Amazingly, it has been over two years since I set off on a flash 10-day journey across Argentina.
When I booked my tickets, I somehow imagined 10 days would be plenty for a quick glimpse of the country. Having only visited Rio de Janeiro on the continent before (and only for a long weekend), I did not have much interest in South America besides Chile. Indeed, it was Chile that I had dreamed about and created countless – and long – itineraries for, not Argentina.
Before my trip, I had imagined Argentina as a country of the usual word-of-mouth stereotypes: good meat, world-renowned wine industry, empty but stunning Patagonia, gateway to Antarctica, double-digit inflation, tango on every corner and, strangely enough, good-looking men.
My Argentina highlight: Laguna de los Tres and Fitz Roy peak in Patagonia
I returned from Argentina suitably re-educated. Predictably, tango turned out to take the form of a pre-arranged show, not something the Argentines casually partake in on the way to work. As for men, I once again confirmed to self that tastes differ: perhaps my unexplained preference for the pale freckled Anglo-types is to blame, but not a single Argentino I met shone through as particularly handsome.
And I will no longer even assume that it could be possible to explore, in depth, any part of Argentina in 10 days. Just imagine, Argentina is the world’s 8th largest country by territory and combines a variety of terrains, landscapes and even cultures. There is enough there to fill months.
Personally though, I enjoyed having only a limited time in the country. I cannot help being a rather spoilt traveller who constantly encounters the feeling of déjà vu on the road and quickly gets ready to move from one stimulant to the next. I also love having the pressure to use every single day of the trip to the full. It helps that Argentina’s domestic air transport proved to be reasonably good for me to keep a good pace. One really needs to fly a lot to see several corners of Argentina in a short time.
I hope you will join me on a photographic journey celebrating the landscapes I witnessed in the wonderful, vast, diverse, inspiring country that is Argentina.
Climbing up the Perito Moreno Glacier using my cool crampons
18-19 April 2014 ~ Buenos Aires
I land in the Argentine capital on a perfectly cloudless day, drop my bags in a small guesthouse in the Palermo district, walk to the foreign currency hotspot – Florida Street – and soon get myself properly funded to begin the exploration in earnest. It is Good Friday and the capital’s “microcentro” is blissfully quiet. I pace the central Plaza de Mayo and the San Telmo district nearby, though, sadly, I will not be here on the Sunday to witness the famous local flea market. I continue to the upmarket Recoleto district and spend a good few hours exploring its cemetery: it is here that many famous Argentines, including Eva Peron, are buried. I walk back to Palermo at a leisurely pace, stopping for an excellent Italian dinner along the way: it is not a coincidence this part of Buenos Aires is named after the well-known Sicilian city.
Plaza del Mayo, Buenos Aires
Wall painting on the UK’s Falkland Islands Argentina cannot stop obsessing about
Interesting wall painting in Buenos Aires’ San Telmo neighbourhood
Catholic church near Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires
Mourning statue near Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires
The following day, I wander around the still dozing Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood before turning off to Parque 3 de Febrero, where hundreds of locals are enjoying their Saturday jogs and picnics. Popping into a toy-size Japanese Garden (Jardin Japones) along the way to Palermo Chico and its Floralis Generica, I eventually reach Buenos Aires’ Retiro train station. A local commuter train takes me to the Tigre suburb where thousands of locals are consuming impossible amounts of food as they shop; I quickly fail to capture the place’s charm and return to central Buenos Aires. There, I admire the elaborate Congreso building and get nearly swallowed up by the bustling Once district before finishing my day with a dinner at the famous Don Julio Parilla and the first of many steaks I will enjoy on this trip in Argentina.
Joggers run past Parque 3 de Febrero, Buenos Aires
Jardín Japonés (Japanese Garden), Buenos Aires
One of the city’s most famous highlights: Floralis Genérica sculpture, Buenos Aires
Tigre suburb near Buenos Aires
Shoe shine chap on Florida Street, Buenos Aires
20 April 2014 ~ Patagonia, El Calafate
I am so excited about flying to Patagonia this Sunday morning that I barely manage to sleep the night before. Three hours after leaving Buenos Aires the plane begins its descent to El Calafate – the main gateway to Patagonia – as I watch, mesmerised, the stunning peaks of Fitz Roy get closer. There isn’t a single cloud in the sky that unusually warm autumn day: it is the barren land, the fresh breeze and the snow cover on the mountains looming in the distance that remind me how harsh local climate in fact is.
