Start free-associating on the word ‘‘Argentina’’ and it is quickly apparent why the country has long held travellers in awe: tango, beef, gauchos, futbol, Patagonia and the Andes. The classics alone make a formidable wanderlust cocktail.
Top five experiences
1. Glaciar Perito Moreno
As glaciers go, Perito Moreno is one of the most dynamic and accessible in the world, but what makes it exceptional is its constant advance – up to two metres a day. Visitors can get very close to the action via a complex network of steel boardwalks. Its slow but constant motion creates an audio-visual sensation as building-sized icebergs calve from the face and crash into Lago Argentino. A typical way to cap off the day is to enjoy a huge steak dinner back in El Calafate.
2. Iguazu Falls
The peaceful Iguazu River, flowing through the jungle between Argentina and Brazil, plunges suddenly over a basalt cliff in a spectacular display of sound and fury that is one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring sights. The Iguazu Falls are a primal experience for the senses: the roar, the spray and the sheer volume of water live forever in the memory. But it’s not just the waterfalls: the jungly national parks that contain them offer a romantic backdrop and fine wildlife-watching opportunities.
3. Quebrada de Humahuaca
Up in Argentina’s northwestern corner, Quebrada de Humahuaca is a long way from Buenos Aires and it feels a whole world away. This spectacular valley of scoured rock in Jujuy province impresses visually with its tortured formations and artist’s palette of mineral colours, but it is also of great cultural interest. The Quebrada’s settlements are traditional and indigenous in character, with typical Andean dishes supplanting steaks on the restaurant menus, and llamas, not herds of cattle, grazing the sparse highland grass.
4. Cementerio de la Recoleta
A veritable city of the dead, Buenos Aires’ top tourist attraction is not to be missed. Lined up along small ‘‘streets’’ are hundreds of old crypts, each uniquely carved from marble, granite and concrete, and decorated with stained glass, stone angels and religious icons. Small plants and trees grow in fissures, while feral cats slink between tombs, some of which lie in various stages of decay. Cementerio de la Recoleta is a photographic wonderland, and if there’s strange beauty in death, you’ll find it in spades here.
5. Hiking the Fitz Roy Range
With rugged wilderness and shark-tooth summits, the Fitz Roy Range is the trekking capital of Argentina. Climbers may suffer on its windswept, world-class routes, but hiking trails are surprisingly easy and accessible. Park rangers help orient every traveller who comes into El Chalten. Once on the trail, the most stunning views are just a day hike from town. Not bad for those who want to reward their sweat equity with a craft beer at the brewery.
This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Argentina (8th Edition) by Sandra Bao, et al. © Lonely Planet 2012. Published this month. RRP $50.