No, I’m not writing this now to piss you off. I’m writing this guide because I know at least two people who are off to Argie (I hate this abbreviation too but quicker to write it like this) in December / January and I promised, sorry.
Anyway, if you, like me, were worried that your backpacking days are over; or you regret never travelling in South America but think because you only get 25 days holiday a year it’s not worth it, the good news is that 2 weeks is plenty to see a decent amount of Argentina. I saw a lot and never felt rushed (which might have something to do with the relaxing night buses). And you can backpack it or do it in style – travel is easy, fun and friendly and you can go from posh restaurants to hostels and back. Here’s some ideas of what to do (and I’ve also written about Argie hospitality and steaks here, Argie food here and travelling on your own here):
1. Buenos Aires
Like everyone, I stayed in Palermo, the Notting Hill / NY West Village of BA. Filled with cool graffiti and art galleries, great restaurants, bars and pavement cafes, it also has amazing clothes boutiques so make sure your bag is only half filled when you arrive. I stayed in a mixed 4-bed dorm in Palermo Hostel Suites which was brilliant – they book trips and tours and buses and meeting people was as easy as “Hi I’m [insert name], do you fancy a beer?”. I keep banging on about it, but eat steak at Palermo’s La Cabrera for an incredible feast to introduce you to Argentina. If you go and have the cash, the Home hotel looks amazing.
Head to La Boca to watch Tango at a pavement cafe eating a giant steak (see photo above), admire the colourful houses and take in a football game (but avoid if you are claustrophobic or have tummy issues – no doors on the loos). It’s very touristy but worth a look and don’t wander down sidestreets, I met people who had been mugged. The Sunday market in San Telmo is huge and fantastic with brilliant leather bags and hats and streetside tango. You have to see the Plaza de Mayo and if I had more time I wanted to check out the Eva Peron museum, the Jardins Japonaises and the Recoleta Cemetery where Eva is buried.
I was going to head to the beaches of Uruguay (especially Puerto del Diablo) but it wasn’t hot enough in November and to be honest I wanted a tan, so I took an overnight bus from BA (with free dinner, reclining beds, wine and a film) to near the Paraguay and Brazil borders to see the Iguazu waterfalls. Now before I went up there, I had the rather patronising thought that yeah yeah its a waterfall, I’ve SEEN frickin’ waterfalls before. But these are truly amazing – huge, vast, stunningly beautiful – you really should go. You should see them from the Argentina side to get up close, and the Brazil side to see the vastness of the whole area.
You can stay in the town of Puerto Iguazu but I stayed about 5 kms outside at a 6-bed dorm at the Hostel Inn - noteable for its amazing pool and poolside bar but the food and dorms weren’t that great. Remember it’s HOT and HUMID up there (30 degrees at about 8am) so a pool is a lovely luxury. I grabbed the roadside bus to both sides (7 pesos to Argentina and 85 pesos or so to Brazil) and took half a day at each (yes not a lot but its so rammed with people that I couldn’t sit and marvel and started getting impatient). Thanks to Still Travelling Sarah, I found a great restaurant which I think is called Terra in Puerto Iguazu, a few doors downhill from the bus station, which does caipirissima cocktails and Asian fusion food (honestly you’ll sicken of steak after a while) and the nearby Timbo Iguazu shop which sells hand-made clothes and jewellery including some beautiful pale pink rodocrosita stones, speciality of Argentina.
From Iguazu, I utterly cocked up on geography / common sense and got an overnight bus back to BA followed by another overnight bus to Mendoza. This was stupid – you can go direct (but 24 hours to Mendoza) or via Cordoba. Or just don’t be a tight arsed Scot FFS and fly.
So Mendoza is right by the Chilean border with the snow-capped Andes in the middle and is awe-inspiringly beautiful. It has the San Martin park in the centre with a river running through it which could be in Oxford, its so calm and peaceful. And it has desert outside where you can gallop Argentinian horses in the sand (see photo below). It has hot springs. But better than all of this, it has wineries (bodegas) where they make the most amazing Malbec, and Syrah, and lots of other wines. And like anywhere that produces wine this means it is relaxed and gastronomic and green and lovely. The wine industry is fairly new so it’s not as “rock up and open a bottle” as Hunter or Napa Valleys – you need to call up and book ahead. I stayed in a 4-bed dorm at the Mendoza Inn (friendly and central on the Aristides street by all the bars, but a bit of an oonst oonst party place) and I did the hostel’s own cycle wine tour and it was a bit rubbish – far better to organise and do it yourself. We went to see the wonderful Carmelo Patti, Alta Vista (photo above) and La Guarde bodegas and the wine was just wonderful. The Tempus Alta bodega also has a gorgeous rooftop wine terrace. You can also do great wine tastings at the Vines of Mendoza in Mendoza itself. As a treat, you should try a coffee or beer (or high tea!) at the Park Hyatt hotel overlooking the Plaza Independencia or a steak at Azafran. Again if you have the cash, definitely check out Francis Mallman (Argie’s most famous chef) and his restaurant 1884 - set in a beautiful bodega just outside Mendoza’s centre, it’s a real treat.
Aristides has some great shops – especially La Matera for authentic leather belts – and there’s other good boutiques on Sermiento and 9 de julio, and a market in the Plaza Independencia. The Raices jewellery store just off the main square was lovely too.
Yes you guessed it, I took an overnight bus from Mendoza to Bariloche in the Lake District of Patagonia. But this time there was bus bingo and champagne, hurrah, although it was my third bus playing the Bounty Hunter, sigh. I stayed at the Hostel Patanuk which had the perfect view – overlooking the stunning lake with snowcapped mountains behind. Bariloche is wierd – with it’s chalets, fondues and touts flogging photos with a St Bernard dog, you could sort of be in Switzerland.
But there are two things you must do – you must go galloping on horseback through the Patagonian forest to the lake and then up the mountains. I rode with Hugo from Tom Wesley stables and he got me galloping like a pro – even though I’d last ridden when I was about 9 and horses scare me a bit. They will do an asado (BBQ) if you do a full day trek. You must also hire a bike and do the circuito chico - a fairly up and down cycle ride past amazing views. It will take you between 4 and 8 hours to do, depending on how much you stop and if you decide you can’t be arsed cycling and push your bike up the hills instead, ahem. Finally, Bariloche is famous for it’s lamb, trout and venison, I liked La Marca for lamb brochettes, and La Esquina for coffee and dulche de leche alfajores, and you must have a bife de chorizo at El Boliche de Alberto.
Funnily enough, after my two weeks of overnight buses and slumming it in hostels, I decided to treat myself to a flight from Bariloche back to BA and a night in a lovely boutique hotel in Palermo. Only my flight was cancelled so I had to take a 5 hour bus to another town and wait in the airport until 5am to fly. So I got to my nice hotel at 6.30am only to pay an astronomical sum for 3 hours of my head touching the pillow. There is a lesson there, somewhere.