In the two elongated countries that inhabit southern South America, the cowboys of the pampas (grassland plains) meet world-class polo ponies, and the hiking trails of breathtaking Patagonia intersect the wine routes of the Andean foothills. Journey with us to Argentina and Chile, where bold aromas of grilled, grass-fed beef and chorizo emanate from open-air barbecues, and the sounds of tango, poetry and thundering waterfalls reign in a grand theater of dance halls, cafés and national parks.
Buenos Aires – The Sector of Style
Exuding the air of early 20th-century Buenos Aires, the Palermo Viejo neighborhood has tree-lined cobblestone streets populated with traditional Spanish-style and Italian-style houses. The pasejes (passageways)of this fashionable northeast barrio are paved with the footprints of well-known Argentine figures, such as revolutionary Che Guevara and poet Jorge Luis Borges, who once called this area home. The district is filled with refurbished buildings, trendy restaurants, intimate bars and cafés, art galleries, bookstores, and vintage and artisan clothing boutiques. A range of small hotels and B&Bs makes it easy to stay in the most poetic part of the city.
Wander the neighborhood to admire its casas chorizos (sausage houses), which have long, narrow lots, many with concealed courtyards. Contrary to their name, they aren’t restaurants, but typical houses found in the area. Stop for lunch in the garden of Olsen, an avant-garde Scandinavian restaurant; order from the creative menu of a simple bistro such as Social Paraíso; or dive into classic Argentinean beef at the bustling La Cabrera Norte. Poke around eclectic shops, peruse the latest fashions of hip local designers and take a seat at one of the many cafés in the afternoon to watch chic porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) strolling past.
Buenos Aires – Hidden Gem of the Art Scene
Heiress to a cement fortune and the country’s wealthiest businesswoman/philanthropist, Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat amassed an astounding collection of artwork. After outgrowing her home, the Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat opened to the public in 2008 in a fantastic structure overlooking the stunning contemporary architecture of the Puerto Madero neighborhood. Designed by Rafael Viñoly, the glass-and-steel wonder showcases Argentine artists from the mid-19th century to today. Long, gleaming hallways lead visitors past works by romantic, impressionist, cubist and abstract works by Argentinean masters such as Antonio Berni and Carlos Alonso. The collection also includes works by European artists like Brueghel, Dalí and Turner, as well as an iconic portrait of Fortabat by American pop artist Andy Warhol.
Buenos Aires – Polo Mecca
British settlers who practiced polo in the Argentine pampas (grassland plains) staged the country’s first official polo match in 1875. As skilled gauchos met the challenge and polo clubs began to take root, the sport flourished and Argentina took home the gold from both the Paris (1924) and Berlin (1936) Olympics. Argentina’s magnificent horses and players have since earned international recognition. In December 2012, Campo Argentino del Polo—the hallowed polo grounds in Buenos Aires—plays host to the Argentine Polo Open Championship, considered the world’s most important club-level competition. To appreciate the sport, check out Argentina Polo Day or Polo Elite. Options include a visit to a polo match or a lesson on the polo grounds (beginners and experienced riders welcome).
For a more in-depth experience, book a stay at Estancia La Julia, a breeding and training ranch south of Buenos Aires. Under the tutelage of owner and trainer Alejandro Staudt, guests can learn how a polo estate is run, spend time with the gauchos, receive instruction, play matches, ride and go pony trekking before retiring to the house for a dip in the pool. Traditional meals and barbecues under the stars are a fitting way to end a day on this ranch.
Buenos Aires – Underground Foray to the City’s Roots
Behind a run-down façade in the San Telmo district, an 1830 colonial mansion stands above a subterranean masterpiece of urban archaeology. The underground labyrinth of brick tunnels known as El Zanjón once carried the city’s water supply; some historians even place the first settlement of Buenos Aires here in 1536. The home of an aristocratic family before it was abandoned during the Yellow Fever outbreak in the late 19th century, it had become a tenement by the early 20th century. Upon unearthing layers of archaeological finds during remodeling, a wealthy businessman transformed it into a museum and special-events venue featuring five centuries’ worth of history. The informative guided tour takes visitors through the tunnels, and presents artifacts and photographs to complete the picture of Buenos Aires’ historic past. Go on a Sunday and combine a 30-minute tour with a visit to the Feria de San Pedro Telmo, a massive antiques market lining the street right in front of the house.
