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Aug 2015

Essential Guide To The Best Of Argentina


Argentina is so vast, you can only manage to explore a part of it during a short visit. In fact it is the world’s eighth largest country and makes up almost all of South America’s lower half. It’s noted for its diverse geographical climates and landscapes, from the mild and humid Pampas to the glaciers in the Andes to the varied wild life of Peninsula Valdes to one of the world’s most stunning waterfalls, Iguazu Falls. From Argentina’s numerous natural wonders, reserve some time to explore its local culture, which, although largely influenced by Europe, has a different flavour altogether. Aside from losing yourself in the Sunday flea market and sipping cup after cup of wonderful, aromatic coffee, why not take some tango lessons or better yet, have a taste of Argentina’s national food, asado, with a generous serving of chimichurri?

Best Time To Travel To Argentina

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Different regions in Argentina are best to visit at certain times of the year. However, it is generally good to visit the country between September and November, which is spring time in Argentina. Summer is from December until February, which is the best time to climb the Andes or visit Tierra del Fuego, although it is a place where the snow fall is unpredictable. If you are planning to visit Buenos Aires in the summer, prepare for sticky and hot weather, while low lying areas in the north will have scorching temperatures, yet roads could be flooded. The provinces of San Juan and Mendoza are great to visit during the fall wine harvests (March to April). You can hit the Andean ski slopes in the months of June until August, but avoid the areas in the south of the country – Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, where Ushuaia is located, on these months.

History Behind The Culture

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Generally, Argentina’s culture is closely related to the gauchos, the horsemen (cowboys) who look after the cattle on the plains of the country. These gauchos are mestizos, descendants of Argentina’s indigenous people and Europeans, predominantly, Spanish. Indigenous populations, particularly the Diaguita and the Guarani have major influences on Argentina’s local customs, speech styles, beliefs, food and music. Spanish is the dominant language although there are about 40 languages spoken in Argentina, due to the great number of immigrants that have settled in the country. The immigrant population even had various roles. Investments to develop Argentina’s infrastructure were overseen by the British, while farms were established by the Italians and the Germans. Sheep raising and breeding were controlled by the Irish and the Basque. The country’s literature was very nationalistic during the mid-19th century, with several literary personalities including Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Victoria Ocampo and Julio Cortázar being some of the most famous. Immigrant artists on the other hand produced some very notable realist and Impressionist works of art. Art was a well-developed in Argentina, with artists excelling in comics, graphic arts, architecture, cinema and music. What put Argentina in the music and dance map is tango, its national symbol.

Landscapes & Activities

Iguazu Falls
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One cannot help but compare Niagara Falls with Iguazu Falls, which is located on the border between Argentina and Brazil. It is a major tourist attraction, and for good reason. Iguazu is made up of about 275 to 300 separate falls, which had created many islands. The roar of the waterfalls could be deafening as they crash 80 meters down to Rio Iguaçu. Iguazu Falls are bigger and more powerful than Niagara and the path leading to the falls takes you on a nature trail. Like in Niagara, you can take a (speed) boat ride right up to the falls. However, at Iguazu, you do not get to see commercial establishments and luxurious accommodation. Aside from the most impressive views, there are also water sports, treks and tours at the base of the falls. The downside is that it takes about 17 hours by bus from Buenos Aires to reach the Puerto Iguazu National Park.

Christ the Redeemer of the Andes
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Located 3,832 metres above sea level in the mountain range of the Andes, located on La Cumbre Pass in Chile (Bermejo Pass in Argentina), which is the highest point of the road on the border of Chile and Argentina, is a realistic-looking bronze statue of Christ the Redeemer of the Andes. Its right hand is raised in blessing while it holds a tall cross on its left hand. The statue itself is only seven metres tall, placed on a six-metre high granite pedestal. It faces the border line between the two countries. It is a monument to the peaceful resolution of their border dispute. With its location, the statue could only be visited during the summer months, as the only road that leads to it becomes unpassable during winter. Likewise, the temperature could get to as low as -30 °C (-22 °F) in winter.

Los Glaciares National Park
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Seeing glaciers while on a holiday is quite rare, but you can do so at Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, locate at the Viedma and Argentino lakes. These are the two places where you can witness a spectacular show – chunks of ice from the glacier falling into the water! Los Glaciares National Park is at the Austral Andes, which is along the border with Chile. Perito Moreno Glacier is a tourist favourite. The awesome glacier rises above the water at about 200 feet (60.96 metres) and is 15,000 feet (4,572 metres) wide. It is possible to take boat tours or explore on foot. You can also go horseback riding and stay at an estancia (ranch) close to the glacier park. At Perito Moreno is the Glaciarium Museum, which is focused on glaciers. At its basement is a limited-seating Glaciobar, where the glasses, the bar, the seats and even the walls are all made of ice. Maximum stay at the bar is 20 minutes, and you will be served free alcoholic drink during your brief stay.

Food – Don’t Leave Argentina Without Trying These

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Asado or barbecue or parillada is something that you should not miss trying when you are in Argentina because this is one original Argentinian dish that truly reflects the country’s culture. The national dish of Argentina had its beginning from the cowboys or “gauchos” whose main meat source are the cows they look after. Mind you, asado grilling is almost an art form in Argentina, where each chef has a secret recipe. Part of the almost ritualistic cooking of asado includes the amount of heat generated, distance of the grill from the heat, the combination of coal and wood and even the time when to flip the meat over. Asado includes sweetbreads, blood sausages, ribs, pork and of course, beef. The only seasoning needed is a pinch of salt. Asado is served with the go-to salsa, chimichurri, which is also of Argentinian origin.

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Chimichurri originated from Rio de la Plata, a region in Argentina. It is a green sauce or “salsa” specially made for grilled meats. It is a very common condiment that could be whipped up easily to enhance the flavours of meat. Based on the Argentinian recipe, chimichurri is made from finely-chopped ingredients consisting of parsley, which give it its distinct colour, olive oil, minced garlic, white vinegar and fresh oregano. Today’s recipe would have vinegar or lemon juice. The Uruguayan version has red pepper flakes. Although chimichurri could be used as a marinade, it is usually served together with the grilled meat and other dishes for authenticity, particularly in Argentina.

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There are many countries around the world, most of them having had contact with people of Spanish and Portuguese heritage, who came to know about empanadas, which originally came from Argentina. These small and very filling savoury treats are often a staple during festivals and parties as a starter or main course dish. Beef drippings or lard, water and wheat flour make up the dough, which is stuffed with various fillings, based on the region. Minced or cubed meats, chicken, ham or even fish are mixed with spices, vegetables, eggs, raisins, cheese or olives. Empanadas are either baked or fried. Some people vary the pastry fold pattern to indicate the filling. Letters burned into the dough is a common practice today.

Dulce de leche
Dulce de leche
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Another traditional and original Argentinian creation is dulce de leche, a dessert which is now appreciated worldwide. Like empanada, there are variations of dulce de leche, based on the country or region making them. The sweet concoction, which literally means “sweet from milk” is known by other names, too. It could be cajeta, arequipe, manjar blanco or manjar. English speakers know it as milk candy or milk jam, and it’s usually used as an ingredient in cheese cake, ice cream and other desserts that require rich fillings. It’s a simple dessert which involves heating sweetened milk until the water from the milk evaporates, although care must be taken so that the milk does not burn. Although simple, its first historical mention was in 1829 during the peace meeting of political rivals, Juan Lavalle and Juan Manuel de Rosas. Vanilla, coconut milk and cinnamon as some of the flavourings added to dulce de leche in other Latin American countries.


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