All Argentina meant to me was a kind of pilgrimage to the land of Eva Perón – an icon and the most famous person in this country’s history. At first.
My journey through this part of eastern South America became much more than that.
Let me start with the wine.
Mendoza and Cafayate are musts for anyone with a penchant for vino – particularly red.
You can take a visit to these wine regions as seriously or leisurely as you like, they are open to different types of tourist, with bicycle and walking tours.
There’s also an option for white water rafting on Mendoza River, although you probably shouldn’t mix the two.
Patagonia has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Then there was the estancia. I hadn’t been on a horse for 20 years, but it was like riding a, erm, bike, Gaucho style.
Galloping through the countryside in the shadow of the Andes was very special.
I stayed at the Estancia Sayta Cabalcatas, near Salta, owned by Enrique. He is as much a part of the experience as the horse riding; an eccentric man with a brash sense of humour, and the perfect host.
Naturally, Argentina has a wide offering, from the Quebrada de las Conchas and El Anfiteatro to the highest mountain in the Andes, Aconcagua, which at almost 7,000m high, is much better to enjoy from afar, in my opinion.
The Iguazu Falls, a Unesco World Heritage site at the northern tip of the country, are spectacular and access to them allows for an experience like no other waterfalls in the world, including Niagara and Victoria.
You can even take a boat ride under some of them, and be partially drowned, which I did and enjoyed immensely.
At the opposite end of Argentina is Tierra del Fuego National Park, which I accessed from Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world.
I’m not ashamed to say it brought a lump to my throat. To mark my 100th day travelling in South America I took a walk along one of Tierra del Fuego’s coastal paths.
I was virtually alone and could not have been happier – Patagonia has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
And then, in contrast to all this, is Buenos Aires, the home of tango and the city that was centre stage for Evita.
My fascination with the late First Lady of Argentina began almost 20 years ago, so I had looked forward to visiting the Casa Rosada and seeing the famous balcony from which she addressed her ‘descamisados’. And yes, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, was running through my head most of the time. I even sung a few lines out loud at one point. I had to let it happen!
Take time to enjoy the café culture of Buenos Aires, across the different districts. I especially enjoyed Plaza Dorrego, with its tango dancers, who are there day and night.
Ushuaia is the gateway to Antarctica and has a captive, and fairly well off audience, so it is expensive.
There is very little to do there which is free, so budget for it and plan your accommodation ahead to get the best room prices. I’d also suggest one museum is enough here.
They are over priced for what they offer.
Prepare to get wet at Iguazu Falls and don’t wear a white T-shirt like I did.
Take time to enjoy Buenos Aires’ Parisianeque café culture in its different districts, particularly San Telmo, the city’s oldest barrio, La Boca and Palermo.
Prepare for all weathers!
Eat: steak. There, this bad vegetarian said it. But my recommendation is not a personal one!
Drink: Fernet and coke
Loved: Standing in front of the desk where Eva Perón worked. I’m a bit obsessed, I know.
Hated: Argentina’s monetary system. I’m no economist, but even my simplistic dealings with it – including exchanging money on a tolerated black market in broad daylight, in the street – made it clear that the country has serious problems still.
Where I stayed
Hostel Lagares, Mendoza
As Nancy B&B, Ushuaia
Hotel Bolivar, Buenos Aires
Two Hotel, Buenos Aires
Hotel Residencial Elena, Salta
Where I ate
Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires
Fredy, Buenos Aires
Where I drank
Floreriar Atlantico, Buenos Aires
Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires. The oldest café in Buenos Aires, opened in 1858, also puts on tango shows. Tickets must be bought after 6pm at the café.
What I saw
The graveyard where Eva Perón is buried is unlike anything I had seen before. It is strangely fascinating and its maze-like quality adds to the eerie feeling.
The Martial Glacier in Tierra del Fuego – I thought about walking all the way up, but half way was enough. On the way back down the sun came out and cast a rainbow over Ushuaia.
Woodpeckers as wandered along Tierra del Fuego’s coastal path.
The entire Evita musical. Obvs.