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From the rush of Iguazu Falls to the mighty glaciers of Patagonia and the passion of its people – Argentina has many a force to be reckoned with

Vast in territory, Argentina runs 3650 kilometres north to south and within this space its landscapes vary hugely. Whether you’re gazing across the rust-red and ochre hues of Salta province, the lush forests and crystal waters of Bariloche’s Lake District or the endless swaying grasslands of the pampas – each view has its own unique appeal.

The divide between land and sky blurs in Patagonia’s starkly beautiful plains, while bucolic Mendoza’s sun soaked vineyards frame pretty views of snow-capped Andean peaks. With so much space, Argentina is all about natural spectacle, but let’s not forget the Argentine people themselves – proud and garrulous they certainly know how to throw a party, stoke up the asado (barbecue) and warmly welcome you to their magnificent country.

 

Culture and history

Argentines are very proud of their country. More than 90% of the population is Roman Catholic and family life is held in high regard. Argentines are quite tactile and greet each other with kisses and/or a nod and a handshake.

You’ll notice that Argentines tend to dine quite late in the evening – 9 o’clock is considered early! Beef, empanadas (savoury pastries), pasta and pizza are popular dishes here, plus, if your trip coincides with the 29th of the month, you may want to join in with the custom of eating gnocchi (potato dumplings). Argentine wine is especially good too, with the Andean region of Mendoza producing many a world-class vintage.

The Argentinian film industry is huge and in 2012 alone, 170 full-length movies were released. The national sport is pato – a bit like basketball on horseback – although football (or handball in Diego Maradona’s case!) is by far the most popular, inciting passionate support for teams such as the Boca Juniors and River Plate in Buenos Aires.

The most famous Argentine lady is, of course, its former First Lady, Eva Peron. This larger than life character became an international icon when she was the subject of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1978 musical Evita, as well as in the 1996 film of the same name, in which she was portrayed by Madonna.

Tango music and dancing is very much alive and kicking in Argentina, especially so in the capital Buenos Aires, where tango halls (milongas) seduce both locals and visitors well into the small hours.

Evidence of human occupation in Patagonia dates back to around 10,000 BC, and over the centuries many different tribal groups developed in the region. Those in the north farmed and fished, while hunter-gatherers roamed the pampas plains, and a hardy crew hunted in the icy waters of southern Patagonia. The north was greatly influenced by the empires of Bolivia and Peru, most notably the Inca Empire, which expanded exponentially from the 1400s.

When the Spanish arrived in the latter years of the 15th century, they weren’t much interested in Argentina. They only had eyes for Peru and Bolivia – or more specifically the gold and silver that they found there. Nonetheless, settlements were established in the northwest, including Tucaman, Salta, Cordoba and Mendoza. These were used to supply Bolivian mining operations with food and livestock.

During this period Buenos Aires wasn’t much more than a sleepy backwater limited in growth by the Spanish decree that all trade must pass through Lima, Peru. However, being so well positioned, Buenos Aires became a centre for illicit contraband and smuggling. It began to boom and in 1776 the Spanish relaxed their trade laws and named the city the capital of the region. Dissatisfaction with Spanish rule grew among the Argentine-born colonists and independence came in 1810. There followed a brief golden age for Argentina.

Throughout the rest of the century immigrants poured in from Italy, Eastern Europe and Spain as the economy boomed and the population soared. However, as the 20th century dawned Argentina’s economy began to show traces of weakness. After the onset of the Great Depression, the military took power led by Juan Perón who, with the help of his famous second wife, none other than Evita, won the 1946 election. Around a decade later he was exiled by a military coup before returning briefly in 1973.

After his death chaos in the country grew, resulting in the Dirty War of 1976-1983 during which thousands of so-called revolutionaries were ‘disappeared’ by government backed death squads. The economy floundered further in the late 20th century and in 2002 the country defaulted on a hefty foreign debt of $140 billion. It’s been a rocky road to recovery, but the country has begun to stabilise and heal, as well as calling out some of the perpetrators of the atrocities of the Dirty War.

