2 weeks is an extremely short time when you stop to think about it. Argentina is kind of very big – you can never hope to tour the entire country, unless you travel every single day. Doable I suppose, but extremely tiring. So when we first sat down in front of a map of this gargantuan country we asked ourselves, what do we want to see? What experiences are we looking for specifically in this piece of land?
That’s the question you need to ask yourself too. This itinerary might not be perfect for everyone. We made conscious decisions to miss out on certain things, so as to be able to do other things. And then a couple of flights were cancelled and we missed out on a few other experiences, but that’s the beauty of it I suppose – the adrenalin. The never knowing what you’ll find.
We sketched the entire plan on our own. We booked stuff on our own steam, read reviews, made compromises and took decisions, some bold, some crazy. The result: my most beautiful holiday to date. So I guess, it all kind of worked.
Things to keep in mind when travelling to Argentina:
The sheer size. The country is a continent in its own right. Its length means you’ll get sub-tropical temperatures in the north, and glacier temperatures in the south.
The clothes. If you’re following our itinerary, the point I just mentioned above becomes crucial when considering this point. You need light clothing for the north, thick clothing for the south – and enough space to keep both.
The costs. Argentina is not expensive. The food is quite cheap, and you can get away with inexpensive accommodation too. However, internal flights are pretty costly. They can go up to €200 for a one-way trip. You can drive the entire length and breadth of the country (there’s a famous route called Ruta 40 if you’re interested in doing that. It’s quite impressive) however, we found flights to be the most convenient way to get around. There are buses as well though, so you can look into that.
The currency. Most places will accept both Argentine pesos and US dollars. However, always ask before making a purchase or hiring a service, whether they do accept both. Taxis especially might only accept pesos. Better stock up on pesos while you’re still in Malta; rates might not be favourable in Argentina.
The language. The Argentine population speaks Spanish almost exclusively. People working with tourists will know English but outside of that, it’s mostly Spanish. We got by mostly because of our knowledge of Italian, but always have a printed address of where you want to get to so you can show it to your taxi driver, unless you want to go into a full-blown mime game. Or, you can always just add an “–os” to every English word. Burgeros, deliciosos. Gracias. Might work.
The dogs. In this country, the stray dogs are almost akin to pests, like the pigeons in Valletta. No one harms them and they actually look quite well-fed, but they are strays nonetheless. If you have a great fondness for these creatures, you might find it hard not to sympathise and to pat or offer food. It’s highly inadvisable though.
The company. The itinerary I’m going to outline below is not, how shall I put it, relaxing. We were travelling almost every other day and things could get stressful, especially when events don’t go exactly according to plan. Ask yourself, would I feel at ease and confident with the people around me if we’re lost somewhere in the semi-desert of Tilcara? Would we stay calm or start lashing out? And if we do lash out, how long are the grudges going to last? We were lucky in that sense, but I have heard of friends who parted ways over much less on trips…
I can’t say we were forewarned about all this before we set out. Some things we learnt along the way and either cursed ourselves for it, or patted ourselves on the back for how incredibly wise we were (sort of).
Now, on to some stats from our Argentina holiday:
Like all greatest plans in human history, ours went a little astray. What I’ll be describing here is the final itinerary we ended up following, going slightly into why we had to change it around and maybe even giving you an idea or two of what to do should something similar occur. [Basically, you panic a bit and then you breathe, you drink wine or gin and you come up with an alternative. Works every time.]
Malta – Frankfurt – Buenos Aires (and back)
We found this connection to be extremely comfortable (and reliable). You leave Malta at the humane hour of 17:00, have enough time in Frankfurt to get to your gate at a leisurely pace (even take a couple of InstaStories-worthy videos while you’re at it) and travel to Buenos Aires overnight. Time difference is of only 4 hours CET (I guess this would change during our Summer Time since they don’t observe DST) and you land in Buenos Aires at the highly convenient hour of 8:00.
The original itinerary in brief:
* Our flight to Patagonia got cancelled because Buenos Aires flooded and our aircraft never left the airport to get to Salta. Therefore, we had to adapt:
Tip: ALWAYS have a cushion of days at the end which you can borrow from should plans go south. We never planned it this way, but we were actually extremely lucky to be able to adapt halfway through the journey, and still see all the highlights we intended to see. And this was possible only because we had 3 days at the end that we had initially thought we’d use to relax at the end of the holiday and perhaps take a ferry to Uruguay. We missed out on Uruguay but we made it to Patagonia, and that place is incomparable.
The not-so-brief Argentina itinerary.
And here we go…
Like most big cities in the world, Buenos Aires is at that interesting crossroads between growth and advancement, but with visible roots stuck firmly in the past. On our first day we visited the Mercado di San Telmo, a mix of antiques bazaar, food market and thrift shop. The smells and sounds are warm and appetizing, the ham hanging from stalls look mouth-watering and the coffee is as strong as their accent. The Plaza Dorrego is just a brief walk down the same road, where you’ll find an open-air market with curiosities. My friend thought the things they sold looked a bit other-worldly; with incense burning and melodies which sounded a bit like chants because you can’t make out the words. It was quite hauntingly magical, despite the sunlight filtering through the trees.
We then visited an old colonial place, down the same road of Mercado San Telmo and before you reach another main avenue, converted into another small market. The building was quite dilapidated and I’m pretty sure safety regulations were not very much enforced here. It looked spectral, a shell of the majestic building it must have once been. I can’t remember the name but it was a treat wandering its terraces, imagining what life must have been like 100 years ago.
We had our first Cuba Libre(s) just opposite the Mercado, at a place called Cervezas Tiradas, a modern, industrial looking bar with exposed pipes and bulbs and extremely good burgers. That night we headed off to one of the best reviewed restaurants in town for our first proper steak, at the Cabañas Las Lilas. It’s situated in the picturesque Puerto Madero and although we cannot, hand on heart, say the food was not good, we were mildly disappointed. The service was a bit too fast (a rarity as we discovered later on, where restaurants take their time to bring the food in Argentina) and the meat, though juicy, was not cooked as perfectly as you’d expect. The wine on the other hand was almost always exceptionally good.
Our flight departed early the next day and we headed off to Iguazu.
Hotel: Hotel Metropolitano. Great rooms and service, very friendly receptionists and on the cheaper side because the area is not amazingly great.
Tip: Stay away from an area called Boca, unless you go specifically with a guided tour. In general, I found the people to be extremely kind but that area is quite notorious. Better not tempt fate. Otherwise, walk in the city as much as you can. There’s so much happening the entire time.
You get a feel of what Iguazu is all about as soon as you’re landing, when you’re skimming over rainforests, eyes wide and scanning for a runway. You’ll see none at first, and then suddenly you land and there it is, a tiny airport which looks like a lodge in the middle of the woods. Moths the size of my face kept us company (and scared the hell out of me) as we waited for our luggage on the belt and outside, warnings that Coatì (they’re like mean racoons. They scratched me. Not nice) and jaguars may cross the road are commonplace.
Our hotel was the amazing Iguazu Jungle Lodge, and it was perfect. Our balconies led directly to the river and the sound of it kept us company while all around, foliage and creatures of all kinds clamoured for space and attention. It was heavenly. We’d have pre-drinks on the balconies at night, finishing up the wine bottles from the mini-fridge, before we made our half-drunken way to the hotel restaurant. The restaurant of the hotel was also quite divine and the service excellent. We ate there on both nights.
Obviously, the highlight here was the Iguazu National Park and the Falls.When you buy tickets on the first day, you can keep them and claim 50% off on the next day (because there is no way you’ll see it all in one day). We also had to show photos of the park on the inside to prove we had been there, which we obviously had plenty of.
On the first day, we went to the Garganta del Diablo, a panoramic view of the falls from above.
It was overwhelming, stunning, powerful, intimidating, humbling, breath taking, beautiful. I got goosebumps when I first glimpsed it from afar, the rush of the water making itself to my ears long before I saw it. And then you come upon it and you’re soaked and laughing all the way. It was lovely. These Falls are not the biggest in terms of height (that would be the Niagara), but they’re the biggest in terms of volume of water. On the second day, we took a ride through the forest and a boat which carefully drove us just below the falls. Now that, was an experience of a lifetime. We were drenched, nearly choking, our seats and feet immersed in water. And all around you, the rushing of water. To think that it was just a taste of the force of that waterfall. We closed the day off with a trek (there’s an upper and lower track. We took the upper one) that offered panoramic views of the falls. You could go to the Brazilian side, which offers views of the falls from further away – but we opted to go for cocktails by the pool and watch the sun set in utter bliss. We had had enough adventures for one day.
We left on the third day and headed towards arid Salta.
- Don’t feed the Coatì, which you’ll see a lot of at the park. They might look cute, but one scratch could be infectious.
- Oh, and bring suncream. It’s hot and you’ll walk a lot.
- And extra clothes and flip flops for the boat ride. You will get wet.
Hotel: Iguazu Jungle Lodge. Highly recommended, very clean and delicious food. They’re building a new extension at the moment so it might lose it’s cosy feel but it’s still a beautiful place (and not super expensive!).
When we first landed in Salta, at around 7pm in the evening, it was not arid. It was, in fact, raining. Salta refers to the region but also to its main city. We had a couple of nights’ stay booked here but the city in itself held no interest for me. Although C. was grumbling a little that we’d be on our way right the next day, he immediately saw why. The north of Salta, and parts of the south, are home to beautiful quebradas, ravines in English. Very much like canyons, except these were masterfully coloured in different shades. We set out with a rented car (please rent a car here. It’s the only way to get around and it’s quite deserted and safe) from Salta, with one brief stop in San Salvador de Jujuy (again, I did not wish to remain here for very long but the drive is lengthy and we needed a rest) before setting out to our final destination, Tilcara.
As soon as we left San Salvador de Jujuy behind us, the landscape started changing. The shrubs became fewer and fewer, cactus started replacing them and the hills took on a now rusty, now green, now brown colour. It was cloudy but it had stopped raining, allowing us to make stops at random points to take photos. Tilcara was a place, as I often said, that Zorro might have called home. Low buildings in every colour imaginable huddled close on gently inclining roads. Every way you look, colourful hills dominate dthe landscape. We had a very hearty lunch here (and wine, obviously) and then walked up to a small temple close by. The temple is a pre-Colombian fortification and offers stunning views of the landscape – definitely worth the cheap admission tickets.
We decided not to head back to Salta and instead, to spend the night in Humahuaca, a nearby settlement of mostly detached houses. We couldn’t find the rest house at first (cue in, stress, a small accident with the car – the pole appeared out of nowhere, we swear – and a crazy suggestion I go look for it on foot amidst 20 rabid dogs) until we finally found it. It’s more of a large-ish farmhouse turned hotel, with the owner a cute old lady who made sure we were comfortable and well-fed with empanadas. The sunrise was quite spectacular from our room.
The next day, we started the long drive south to Cafayate, home to some of the best wines in Argentina and natural gem in its own right. On the way, we stopped to admire The Hills of the Seven Colours at Purmamarca (gorgeous spot, wished we could have stayed longer) where we bought trinkets from a man who lived in his workshop. We were pretty excited for our next stop. We were going to stay at Grace Cafayate, a five-star luxury wine resort. So yeah, we were quite looking forward. The ride was long but insanely beautiful. The road winds through the Quebrada de Cafayate, which looks a bit like a setting for Star Wars with its red mountainous hills and contrasting green foliage. The wine resort was all we imagined it would be, with a warm Jacuzzi and wine in the fridge, surrounded by silence and vineyards. The food was good, though not exceptional but after, when night had fallen and we went back to our shared villa, we watched the stars. I had never seen anything like that night sky, with a shooting star every few minutes. A small glimpse of heaven I suppose.
