OUT OF THE last 10 years of my life, I’ve lived in four different parts of Argentina. I’ve learned (and am still learning) how culturally, musically, and in terms of adventure sports objectives (mountains, rivers, waves), it can totally shatter your sense of what’s possible.
Area-wise, Argentina is the world’s eighth-largest country, but in terms of population it ranks only 32nd. There are huge tracts of open space across the pampas out to the Atlantic Patagonia, and all along the Andean Cordillera down to Tierra del Fuego. And then there’s Buenos Aires: densely packed, in its own way seeming to go on forever along the Rio de la Plata, a place often likened more to a European city than its fellow Latin American capitals.
The truth, though, is that Argentina has so many places and possibilities unlike anywhere else. Here are just a few experiences that stand out.
1. Ski / explore in the southernmost city in the world.
Although Puerto Williams, a small Chilean town on the southern side of the Beagle Channel, is slightly further south, Ushuaia—with a population of some 60,000, and a full tourism infrastructure including airport and ski areas—qualifies as the “world’s southernmost city.” It’s the closest city to Antarctica—only 1,000km away.
One unique thing about its ski area, Cerro Castor, is that you can ski at super low elevations—only about 600 feet above sea level. Technically it’s the world’s southernmost ski resort, and has an exceptionally long ski season (June through October), with the lifts operating during the summer as well, providing access to the glacier.
2. Go to an after-after-after-party club the day after an all-nighter.
There are hard-partying subsections of the population everywhere you go, from Tel Aviv to New York to Barcelona. But nowhere in the world is all-night dancing and celebrating such a widespread part of the culture as in Argentina. Most visitors are surprised to learn that from an early age, kids simply stay up during social events and parties, that there’s no real “bedtime,” and thus people grow up acculturated to partying what would be marathon hours for everyone else like it’s no big deal.
As Kate Siobhan writes in Matador’s nightlife guide, 101 Places, “…at Miloca, you can keep on dancing and watch the sun come up at the same time. If 7 or 8am isn’t quite enough for you, try Cocoliche, where the massive dance party keeps going until 1pm. Is 1pm not enough? There’s also Caix, a concrete dance haven where on Sundays, hardcore party people pay $50 to keep on going until (seriously?) 3pm.”
3. Visit a true milonga.
Tango has spread and been glamorized worldwide, with people taking it all kinds of directions—from competitions to remixes to people setting “tango world records”—all of which the innovators from the turn of the 19th century would’ve likely found amusing. You can find tango lessons and even clubs all over the globe, but the roots remain in the intimate milongas in Buenos Aires, where local people still come to dance with their partners week after week. Visiting a milonga, seeing the attitude and style of the dancers—particularly the partners who’ve been together for decades—is super inspiring.
4. Attend a Superclásico.
The Superclásico is the one of the most passionate and storied traditions in all of sports, with River Plate hailing from a more affluent neighborhood, and Boca Juniors from the working class neighborhood of La Boca maintaining a fierce rivalry since 1908. Both teams have produced international stars, most notably Diego Maradona from Boca Juniors. The Superclásico is infamous for fans’ continuous roaring and even making the stadiums and surrounding areas tremble due to the intensity of their movement / cheering. The teams switch off between the River Plate stadium (pictured above) and “La Bonbonera” in La Boca. Things get more than rowdy in the Superclásico: Avoid violence by staying away from fans baiting / instigating rival fans.
5. Talk to women continuing one of the greatest, longest-running remembrances.
In one of the darkest chapters of American history, Operation Condor was a period of state-organized terrorism in which the US collaborated with right-wing dictatorships to overthrow governments in violent coups, leading to prolonged war on left-wing political groups throughout nearly every country in South America. Of all the atrocities committed, none were so heinous as the forced “disappearance” of tens of thousands of Argentines, known as the “Desaparecidos.”
Mothers of the desaparecidos—eventually known as the Madres of Plaza del Mayo—began meeting in the plaza directly in front of the Casa Rosada in 1976 as a way of trying to find answers about their missing children and to organize in defiance of the government’s terror campaign. Since that very first meeting of the mothers, the Madres of Plaza del Mayo have continued to meet every Thursday, walking around the plaza, sharing their testimony, and showing their resilience long after the war criminals from the dictatorship have been imprisoned.
6. Ferry across the world’s widest river-mouth.
The Rio de la Plata, or “El Rio” as it’s referred to by locals, is the world’s widest river-mouth, over 200km wide before technically becoming the Atlantic Ocean. A massive estuary formed by the confluence of the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers, Rio de la Plata is also the border between Uruguay and Argentina (Buenos Aires is visible along the crescent-shaped cutout on the right side). The ferries between Buenos Aires and Colonia, Uruguay are fun (several come and go each day) and take between one and three hours depending on the kind of ferry you’re on. There are also daily ferries between Montevideo and Buenos Aires.
7. Drive the most isolated part of the world’s longest network of highways.
The Panamericana is the world’s longest network of interlinked roads, stretching some 30,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Ushuaia in Argentina. The southernmost part of the route, Ruta 40, parallels the Andes through Santa Cruz province, with long unpaved sections through isolated terrain. This isn’t like regular roadtripping: Prepare ahead of time, making sure you bring extra gas cans (you can’t always count on gas stations), water, food, and camping supplies.