Things to do

Saga’s holidays to Argentina will see you soaking up the atmosphere in the tango clubs of Buenos Aires, spotting rainbows in the spray of Iguazu Falls and cruising the channels of the Tigre River delta. Walkers will revel in the forested trails around Bariloche and the stunning Patagonia Lake District, while wildlife enthusiasts can head to the Atlantic coast to walk through penguin colonies and spot orca on the Valdes Peninsula.

Take a tour of Buenos Aires to find out all about its fascinating history, hop on a lake cruise and travel from Chile into Argentina, then nip over the border to Brazil to see Iguazu Falls from a different vantage point.

Buenos Aires

Whether you’re interested in architecture, street art, music or just dinner, this switched-on city is a joy to explore. From its monumental central square, Plaza de Mayo, you can walk past the famous Casa Rosada, catch a performance at the spectacular Theatre Colon then saunter into the cobbled streets of the city’s heartland, San Telmo, for prime steak and a glass of malbec. Head to La Boca for a tango show, to the swanky neighbourhood of Recoleta to hit the shops and to tour the famous La Recoleta Cemetery, or take in modern art at the MALBA in Palermo.

Patagonia

Vast and beautiful, Argentine Patagonia is a treat for the senses. To the west, along the Andean border with Chile, you’ll find stunning Swiss-style vistas in Bariloche and the Lake District. This region is great for walking holidays in summer and skiing in winter. On the east Atlantic Coast you can visit sleepy Welsh settlements in places like Trelew near Puerto Madryn, or spot marine wildlife such as whales, sea lions and dolphins off Peninsula Valdes.

Further down the Andes Cordillera there is spectacular hiking in the Fitzroy Mountains around El Chalten, and you can also gaze in awe at the mighty Perito Moreno Glacier in Glacier National Park close to El Calafate. Travel further down still and you come to the evocatively named island of Tierra del Fuego (the Land of Fire) with its southerly capital Ushuaia. Then from there it’s just a short hop to the frozen stretches of Antarctica.

Flight time

Flights from London to Buenos Aires takes from 13 hours and 30 minutes – plenty of time for a couple of films and a snooze.

Currency

Peso - The official currency is the peso (ARS) which is divided into 100 centavos.

Passports and visas

Your passport should be valid for the duration of your stay. You do not need a visa to travel to Argentina.

Visit GOV.UK for more advice on passports and visas.

Phrases

A few words of Spanish to help you get by...

Hello – hola

Goodbye – chau

Yes – si

No – no

Please – por favor

Thank you – gracias

Timezone

Argentina is three hours behind GMT.

Electricity

The mains voltage is 110/220 volts AC, 50 Hz. You will need an adaptor for most British appliances.

Language

Spanish; Castilian - Spanish is the official language, but English is widely understood.

Tipping

If you want to receive fantastic service, tip the maid at your hotel a few pesos every day. A 10% tip is the norm for good service in restaurants and bars. Mind you, if your service was awful don’t leave a tip at all feel free to leave more if the service was excellent.

Tipping taxi drivers is not required, although many passengers round up the fare to the nearest peso.

Climate

Argentina is a vast country and as such has a varied climate. Bordering Paraguay and Brazil, the northeast is steamy and subtropical with swathes of rainforest and wetlands. In the northwest, bordering Bolivia, dry desert plains are hot in the day, but become decidedly chilly at night, especially once you start to climb up into the Andes Mountains.

The central Pampas has a temperate climate, while the further south you travel the cooler it gets – right down to the sub-Antarctic chill of Patagonia’s southerly tip. The climate in central areas, which includes Buenos Aires, is normally pleasant, but can become hot and humid during the summer. Remember too, this is the Southern Hemisphere, so seasons work the opposite way around.

Health

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

The population of Argentina is around 42 million, with over half of the total population living in the capital, Buenos Aires, and the surrounding provinces.

Argentina covers an area of 2,780,400 square kilometres, making it the eighth largest country in the world, and the second largest country in South America. Neighbouring countries include Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay, with the Andes to the west and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in enclosed public spaces, such as bars and restaurants. Larger bars sometimes have designated smoking areas.



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