Summer holiday destination for millions of Argentines, the Atlantic coast has some excellent beach resorts, while inland in the sierra there is fine countryside to explore.
Like most people, Argentines like to see the sea and will endure congested roads and standing-room-only beaches to do so. No sooner is the New Year’s celebration over than large swathes of the Buenos Aires populace pack their buckets, spades, and thermos flasks and set off for their annual summer holidays. The destination? The Atlantic coastline of Buenos Aires province. The main strip of this popular vacation coast extends from San Clemente del Tuyú, past Pinamar and Villa Gesell, to Mar del Plata, the hub of the Atlántica area.
Mar y Sierra
“La costa,” as it is known, is an attractive riviera where whispering pines and acacias shade the dunes and hills roll down to the sea (giving rise to the popular name Mar y Sierra). Visitors can experience both, for example by staying on the coast at Miramar, then heading inland to Balcarce and Tandil. But this is not the Hamptons or St-Tropez. Most of the people who own holiday homes and cabañas here are middle class citizens; many of them have been coming here for decades, rain or shine. The Buenos Aires elite, who once regarded the Atlantic coast as their personal playground, increasingly choose to fly to more glamorous resorts such as Miami, Uruguay’s Punta del Este, or the more reliably sun-soaked beaches of Brazil. Still, there are destinations here for all budgets and tastes.
Places to visit along Arentina's coast and mountains.
Probably one of the loveliest of all the urban areas along the Atlantic coast is the one that comprises Pinamar, Ostende, Valeria del Mar, and Cariló.
Pinamar is a very fashionable spot which receives large numbers of tourists in January and February. It is bordered by a pine forest, and the scent of the pines mixed with the salty sea air gives the town a bracing atmosphere. There are no sand dunes at Pinamar, which makes access to the beach easy. Accommodations range from four-star establishments down to modest, if not budget, hosterías and hospedajes (hostels). Pinamar is the most urban development along this part of the coast, with a number of high-rise apartment blocks and discos, which makes it a good spot for young people. Its range of sporting activities include everything from horseback riding to windsurfing.
The Greater Pinamar area includes Ostende and Valeria del Mar, where some very high dunes are to be found. A short distance south of Valeria is Cariló, a country club-style community dotted with elegant villas and shaded by pines, which has a wide beach and some of the most beautiful and unspoiled wooded areas left on the coast. It also has a tiny, attractive, and up-market town center, with shops and restaurants constructed in alpine style.
About 20km (12 miles) south of Cariló lies Villa Gesell. Founded by Carlos Idaho Gesell in 1940, the town was forested with pines with the intention of maintaining a small and tranquil tourist spot. Except for Avenida 3, its streets are still made of sand. It has a long, very wide beach, and a forestry reserve with a museum and archive, containing photos and documents relating to the town’s foundation. Outside the center is a horseback riding school, which offers classes and trekking, and there is year-round fishing for shark, mackerel, and other fish from the pier. The town is especially popular with young people, due to its many bars, disco, and skating rinks; it also has several excellent campsites.
Just south of Villa Gesell is Mar de las Pampas, a more exclusive resort which in the space of a few years has gone from being a beach with a couple of cabins next to it to a small town with a beach next to it.
Mar del Plata.
Approaching the city of Mar del Plata on the coastal Ruta 11, the high cliffs of Cabo Corrientes and the downtown skyscrapers built upon this rocky peninsula seem to grow from the sea like a mirage. It is a truly striking first impression.
Mar del Plata (often shortened to “Mardel”) has a permanent population of around 700,000 residents, many of whom are employed looking after the seven million tourists who visit each year. Accommodations range from first-class hotels to apartments available for short-term lease all year round. The city has well-groomed plazas, parks, boulevards, and several golf courses. In summer, its beaches are so crowded that the sand virtually disappears, although further from the center the beaches are somewhat less populated.
Mar del Plata has a number of important events throughout the year, such as the National Ocean Festival (first week of January), the National Fishing Festival and Regatta in February, the International Film Festival in March, the International Jazz Festival in April, and the National Film Festival in November.
