Argentina is a land of superlatives and extremes. A geographical jewel that owes its name — from the Latin root for silver — to Spanish settlers’ misguided quest for precious metals, it’s the world’s eighth-largest country, slightly smaller than India.
Argentina’s diversity satisfies almost any interest. Famous for the tango, the capital, Buenos Aires, has a European cultural heritage, but even though it is often called the “Paris of the South,” it more closely resembles New York in its New World vigor.
Emptying into the South Atlantic, the Río de la Plata is longer than the Mississippi; the gaucho homeland of the flat green pampas stretches west toward the Andes, where the summit of Cerro Aconcagua is “The Roof of the Americas.” In the shadow of Aconcagua, the Cuyo region is wine country, where hundreds of bodegas make fine wines for the domestic and international markets, and Mendoza is one of South America’s most livable cities.
Among its staggering landscapes, Argentina has Iguazú Falls, higher than Niagara and nearly four times wider, and the ruins-rich polychrome canyon of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, linked to the Andean highlands. The northwestern province of Salta provides a smaller but intriguing area of high-altitude vineyards, and its namesake capital is home to colonial architectural monuments.
Northernmost Patagonia’s forested lakes district reminds visitors of the Alps; in southern Patagonia, hikers can stroll among elephant seals and penguins on wildlife-packed Península Valdés, marvel at the Cueva de las Manos, where pre-Columbian painters created the continent’s oldest aboriginal rock art, and behold the Glaciar Moreno, a grinding river of ice that inspires the eyes and the ears. Finally, witness Tierra del Fuego’s subantarctic fjord lands, which Argentina shares with Chile.
Over the last half of the 20th century, Argentina suffered a long decline, with occasional growth spurts interrupted by economic and political disasters, including a brutal military dictatorship. In the decades since the return to constitutional government, though, it has become an ideal place to travel. Most important, like the melancholy music and dance of the tango, it has retained its identity and mystique.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition