Imagine a country that fuses the best of European culture with Latin American spirit. It sounds too good to be true, but a holiday in Argentina brings the dream alive
Imagine a country that fuses the best of European culture with Latin American spirit. It sounds too good to be true, but a holiday in Argentina brings the dream alive.
The world's eight largest country, Argentina's coastline spans nearly 5,000 kms from the most southern town on the planet to the vibrant city of Buenos Aires. North of the capital the country borders Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay, while the Andes forms a natural divide between Chile out west.
Ever since independence from Spain in 1816, Argentina has endured extensive periods of internal political conflict, culminating in the military dictatorship in the 1970s which was responsible for the disappearance of some 30,000 suspected activists, many of whom are still unaccounted for.
However, the country has remained politically stable since democracy returned in 1983, and following economic fluctuations, Argentina is currently fantastically cheap for the European tourists looking for holidays with a difference.
The obvious starting point is Buenos Aires, a city certain to get under the skin of even the most jaded holiday maker. Argentina's capital is characterised by a mix of wide, European-style boulevards and ramshackle bohemian neighbourhoods, all of which is easily accessible on foot. Yet the city's atmosphere makes it truly unforgettable, generated by a mix of street music, tango, and down to earth, vibrant locals who have perfected the Latin American way of life.
As for the world famous steak – it lives spectacularly up to its reputation. And washed down with a bottle of Malbec, it will set you back around £5.
Beyond Buenos Aries the famous plains of the Pampas dominate the centre, home of Argentina's gauchos - the equivalent of the North American cowboy – and agricultural wealth. It is possible to spend a few days absorbing the atmosphere of an 'Estancia' (ranch), where you can horseback ride with gauchos and even learn polo.
Further south the region of Patagonia extends to the Andes and the Antarctic south. Its desolate beauty has become legendary in travel folklore, with a terrain ranging from bucolic river valleys to enormous, ice-capped mountains and icebergs.
At the other end of the geographical spectrum, the Iguazu Falls is a must-see for any visitor to Argentina. Tucked away on the borders of Brazil and Paraguay, it is composed of 275 waterfalls around a mile long and 70 metres high. The falls are located within the Iguazu National Park, which is home to around 2,000 species of vegetation. For film buffs, you'll recognise it from the 1980s film the Mission, starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons.
The north-west of the country edges into the Andes, and is also famous for its arid plateaus, yellow-leaf forests and an atmosphere more akin to indigenous South America. The relaxed town of Salta is the obvious starting block, and kick back in the land of 'eternal spring'.
For anyone seeking hardcore mountaineering, the majestic peaks of the Andes will undoubtedly impress – at around 7,000 metres the Cerro Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the western hemisphere.
Argentina is huge, but easy to explore either on internal flights or night buses, which are some of the most luxurious and comfortable in the world. But if its size is too overwhelming or you don't have much time, Buenos Aries and the surrounding area are well worth the trip alone. And for those seeking a true taste of local culture, go and watch Boca Juniors in the colourful port neighbourhood of La Boca, spiritual home to Maradona.