After landing, I take a stroll by the Argentino Lake joined by numerous local families as only a few tourists cycle past (April is low season for Argentina). I then stock up on food supplies in a local supermarket and hop on a 3-hour bus to El Chaltén, Argentine Patagonia’s self-proclaimed hiking and trekking capital – I will be reaching there long after dinner and starting my hike before dawn the next morning, and will need all the energy I can get.
Stunning landscapes seen while landing in El Calafate
Typical private residence in El Calafate
Stunning Lago Argentino in El Calafate
Local resident in Lago Argentino, El Calafate
A popular eatery in El Calafate, providing a bright backdrop
21 April 2014 ~ Patagonia, El Chaltén
It is still dark when, wrapped in several layers of hiking gear, I find myself heading energetically towards the start of the trail to Laguna de los Tres. The hike is said to take five hours (with photo stops) and lead to a great viewing point of the Fitz Roy peak. The temperature must be very near freezing but I get quite warm during the moderately steep first hour of the trail, after which the terrain noticeably evens out – and the air gets warmer.
I remain almost speechless for the next three hours as breath-taking scenery passes me by: the autumnal palette is claiming the area as its own and clouds frequently break to reveal an uninterrupted granite wall of snow-covered rugged peaks. My last hour on the trail takes me steeply uphill; I waddle through the ever-growing layer of snow until my target emerges in front of me in a flash: Laguna de los Tres. The eerily silent glacial lake sparkles in the sun in the backdrop of several sharp peaks. It is this image that I carry down with me: not only back to the start of the trail but also to El Calafate where I return with the evening bus.
Hiking from El Chaltén to Laguna de los Tres, Patagonia
The stunning autumn colours en route Laguna de los Tres, Patagonia
The biggest river I crossed while hiking from El Chaltén to Laguna de los Tres, Patagonia
Terrain getting snowier approaching Laguna de los Tres, Patagonia
Fitz Roy peak viewed from Laguna de los Tres, Patagonia
22 April 2014 ~ Patagonia, Perito Moreno Glacier
Getting up in the dark has already become a habit on this trip. This morning, I play a tourist and embark on an organised day trip to Perito Moreno Glacier with a local tour company. Patagonia’s best known tourist attraction, Perito Moreno Glacier sits some 80 km from El Calafate. Unintuitively to its popularity, it is only one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water.
We swap our bus for a boat in Puerto Bajo de las Sombras and watch the stunning glacier approach us slowly, as if rising out of the water. Crampons await our group at the other end; they are soon attached to the soles of our feet and, in single file, we start ascending the glacier. A highly unusual ice-scape unfolds all around. Our guides seem to be defying death each time they nonchalantly wander along the edge of yet another crevasse. Their on-the-ground experience is only matched by their extensive knowledge of all things Perito Moreno.
My endless (and likely annoying) questions are finally interrupted by whiskey and alfajores biscuits, positioned invitingly at the end of the ice trek. We then backtrack to the port, visit the main viewing point for the glacier a short distance away and return to El Calafate. I take my final walk along the Argentino Lake, past the numerous souvenir shops all the way to Pura Vida restaurant. A massive lamb pie-meets-stew I am served – accompanied by local wine, of course – is a perfect farewell to Patagonia.
Perfect view of Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia
Stunning Perito Moreno Glacier in all its glory
Some tourists walk on Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia
An unbelievably good view of Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia
Farewell to Patagonia: Lago Argentino at sunset
23-24 April 2014 ~ Salta
I spend most of Wednesday transferring from Patagonia to the country’s Northwest. Getting from one corner of Argentina to another certainly takes time: domestic flights may be plentiful but most of them route through Buenos Aires.
4,500 km, two flights and a jaunt in Buenos Aires later, I land in the city of Salta. It is cloudy and getting dark when we finally touch down. My hotel is run by a German couple who shower me with recommendations for the area: have they forgotten I am only here for a day? My evening ends at the Viejo Jack steak house, which, like the steaks it serves, is nothing short of legendary.