Some 60km (37 miles) inland from Mar del Plata is the city of Balcarce, with 35,000 residents. The area is more hilly than most of the province of Buenos Aires, and Balcarce lies in a valley. The city houses a satellite land station, of which a guided tour can be organized with the EMTUR tourist office in Mar del Plata. The Museo de Automovilismo Juan Manuel Fangio in Balcarce is named for the town’s most famous citizen, the five-time world champion racing driver who died in 1995. The museum contains many of Fangio’s trophies as well as one of his racing cars, the Mercedes Benz Flecha de Plata. Near Balcarce are the Ojos de Agua caves as well as Laguna La Brava, a well-known fishing spot.
Miramar is less developed and much quieter than Mar del Plata, yet the main beachfront is overshadowed by towering apartment buildings. However, the beach is very wide here and it’s not difficult to escape the crowds. There is plenty of open space for outdoor sports, including bicycling, horseback riding, tennis, jogging, or just walking. For a break from the sand and surf, Miramar boasts a lovely large, wooded park, Vivero Florentino Ameghino, complete with picnic spots and walking trails.
The principal city in the sierras is Tandil, an important tourist center, especially in Holy Week (Easter) when celebrations are held at Mount Calvary and the Passion is enacted. It’s also a great base for adventure sports, with mountain biking, hang-gliding, and parachuting among the most popular activities.
Tandil found fame as the site of the “moving rock,” a 300-ton lump of granite that teetered on the edge of a cliff before tumbling down the slope on 29 February 1912. Various theories have been advanced to explain the stone’s demise, from vandalism and vibrations caused by quarrying in the region to extraterrestrial mischief. Regardless, the stone was gone. Fast forward to 17 May, 2007, when, in an act attended by then-president Néstor Kirchner, an exact replica of the Piedra Movediza was placed in the spot where the original had once wobbled.
Tandil has a large park and lake (Lago del Fuerte) in the south of the city, and is home to the Museo Tradicionalista Fuerte Independencia, which includes exhibits from the history of life in Tandil, such as a hansom cab and carriages, and rooms to rent in the old estancia school.
In the sierras surrounding the city are several estancias, which offer accommodations as well as a range of day visits with outdoor activities. The luxurious Estancia Acelain has an Andalusian-style mansion, a pool and gardens.
The Andes Mountains in Argentina.
The Andes is the longest mountain range in the world, running 4,500 miles from north to south along the west coast of South America. It begins on the southern tip of Chile and passes through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Venezuela. Outside of the Himalayas, the Andes have some of the highest peaks in the world, its height averaging 13,000 feet above sea level and its highest, Aconcagua at 22,841 feet.
Composed of mountain ranges or cordilleras, the Andes have some of the most spectacular scenery in Latin America and are a wonderland for many outdoor activities. Because of the extreme variation in altitude in the rugged terrain, there are many different climate zones. It is possible, for example, to ski on the western slopes in sub-zero conditions and trek through tropical rain forests in the same day, even if on foot.
The Argentine Andes is a wonderland for outdoor adventures and has some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Argentina. In the North you'll find prairie lands in the Pampas, gigantic canyons, indigenous peoples, alpine forests, and the Chaco Desert. The Central region has some of South America's best wine country, the second biggest city of Cordoba, and skiing in and around Mendoza. In the South there is the Lake District and more excellent places for skiing, hiking, and water sports.
Argentina offers great opportunities for walking through lakes, deserts, and glacier parks. The best trekking areas are the Andean Lake District, the Sierra de la Ventana, the Sierras de Cordoba, and Patagonia.
The eastern slopes of the Andes offers excellent skiing, as well as the Bariloche Resort. San Bernado, Puente del Inca, and San Antonia, which border Argentina and Chile, are also great spots. The ski season of Argentina is typically May to September.
The Andean Lake district has some of the best fishing in the world. The best time is in the summer. Trout and salmon are also abundant in the lakes and rivers of the Patagonian Region. The Parana River is also excellent for fresh water fishing.
Some of the best places for mountain climbing and rock-climbing are in Argentina. Mendoza, located just outside the highest peak, Anconcagua, is one of the main climbing centers as well as the Bariloche Resort in the Patagonian Lake District, western Patagonia, and for the more experienced climber, the Sierra de la Ventana.
The rivers descending from the Andes provide the perfect place for whitewater rafting. Some of the most popular rivers are Rio Diamante and Rio Manso (the Cuyo Region), and Rio Manso and Rio Limay (Bariloche). Water skiing, yachting, and boating are also enjoyed along the San Antonio River as well as scuba diving in Patagonia.