Buenos Aires – Tango at its Most Traditional
There is no better place to learn about tango than its birthplace, Buenos Aires. While some believe tango started in the city’s brothels, where owners employed tango musicians to entertain waiting patrons, it’s more likely that it developed in the courtyards of tenement buildings, where immigrants from different countries blended music and dance styles to form a common language in the late 19th century. It was not long before the dance had a vocabulary all its own. The term milonguero describes a male dancer with a deep respect for the tradition and history of tango, especially during its Golden Age in the 1930s and 40s. The word also refers to a style of tango that focuses on the intricate, intimate connection with partner, music and surrounding dancers while in close embrace. Both definitions are still alive today in the downtown studio of Tango Alejandro Gée. Hailing from a family steeped in the tango tradition, and schooled in the therapeutic effects of the dance (“tango therapy”), Alejandro instructs students in the milonguero style of dancing. With 15-foot ceilings and original hardwood floors, his elegant studio is housed in a turn-of-the-century dwelling close to some of the most popular milongas (tango clubs) in the city.
Iguazú National Park – Niagara’s Bigger Brother
Meaning “great waters” in the native Guarani language, Iguazú is legendary for its powerful torrents. A Guarani myth holds that a ferocious snake named Boi once lived in the Iguazú River. To placate him, natives sacrificed a young virgin each year until a brave warrior kidnapped one from the annual rite. Inflamed with anger, Boi bent his own body, splitting the river and forming massive precipices. Plunging 269 feet (82 meters) at their deepest over the canyon of Devil’s Throat, some 270 waterfalls are the result of this myth. Their sheer enormity and volume put Iguazú Falls on the list of must-see natural wonders. On the Argentinian side of the park, you’ll find a visitor center, upper and lower trails, boat rides, a train, tours, restaurants, vendors and two hotels with views of the falls (Sheraton Iguazu Resort and Hotel das Cataratas). Located within a national park that borders both Brazil and Paraguay, the area is filled with vivid scenery, vistas, trails and wildlife, including monkeys, iguanas, butterflies and over 500 species of birds.
Mendoza – Argentina’s Wine Country
Only an hour’s flight from Buenos Aires, lying at the foot of the mighty Andes mountains, Mendoza is draped in vineyards that produce world-class grapes and draw wine enthusiasts from around the globe. This picturesque region in the far east of the country is a haven for over 700 vintners, which produce the Malbec varietal for which Argentina is known. Since few bodegas (wineries) in Mendoza allow walk-in visits, you should take a wine tour to get the most out of tasting. Ampora Wine Tours offers full-day tours, tastings in their own wine lounge and cooking classes. Travelers who prefer to make their own itinerary can hire a driver for a day or two to take them around. In addition to tastings, Bodega Ruca Malén offers a superb weekday lunch with a fixed five-course menu that pairs its wines with Argentine specialties.
While in the area, take a spin on the RP 52, a winding, gravelly road known locally as Caracoles de Villavicencio (Snails of Villavicencio) because of the slow traffic on its myriad hairpin turns. The scenery and sights are worth the wait. In addition to awe-inspiring mountain vistas, you’ll find the shuttered Hotel Termas Villavicencio. Once the playground of Argentine high society, its lush grounds harbor the springs of Argentina’s most popular mineral water—Viellavicencio. You can also simply unwind at a storybook hotel like Cavas Wine Lodge, which sits among Mendoza’s vineyards with dramatic views of the Andes. Built in the Spanish-colonial style, the enchanting adobe casitas have rooftop stargazing areas. Entre Cielos has a distinctly contemporary vibe, with light-filled guest rooms, sensational mountain views and a luxury spa. Wherever you end up, the glorious Andes will never be out of sight.