The morning after, I get up early and zoom around Salta. The place is a world completely different from Buenos Aires or Patagonia. What it reminds me more of is provincial Mexico, but I am not sure how exactly: whether thanks to its stunning examples of colonial architecture, cactuses painted on walls or the unmistakeably indigenous features in local people’s faces. I stock up on souvenirs (most of which are probably imported from Bolivia a very short way away), celebrate with fresh empanadas and take the cable car to the top of San Bernardo Mountain. The opening views, while certainly panoramic, are mainly of a typical grid-based cityscape and fail to wow me. I remind myself that the beauty of Salta mainly lies outside the city, but I have no time at all to explore it and rush to the airport to fly to my final stop in Argentina: Puerto Iguazu, the gateway to the world-famous Iguazu Falls.
Stunning Convento de San Bernardo: amazing colonial architecture in Salta
Chilled trade at a market in Salta
View from San Bernardo Mountain in Salta
Like father, like son, Salta
Argentina’s icons painted on a wall in Salta
25-26 April 2014 ~ Iguazu Falls
It takes me a while the next morning to find the right public bus to travel to the Iguazu Falls, some 18km away. When I finally make it, I am only slightly disappointed to discover purpose-built metal walkways and handrails: the Iguazu Falls are visited by huge numbers of tourists and the infrastructure has obviously been designed to make it as safe as possible for visitors.
The falls are absolutely mesmerising. I have not visited any other famous waterfalls to which Iguazu is forever being compared (such as Niagara or Victoria Falls), but I find Iguazu impressive. With 275 individual waterfalls or cataracts and an area spanning 2.7km, Iguazu is almost twice as tall and three times as wide as Niagara, and wider (though a little shorter) than Victoria Falls. I almost instantly get soaking wet – the temperatures are blissfully warm, and it doesn’t matter – as I approach the so-called Devil’s Throat, the system’s largest water curtain and biggest attraction. Multiple rainbows play in the roaring cascades and the visitors scream as they try to protect their photo equipment from endlessly getting splashed.
Stunning Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian side
In the evening I rush to watch the sunset from Puerto Iguazu across the Parana river: standing in Argentina, I see both Brazil and Paraguay in front of me
The next day I visit the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls. While, for the most part, Iguazu is located in Argentina, the tourist park in Brazil provides a nice perspective on the Argentinian side of the falls. Here is where the comparison ends: in Brazil, visitors are restricted to taking the bus to the walkways for Iguazu access, with the rest of the park taken over by the various private companies charging visitors for every single activity. At least the Argentinian side allowed plenty of unguided (and free!) roaming around. Disappointed, I rush back to Argentina where I almost miss my plane back to Buenos Aires: thankfully, I am magically allowed to check in 20 minutes before my flight, and my luggage is carried straight to the plane.
As advertised, I get absolutely soaked
One of many rainbows shining over the Argentinian side, viewed from Brazil
The stunning view of the Argentinian Iguazu Falls from Brazil
27 April 2014 ~ Buenos Aires
I wake up in a positively huge private flat in the centre of Buenos Aires where I had rented a room for the night. Amazingly, I am the only guest and it takes me some time to explore all the inner yards and rooms of this palatial accommodation. But it is soon time to leave: I dash to Florida Street, successfully avoid having my crisp dollar note replaced with an old one carrying the Bank of Venezuela stamp (horror!) and catch the metro to the bus station and a bus to the international airport.
Aeroparque Jorge Newbury is Argentina’s major domestic airport
On the flight back to London images of the multifaceted Argentina flash in front of my eyes. Against some early prejudices, Argentina turned out to be one of the best countries I have ever visited. I may have been slightly underwhelmed by the food (it is lucky I love steak, about the only excellent meal I could get out of Argentina) and found the capital city of Buenos Aires fairly ugly (it never promised to be beautiful, anyway). The Iguazu Falls were pretty but noticeably popular, with visitors crowding up the most picturesque segments of the metal walkways. Salta had a wonderfully unique feel to it, so different from the rest of the country – but I had no time to venture outside the city by car, to where the real beauty reportedly lies.
However, I absolutely fell in love with the vast areas of Patagonia, filled with beauty I had not seen before: snow-covered peaks rising sharply out of leafy carpets so autumnal in their colour palette, fast mountain rivers carrying ice-cold glacial water to the ocean, calm alpine lakes glimmering in crisp mountain air and dazzling glaciers looming majestically in front of tiny tourist boats. Patagonia was simply spectacular. I was so impressed with the region that I made my way back earlier in 2016, this time visiting the country of my dreams, Chile – but that is a different story altogether.