We left the next day, after a spot of wine tasting at the Bodega el Esteco (divine) and drove to Salta later on in the day, making it to our last hotel in the city before our flight the next day.
Or so we thought. Buenos Aires had other plans. It had flooded.
Salta: Dipartemento Reyes (apartment)- Super friendly owner, very small apartment. It sleeps 4 but not very comfortably. Very cheap
Humahuaca: Posada Campo Morado – Amazing hostess, old rooms but quite clean. Great views from rooms of sunrise. On the pricey side.
Cafayate: Grace Cafayate – Expensive, luxury wine resort. Beautiful in every way.
Salta: Brizo Salta – Corporate, unassuming but clean. Rooftop bar is a joke and breakfast is not very good. Not expensive
Tip: The roads to get from Salta to Tilcara and then back down to Cafayate are long but quite safe. Make sure you plan stops in between and a change of drivers if possible. We also met a road block on our last day at Salta and the one driving was administered a breathalyzer. Be careful with alcohol intake if you’re oging to drive.
Since almost all the flights from Salta were cancelled, there were A LOT of people trying to get their hands on tickets to get out of there. We managed to buy one ticket which would take us to Buenos Aires the next day, and a ticket which would take us to Patagonia the day after from Buenos Aires. Of course, if the place was still flooded, we were screwed. But we prayed and prayed and refreshed our screens a million times over and it all went well from there.
Since we were stuck in Salta anyway, we decided to go for a walk in the city since the day was bright. We saw acouple of colourful colonial cathedrals and had some more wine, and in the evening a cheese and ham platter. And more wine. So all in all, the day wasn’t bad at all.
We were even offered premium class on our flight to Buenos Aires.
Hotel: Brizo Hotel. Corporate, unassuming but clean. Rooftop bar is a joke and breakfast is not very good. Not expensive
Buenos Aires (again)
There was one thing I didn’t want to miss out on while we were here – and that was the El Ateneo, a theatre-turned-bookshop for all booknuts like me to worship and drool over. It was all that I had imagined and more. Even if you’re not into books that much, it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss out on. It’s not something you see everyday.
We had initially wanted to visit the Recoleta cemetery, house to Evita’s grave and a number of other curiosities you shouldn’t miss. But time wasn’t really on our side and something else was happening anyway. Boca were playing River, one of the most heated football matches in the world and the excitement was palpable in the city. We listened to the match at intervals in the taxis we took and were swept up in the fervour every time someone scored. And then we watched the ending in the same bar we had visited when we first arrived. It was quite something.
But now it was time to visit Patagonia. I won’t pretend this wasn’t what I was looking forward to the most. Because it was.
Hotel: Hotel Metropolitano (same as the one before. They recognised us and even joked about having breakfast before, which we had done during our previous stay. They stopped being mindful of anything once the game started though.)
Patagonia – El Chalten & El Calafate
We flew south, not the southernmost tip (that would be Oshuaia), but south enough for glaciers to be intact and that was enough. Our first stop was El Chalten. We took a bus from the station at El Calafate which took us to this tiny town, home to one of the most popular trekking spots in the world. It was in fact, quite funny for us, in our amateur garb and luggage (at least I had a backpack – not that it did much good) with expert trekkers and climbers all decked out and armed tooth and nail to face the elements. We bought necessary essentials for our trek the following day (food because there’s no place to buy that from during the trek, and wine for celebratory drinks after) and rested. The next day, we looked at the trekkers around us, gulped and started trekking.
I have to admit, I was scared stiff of what I would find. The day before, the peak of the Monte Fitz Roy, the tooth-like mountain I had dreamed of seeing over and over, was shrouded in angry dark clouds. I kept my fingers crossed and walked. Fast (sorry C, J & D – I know I can be a pain). And then, when we finally made it, when the peak just appeared before me as I rounded the bend, I think I almost cried. It was there, in front of me, clear as glass. It felt unreal almost. After having seen it so often on a screen you start doubting your senses. But I was there, we were there and it was laid out before us in its bare, cold, raw, breathless beauty. Shivers.