Calafate – Thundering Ice Spectacle
The icy world of Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina’s southwest Austral Andes is a picture of magnificent beauty with two giant lakes and over 245 glaciers. Originating from the Andean ice cap (the largest continental ice extension behind Antarctica and Greenland), the glaciers start at a lower altitude than most others and flow down to 656 feet (200 meters) above sea level. King of the ice is undoubtedly the Perito Moreno Glacier, in the southern end of the park. It wows crowds with frequent ice breaks that send blocks of ice cascading down its sheer front walls into the lake below. Visitors can walk along a specially constructed boardwalk, take a mini ice trek or board a boat on the lake to hear and watch the ice crack and thunder into the water. You can also enjoy trout fishing, riding and hiking.
Note: Organized tours going into Los Glaciares often do not include the entrance fee to the park. Be sure to carry cash for the fee—$100 Argentinian pesos (US$22 at time of writing).
Ushuaia – Southernmost City in the World
Due to its remote location, the southernmost habitable area in Argentina once housed the country’s criminals. Ushuaia’s isolated mystique now draws adventure enthusiasts to the surrounding mountains and waters for cross-country skiing in winter, and hiking, trekking, riding and sport fishing in summer. Weeklong tours to Antarctica, including whale watching, the Drake Passage crossing and seal and penguin spotting leave from Ushuaia. If you get to the end of the world, sail the Straits of Magellan and Beagle Channel to see the majestic scenery of this pristine paradise. Cruceros Australis offers Patagonia and Cape Horn cruises that sail between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas on three- to four-night itineraries. The remarkable vessels are designed and outfitted for the rugged seascape, but never leave luxury in their wake.
Santiago – A Fitting House for Theater
Designed with the assistance of Charles Garnier (architect of the Paris Opera House), the Teatro Municipal De Santiago is a monument to artistry. Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Ernani marked the theater’s opening in 1857, and the elegant neoclassic building continues to present leading concerts, operas and ballets throughout the year. Almost destroyed by fires in 1870 and 1927, and an earthquake in 1906, the building has been reconstructed and re-inaugurated various times. Its old-world ambience, however, has never been lost, conveying European flair and the air of old Santiago. Performances end in time for prime dinner hour in Santiago, where tables are filled as late as 10 p.m. Treat your palette to a culinary masterpiece at Aquí está Coco, a renowned seafood establishment in the Providencia neighborhood. Mestizo—with a lovely setting overlooking Parque Bicentenario—is an excellent option for contemporary Chilean cuisine.
Santiago – Memorial to a Dark Era
Life under Chile’s 17-year military dictatorship comes to life via photos, videos, letters, art and press clips at the Memory and Human Rights Museum (site is in Spanish). Opened in 2010, the exhibition begins with the coup d’état against elected president Salvador Allende in the Palacio de La Moneda on September 11, 1973, and follows the Pinochet regime until its end. Discover how Augusto Pinochet came to power, learn about the workings of the military junta (government) and see how the lives of Chileans were shaped and altered during this era. The massive $24 million copper, concrete and glass structure contains moving portraits of this dark time in Chile’s history, including a large candlelight memorial to the victims. A documentation center located under the three-story structure contains additional archives.
Santa Cruz – Riding the Road to Wine Heaven
The venerable vineyards of Chile’s Colchagua Valley lie 81 miles south of Santiago and lure wine enthusiasts for their superb red wines—particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. Benefitting from the grape-loving Mediterranean climate, the vintners of the region also take advantage of rich silts and clays transported from the Andes by the Tinguiririca River. In this fertile land, renowned wineries such as Casa Silva, Estampa, Lapostolle, Laura Hartwig, Montes and Montgras have made their mark. The colonial town of Santa Cruz makes an excellent starting point to travel along the country’s first designated wine route. Take an organized tour of the wineries, or rent a car and do it on your own.
The valley is also home to the Colchagua Museum, which covers Chile’s history from the pre-Colombian era to the present. In 1985, the old colonial house was entirely recycled and reconstructed to display fascinating relics like the miner’s shuttle capsule used to rescue 33 workers buried in the 2010 Copiapó mining accident. In nearby San José del Carmen de El Huique, a complex once inhabited by Chilean president Federico Errázuriz Echaurren (1896–1901) is a superb example of the early 19th-century hacienda lifestyle. Stay for a while in a traditional posada (lodge) or B&B so you have ample time to explore the bucolic countryside.
