Argentina is without doubt the land of the immigrants. Nationalities from all over the world emigrated, especially during the first and second world wars, to this land of infinitive possibilities. Today, however, the economical situation is forcing Argentineans to take their chances abroad and a lot of them go to either Spain or Italy.
Travel in Argentina is booming due to an excellent rate of the "nuevo peso" (the currency) and the amazing adventure travel possibilities the country has to offer such as Patagonia, one of the many wonders of nature that will sweep you off your feet.
Some customs had me completely enchanted while I was living in La Plata (the capital of the Buenos Aires province, I lived there for 2 years studying and teaching) and one typical Argentinean custom traveled all the way home with me. Their national drink, Yerba Mate, a drink with natural herbs (yerba) which is served in a calabaza (mate) with a 'bombilla" (what?, I know, just click on the link for a detailed explanation).
Another splendid custom is the "parilla" (the equivalent word would be barbecue although an Argentinean is offended by stating that it´s 'just' a barbecue). A "parilla" is a joyful gathering of friends and family with, of course, wine. Really wonderful.
Argentina Travel Highlights
Football in Buenos Aires
Whales at Península Valdés
Patagonia and the Ruta 40
Gauchos in San Antonio de Areco
Boat trips on the Beagle Channel
Perito Moreno Glacier
Buenos Aires is the vibrant capital of Argentina. It emits more the feeling of a Southern European city which is no surprise as the roots of many "porteños" (citizens of Buenos Aires city) are from the 'Old World'. Many parks make up for the busy streets and let you enjoy the museums, restaurants and splendid monuments that surrounds them.
Plaza de Mayo is the heart of Buenos Aires. There you'll find important landmarks such as the historical Cabildo (the city council during the colonial era), the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, the town hall and La Casa Rosada.
La Casa Rosada (The Pink House), officially known as the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace), is the official seat of the Executive Branch of the government of Argentina. Plaza de Mayo has been a silent witness of many emotional and heart-breaking moments in history.
Check out this wonderful hostel in Buenos Aires!
La Boca is Buenos Aires most colorful barrio (neighborhood). It was built by Italian immigrants along the Riachuelo, a sinuous waterway lined with meat packing plants and warehouses. "El Caminito", made famous by tango legend Carlos Gardel, is a must see when you travel in Argentina even if you are not a tango aficionado.
Note: I hope I don't disappoint you if I tell you tango is absolutely not popular in Argentina (the youngsters want something more dynamic to move their feet on). There is a TV channel broadcasting tango related shows only. I invite you to visit my Tango Page for more detailed info about the music and the legacy of Astor Piazzolla.
Mar del Plata
Mar del Plata, 4 hours south from Buenos Aires, is a picturesque beach town and is ideal to get your tan in shape. It gets really crowded in summer (December, January) but is excellent off season. Nuevo Tango legend Astor Piazzolla was born here yet strangely enough there is no museum or a reference to his home town. Don't forget to try some of the delicious "alfajores" (chocolates) while you are there. Have a drink at the "Berimbau" on the beach. If Mauricio is there give him a big hug from me.
Foz do Iguazu
The Iguazu Falls are waterfalls of the Iguassu River located on the border of the Brazilian state of Paraná (in the Southern Region) and the Argentinean Province of Misiones.
Most of the falls are within Argentinean territory, but from the Brazilian side a more panoramic view is obtained. They will take your breath away. An absolute wonder of nature.
Patagonia is without doubt one of the most mesmerizing places of the world. It encompasses the South of both Argentina and Chile. The name Patagonia stands for "Land of the Big Feet". Legends say that discoverer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew saw a tribe of nine foot tall giants with big feet. He named the tribe the Patagons or big feet. Many people use the term "alaska argentina" when they're not familiar with the real name of the region. it is the absolute highlight of travel in Argentina.
Tierra del Fuego (Spanish for "Land of Fire") is an archipelago separated from the Southernmost tip of the South American mainland by the Strait of Magellan. The southern point of the archipelago forms Cape Horn.
Puerto Madryn, in the Peninsula Valdés, was my first city in Patagonia. The nearby town Puerto Pyramides is the place to set out for some whale-watching. The magnificent whales can only be enjoyed during wintertime (Argentinean that is). Impressive animals, a very beautiful experience. Read more about the Whale Watching Tour
From Puerto Madryn I hitchhiked all the way to Ushuaia, the Southernmost city of the world (I hitchhiked a total of 4,500 km. (2,800 miles) in Argentina!!!) and I was extremely lucky with the weather and the rides. Read more about Ushuaia
For the adventurous traveler, Argentina is just paradise as the country hosts a nature of supernatural beauty. Aconcagua is the highest mountain of South America. The area around Bariloche is a haven for ski addicts. Besides taking your chances on a snowboard you can set out on numerous adventurous hikes in the Bariloche area. Read more about Bariloche
The world's biggest moving glacier Perito Moreno is just something you have to see to believe it. Extraordinary, overwhelming. Read more about Patagonia
Note: my timing was not at all perfect. I hitchhiked in Patagonia in winter but was extremely lucky as the weather was mild. It is not something that is recommended to do in wintertime. Don't forget that besides the life saving gasoline stations I had to sleep outside at times to catch a ride.
For detailed information on Argentina please consult the excellent Wikipedia article of Argentina.
Special note: I'd like to thank Miki Lafarga, Antonio Garcia and Fabricio Sallette from La Plata and Mauricio Martínez from Mar del Plata for their hospitality and friendship during my stay in Argentina.
Hand of God and Goal of the Century
Diego Maradona, one the best football/soccer players ever, made 2 memorable goals against rival England on June 22, 1986 in the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in Mexico. The match included two of the most famous goals in football/soccer history, both scored by Diego Maradona. His first goal entered history as 'La Mano de Dios' (Hand of God) as Diego scored the goal with a little help of his hand (he later said it was a little with the head of Maradona and a little with 'the Hand of God').
The second goal, voted in 2002 as Goal of the Century by FIFA.com voters, is without doubt the most spectacular goal ever made on a football/soccer field in a World Cup.
England was/is not just a football/soccer rival. The year was 1986, the match took place only 4 years after the England/Argentina Falklands War of 1982. Watch the video below with original Spanish (Argentinean) commentary.
Note: I am convinced that Diego Maradona is going to be dethroned as the greatest football/soccer player ever by the mesmerizing Argentinean player Lionel Messi. I myself try to watch every game Leo plays, both for his club FC Barcelona (Spain) and country (Argentina). it is difficult to put his performances into words, it is something you have to see. What a wonderful talent.
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Must See Places in Argentina
Note: Have a look at Marco Bechis' movie "Garage Olimpo" about Argentina's "Dirty War" for a better understanding of how it was to live under the Videla military regime in Argentina. I saw the movie in the theater just a few weeks after my return from Argentina and I can assure you it was very difficult for me to keep my emotions under control.
One evening in Argentina
they were going to broadcast a TV show concerning the "desaparecidos" (the disappeared). The moment the show started the sound got completely distorted and you could not understand a word. After the show the sound magically appeared out of the blue. This happened only a few years ago but it is a testimony that there are still a lot of people from the formal regime pulling high strings.
Tango and the legacy of Astor Piazzolla
© All photographs by Mark Van Overmeire*
*Photo "Mate and Bombilla" by Ruta Saulyte-laurinaviciene | Agency: Dreamstime.com
Photo "La Boca in Buenos Aires" by Martin Vansteenkiste
Photo "Iguassu Rainbow" by Nicole Andersen | Agency: Dreamstime.com