On the first night before the trek, we went to have pizza at a popular pizza place Ruca Mahuida (only after, of course, pre-drinks in our apartment). The place was cosy, warm and charming – and very small. We had to wait for a bit before we could sit down so we just opened another bottle of wine and nearly finished it before we sat down. It was one of the best meals we’ve had, probably helped by the fact that the lights slowly started going out, the pizza took forever and the wine flowed generously. That night was quite possibly the most drunken one of the entire stay. We never had hangovers though, which is quite something. On the day of the trek that evening, we failed to book and found almost all restaurants quite full, until we found an empty “bar”, not very nice to look at to be honest. But we played poker and the Cuba Libres were very good. So that went well.
The next day we took the bus back to El Calafate where we had booked 2 nights at the Mirador del Lago, a lovely hotel with views over the Lago Argentino. It was a very pleasant first day. We had a great lunch at Mako, walked around a bit and then later on went to an Ice Bar and drank God knows how many shots out of ice cubes shaped as glasses. We left the place, probably not walking as straight as upright citizens would, and headed for platters at La Zorra. There was live music and a very young vibe. El Calafate was built solely for tourists visiting the glaciers. No one is from there, and beyond the main avenue, the roads become rutted and ill-kept. It is also quite small and you can easily walk everywhere.
The next day, we took a tour to see the Perito Moreno Glacier, an equilibrium glacier which, unlike other glaciers that are unfortunately retreating a little every year, keeps its position by replenishing just the amount it has lost. And that my friends, was the most fitting way I can think of ending the holiday. Here, almost at the edge of the world, lie remnants of an Ice Age, which crack and break and move and groan like living creatures. Much like the Falls in Iguazu, you hear it before you see it, this great block of ice, as it breaks with a thunderous roar and fall into the water like small earthquakes. We took a boat ride underneath this magnificent wall of ice, and then we trekked the perimeter. You can if you wish, trek on top of the glacier, but we did not have the necessary equipment and in all fairness, we were also quite tired by then. So we had coffee and empanadas instead.
We left Patagonia the day after, and watched as this beautiful, beautiful part of the world receded into oblivion.
El Chalten – Andino Apartments. Located close to the main trails, very clean and gave us packed lunch! Slightly price but demand is very high and supply quite low.
El Chalten – Mirador del Lago. Quite pricey but beautiful rooms and good service.
Tip: There’s an excellent Waffleria in El Chalten. You should head there after your trek to, you, give yourself a pat on the back, massage your sore toes and drink hot chocolate. The waffles are amazing too and the bar even provides playing cards.
Buenos Aires (agaainnn)
We spent the last day in pretty much a comatose state. We went to watch a tango show at Esquina Homero Manzi in the evening which was quite entertaining. However, probably due to the fact that the place was crowded and that we were tired, it wasn’t much of an experience. Even because we did not have the necessary attire (good shoes, a nice jacket), to attend the top tango venue – which is also quite expensive. So we had a bland dinner and cheap wine while dancers entwined legs and moved at an impossibly fast pace. Some of them were actually extremely good and were an utter delight to watch. Others were more dubious. Either way, a tango show has to be watched while in Buenos Aires, so there you are.
We left for Malta the next day.
I loved it. I loved every single day, even the ones which caused me stress. I loved the food, the people, the places, the company, the wine. I love leafing through old tickets and maps and photos of our trip. This country has much to offer every single person and you will leave feeling you’ve seen a whole continent. Go. If you can, go. Go to Mendoza if you don’t feel like Salta. Go to Cordoba if you like cities. But go. Make your own itinerary and when you do, let me know. I would visit this country again in a blink.
Did you see the monument to a Maltese Azopardo?
If not, shame on the Azzopardi in your group!