Machalí – Copper Ghost Town of the Andes
A deserted Chilean commune perched high on a sheer mountain slope of the Andes sits atop El Teniente, the world’s deepest subterranean copper mine. Cutting-edge technology was used to create this isolated community in an environment of harsh climate and topographical extremes. Built by the Braden Copper Company in 1905, Sewell Mining Town was planned around a central staircase, which came to serve as its backbone since the terrain was too precipitous to accommodate wheeled vehicles. In the community’s heyday, it held 15,000 residents, plus a church, cinema, casino, hospital and brightly colored houses. Tragedy struck in 1945 when a fire broke out at the mine’s entrance causing the death of 355 workers, who suffocated from smoke in the tunnels. The settlement was ultimately abandoned in 1980, but the still-functioning mine continues to produce copper. A 53-mile journey south from Santiago, Sewell is now a UNESCO World Heritage site accessible only by Codelco, which offers visits through various tour brokers. Tours of the mine tunnels and the deserted town allow a fascinating glimpse of life in this unique mining camp.
Valparaíso – A Restored Jewel on Chile’s Coast
In the middle of Chile’s lengthy coastline, the port city of Valparaíso is the country’s artistic heart. Dubbed the “Jewel of the Pacific” by foreign sailors during its golden age in the late 19th century, it lost some of its luster after the Panama Canal opened in 1914, cutting it off from the main shipping routes. Fortunately, the city has undergone a renaissance in recent years. The cobblestoned old quarter nestled in the cerros (hills) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architecture and the century-old ascensores (funiculars) that ply the hillsides. Take the guided Tours 4 Tips walking tour from Plaza Sotomayor and wander past colorful pastel houses and an interesting mix of European and Chilean architecture. Labyrinthine streets, alleyways and stairways invite exploration, while charming restaurants and bars entice with mouthwatering seafood. The city’s bohemian character and wealth of art are displayed in the form of murals, street performances, galleries and poetry readings.
Visit the Museo a Cielo Abierto (Open Sky Museum) to see original murals painted by Chilean artists on the exterior of traditional houses in the Bellavista hill district. Tour La Sebastiana—the home of Pablo Neruda—to better appreciate Chile’s beloved Nobel-prize-winning poet. The funky multicolored Ascensor Artilleria, which climbs up Artilleria Hill and delivers splendid views of the Pacific, is one of the best travel bargains you’ll find. Built in 1893, the funicular once transported cadets from the port to the naval school on top of the hill.
Lake Llanquihue – The Little Bavaria of Chile
Situated in northern Patagonia’s lovely Región de Los Lagos, or Lake District, Chile’s second largest lake harbors the small village of Frutillar. Its decidedly German colonial influence and spectacular scenery make visitors feel like they’ve landed in Bavaria. The lyrical charm of the community goes beyond the impressive views of Lake Llanquihue and the snow-capped Osorno volcano. Symbols of music and culture adorn the town, from the 14-foot musical note, piano and sculptures gracing the water’s edge, to the aptly named concert hall, the Teatro del Lago. Frutillar celebrates its unique character every January when the theater plays host to a two-week-long music festival.
Stay at the cozy Hotel Frau Holle am See next to the lake to soak in German heritage. Wander around the shops and stop at a local café for bratwurst, sauerkraut and the obligatory Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). The outdoor German Colonial Museum re-creates a 19th-century settlement as inhabited by the immigrants who founded the community. Drop in at the Lavanda Casa de Té, a colonial German plantation overlooking fields of lavender, for afternoon tea. In summer, paddle a canoe on the lake, fish for salmon and trout, ride the ski lift up the volcano and visit neighboring communities like Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt.
