque mountains in the background.
Take advantage of the delicious empanadas – You’ll come across lot’s of places selling delicious empanadas, so be sure to grab one for breakfast, lunch or dinner…or all three!
Try the wine ice cream – Yep, you read that right! Cafayate has ice cream stores that sell Malbec flavoured wine AND Torrontes flavoured wine. Torrontes is a high-altitude grape that Cafayate is famous for, so make sure you don’t miss out on this one!
Explore the red valley of Quebrada de la Conchas – the most iconic drive in Northern Argentina, our favourite part of visiting Cafayte and one of our highlights from our entire trip! This area is located along the first 50km of Highway 68 as you travel north to Salta. We had our own car so we were able to make our own stops, however it’s very popular to explore by bike or a bus. Our favourite stops along the way were: Mirador Tres Cruces, The Ampitheatre and The Devil’s Throat (don’t miss the delicious handmade tortilla’s that are sitting outside this stop!)
Salta is known for its Spanish colonial architecture and Adean heritage. It is home to the country’s second largest wine region and has the iconic red rock formations of Quebrada de las Conchas on its doorstep (read more about these above or click here). Salta is also renowned for producing some of the BEST empanadas in South America, something we couldn’t miss out on! We had a great time visiting Salta and recommend it to everyone heading to Northern Argentina!
Our top 5 picks of things to do in Salta, Argentina:
Visit the High Altitude Museum (MAAM) – we aren’t museum people at all, but we paid a visit to this museum and we were totally blown away! Learn all about he Incan culture and see one of the three perfectly preserved Llullaillaco Incan children that were buried 500 years ago at an altitude of 6,730 metres, as a religious sacrifice.
Experience Salta’s famous folklore culture by visiting a peña - Peñas in Argentina revolve around lots of food, music, drinking and dancing, so we knew we had to experience one of these gatherings! We ventured to an authentic peña restaurant called La Casona del Molino where the gauchos sit around at the tables and jam together with their Spanish guitars, sheepskin drums and violins. We arrived as the doors opened at 9pm and got a table and enjoyed the good wine, parilla and authentic music, although it really doesn’t get busy until 11pm!
Experience the famous empanadas – You can find some crazy deals for empanadas in town, so naturally we indulged in them! But our favourite empanadas we found were from an awesome restaurant called Doña Empanada that is in the main town centre!
Ride the Tren de las Nubes (Train to the clouds) - A major Argentinean attraction, this railroad, reaching almost 14,000 feet above sea level, is one of the three highest in the world! It is quite a costly attraction, however it’s worth it if you have the extra time and pesos to spare. The main highlight includes crossing the La Polvorilla viaduct, which spans across a gigantic desert canyon.
Explore Salta’s city square Plaza 9 de Julio – Easily identified by its Spanish colonial architecture, cobblestone streets and abundance of cafes along the palm tree-lined plaza. It is a great spot for people watching while you enjoy too many empanadas and vino tintos!
9 & 10. Purmamarca and Humahuaca
We decided to throw these two in the same basket because they are so close to each other, HOWEVER we totally recommend the scenery in Humahuaca! Purmamarca is much more touristy and is famous for the 7 coloured mountains, however we were so surprised that not many people make the trip to Humahuaca to see the 14 coloured mountains, the reason being is that nobody even knows it’s there!
These are the BEST things to do in both Purmamarca and Humahuaca:
Explore Cerro de los Siete Colores - The must-do activity in Purmamarca revolves around the incredible backdrop of the Seven Coloured Mountains. Choose to walk or drive the loop that leaves from the town to explore the wonderful view of the mountains. Early morning and sunset are the best times to view these rock formations and the colours will explode with red, pinks, greens and oranges before your very eyes!
Visit The Cabildo – This old government building is identifiable in the Purmamarca town square by it’s whitewashed exterior and small archways, showing the average height of a resident during the 19th century! Today inside it is a mix of a museum, cultural hall and exhibition centre.
Eat like a local and enjoy live music – there are lots of small restuarants in Purmamarca where you can find the traditional folkloric singing, music and dancing, so why not get amongst it! Tierra de Colores is very popular with tourists, here you can experience a traditional peña while you eat local dishes, like llama casserole!
Visit the Cerro de Catorce Colores (Fourteen Coloured Mountains) in Humahuaca – AT LAST, our complete and utter highlight from our trip in South America (aside from the Galapagos of course), this quiet tourist attraction is a magnificent display by Mother Nature. This UNESCO World Heritage Site runs for close to 155km and is a multi-coloured, mountainous valley of magic. We had our own car, which meant we were able to make the trip ourselves but you can organise a tourist bus to take you there. The road was in fine condition, which we managed in a 2-wheel drive. The steep descent provides the most beautiful mountainous views and is lined with typical Argentinian cacti. Expecting an expensive entry fee, we were pleasantly surprised to only have to pay USD$1.00!
So there you have it, our highlights for the entire country of Argentina! Out of all our travels, Argentina was home to such a large variety of landscapes, good food, fantastic wine and friendly people. It’s no wonder it has been our favourite country in Latin America. If you end up making it to ANY of these destinations or want to know more about each place leave a comment below or message us on instagram! We hope to see some of your awesome pictures and follow your adventures!