San Pedro de Atacama – Mystical Moonscapes of the Great North
Strange and fantastic sand dunes, canyons, geysers, high-plateau lagoons, hot springs, volcanoes and extraordinary skies make up what NASA deems the driest desert on earth. The salt flats of the Atacama Desert occupy a 600-mile plateau on Chile’s northern coast and are a marvel of geology. Vast open spaces, ink-blue skies by day and star-filled jet-black canopies at night create the perfect conditions for the two major astronomical observatories that occupy the arid and lonely landscape. The most developed town of pre-Colombian Chile, San Pedro de Atacama sits on the desert’s northern edge and offers an oasis in the moonscape. Laid-back and arty, it is home to a whitewashed colonial church, an archaeological museum, low-lying desert buildings and about 2,500 atacameños (indigenous residents of Atacama). After checking out the village, venture into the desert by bike, horse or foot to explore the landscape. More daring visitors might try motorbiking or sandboarding—a desert sport akin to snowboarding. To experience the silent, mystical energy of the area, visit the steaming El Tatio geysers at sunrise, walk around the geological formations of Moon Valley or observe the mysterious desert skies on one of the SPACE agency’s nightly astronomical tours.
Patagonia – Enchanted Forest Lodges
In the middle of a temperate rainforest near the entrance to the Chilean Patagonia region, the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve presents fascinating natural treasures and ample adventure. Nearly 156 miles of trails lead to springs, lagoons, pristine beaches and bird refuges on the 144,000-acre reserve. Traverse the trails by bike or horse, fly-fish among waterfalls, explore underground caverns, bathe in hot springs, and sail, raft or kayak on three different rivers. If you want to stay in the area, check out two utterly distinctive lodges. Constructed in the shape of a volcano, with water cascading down its windows and rocky walls, the fairy-tale Magic Mountain Lodge looks like it came out of an enchanted forest. The connected Hotel Baobab & Spa—cleverly built in the shape of its namesake tree—is equally surreal, with rooms overlooking the forest, mountains, wildlife and the enormous Arenal Volcano. If you’re lucky, you’ll see passing fox, deer, toucans, iguanas, eagles, condors and pumas. Off the main tourist track and with only Spanish-speaking staff, the lodges are perfect for those in search of unique off-road adventures.
Puerto Natales – Luxury Camping
In Chile’s far south, the steep granite mountains of Patagonia make for a hiker’s dream. The unreal scenery and amazing topography of Torres del Paine National Park includes mountains, granite spires, fjords, channels, glaciers, valleys and lakes. Clearly marked pathways and refugios (serviced alpine huts) offer hikers incredible views and plenty of options for multi-day treks. Alternatively, visitors can explore the park by bus or minivan, hopping off to go hike and ride horses. Everyone should consider a stay at Patagonia Camp just outside the park. Eco-friendly yurts (traditional domed tents) separated by elevated walkways are outfitted with heating, private bathrooms and terraces with expansive views of Lake Toro and the Paine Massif. Indulge in gourmet meals, such as a Patagonian barbecue of slow-roasted lamb, accompanied by Chilean wines. The best time to visit is during Chile’s summer (between late December and late February) when the weather is moderate.
Easter Island – Silent Bystanders of the Past
On a rock platform near a cliff’s edge, 15 colossal stone statues stand like resolute soldiers guarding their isolated South Pacific outpost. Called moai by the islanders, the monolithic statues are the most famous residents of Easter Island (Rapa Nui in Polynesian). They’re part of an ancient sacred heritage that also includes ceremonial altars, the remnants of a mysterious cult, petroglyphs and wooden sculptures. The 80-ton moai—some as high as 71 feet (22 meters)—were carved out of rock from the island’s Rano Raraku volcano between 1110 and 1650. Representing ancestral chiefs the locals believed to be descendants of the gods, the moai were thought to have supernatural powers that protected the community.
Of the 638 statues indexed on the island (located 1,400 miles west of the Chilean mainland), many were placed on ahu—ceremonial mounds and pedestals. The largest is Ahu Tongariki on the southeast part of the island. Swept inland by a massive tsunami in 1960, the site’s 15 famous giants were only recently restored to their posts by a joint Japanese-Chilean collaboration completed in 1995. Visit at sunrise for a brilliant, unforgettable start to a day on the island. Before visiting Ahu Tongariki or any of the ahus on your own, go with a guide first to learn about their history and understand local religious sensitivities.
Travel Tips: Argentina & Chile
Get the most from your trip to South America. Our Travel Tips will keep you on the right track when it comes to finding the best art, culture and cuisine that Argentina and Chile have to offer.
Attend a Milonga without Being a Wallflower
The countless milongas (tango salons) of Buenos Aires are diverse: simple and informal, elegant and traditional, indoor and outdoor. Many milongas have complex and subtle codes of dance, making them somewhat intimidating to visitors. Enlist a service such as Tango Taxi Dancers and let locals lead the way. The agency provides experienced dance partners to accompany visitors to milongas or private or group classes. It even offers a custom tango itinerary based on your preferences and skill level.
Visiting Iguazú Falls
The mighty Iguazú Falls and surrounding park are vast. Keep the following in mind to maximize your visit:
- Plan for a full day or two to see the park.
- Get a 50% discount on your second day in the park if you get your ticket stamped on your way out on the first day. Find out more about 2nd-day discounts.
- The falls are viewable from both Argentina and Brazil. To see them from the Brazilian side, you’ll need to get a visa at least one month in advance. Contact your closest consulate for more information.
- If you want to visit Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) falls, take the train first thing in the morning to avoid crowds.
- Bring water, a hat, walking shoes, sunscreen and fast-drying clothes.
Traditional inns and rural estancias (estates) are strongly connected to Argentine culture and history. Grand European houses on the pampas (plains), northern sugarcane plantations and Patagonian ranches all capture the romance of the countryside. Scattered from the mountains to the coast, estancias offer a wonderful way to experience Argentina. Learn more about finding an estancia.
Parillas & Carne Asada
Small parrillas (grills) exist on almost every block in the barrios of Buenos Aires. These clean and brightly lit no-frills establishments serve up Argentinean fare cooked over a wood-fired or charcoal-fired grill, with an emphasis on carne asada (grilled meat). Flavors are simple and bold. A bife de chorizo, a juicy sirloin of grass-fed beef raised on the pampa, is a parrilla classic. Beyond that, you’ll find every part of the cow, chicken and pig, as well as a variety of sausages. Order the parrillada mixta (mixed grill) to sample a bit of everything. Salad bars and an array of vegetables provide color and nutrition. Whatever you choose, be sure to slather it with a healthy spoonful of chimichurri, the addictive red or green salsa that’s an Argentinean favorite.
To find Argentine handicrafts in an authentic atmosphere, head to the Feria de Mataderos (Mataderos Fair) in Buenos Aires. Staged in the former slaughterhouse district of Mataderos, the fair celebrates the gaucho (Argentinean cowboy) tradition with displays of horsemanship, live folklore (Argentinean folk music) and dancing; affordable native handicrafts; and free arts and crafts workshops. Be sure to bring your appetite—you’ll find plenty of grilled meat and homemade regional foods like empanadas, stews and tamales. The fair runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every Sunday from April to December.
When to Go – Seasons in Chile
The longest country in the world, Chile extends from the tropics to Antarctica, so its seasons are quite varied. If you plan to visit, decide where you want to go before deciding when. Chile’s spring and summer (November to March) are generally the best times to visit unless you plan on hitting the ski slopes in the central and southern regions, where August and September are ideal. Southern Chile’s peak travel season is October to April. Easter Island enjoys a pleasant sub-tropical Pacific climate with sporadic rain showers year-round; the heaviest rains fall in May.
Wine Tastings & Tours
Drop-in tastings are not the norm in Chile. Typically, bodegas (wineries) sell tours that include tastings. If you plan to explore on your own, get a map of wineries from a hotel or tourist office, and call ahead (a day or two in advance is best) to find out when tours are offered. Professionally guided full-day, half-day and multiple-day wine tours will save you time—and some even include meals. Hundreds are available in the main wine valleys of Maipo, Casablanca and Colchagua—all close to Santiago. For more information, visit:
Getting to Easter Island
LAN Airlines— Chile’s national air carrier—is the only airline that flies to Easter Island, making it easy to research timetables. Besides daily flights from Santiago, LAN offers twice-weekly direct flights from Lima, Peru, and once-weekly flights from Tahiti, for those hoping to combine travel destinations. The minimum flight time from anywhere is 5 1/2 hours. Several cruise lines—such as Crystal, Holland America and Princess—include Easter Island on their itineraries.