Argentina likes to stay up late. Much like their Spanish
ancestors, Argentineans prefer to stay out well after dark for
dinner or dancing, and many locals seem to never sleep. Aside from
my earlier bedtime, I felt quite at home in Argentina. My visit,
tailored by tour operator Brendan Worldwide Vacations, came at what
seemed to be an inopportune time. On the tails of President Bush’s
trip to a summit near Buenos Aires in November and the protests
that accompanied it I thought I might find anti-American
While the anti-Bush graffiti was still spray-painted across
Buenos Aires, clients can be assured that Argentineans will welcome
Americans and their dollars. In fact, several locals said that they
have more faith in the U.S. dollar than their own currency. And
with a one-to-three exchange rate, the dollar stretches much
further fine dining typically costs well under $20 allowing clients
a taste of Europe at a bargain.
For this reason and others, Argentina is seeing a boost in tourism.
In 2003 Buenos Aires hosted 3 million visitors, a 20 percent
increase from the year before, according to reports, and LAN
airlines has seen a 19 percent increase in passenger traffic from
North America from 2004 to 2005.
When flying into Buenos Aires, as most clients will, travelers can
see the city sprawling against part of Argentina’s 1,600 miles of
coastline. Buenos Aires sometimes called the Paris of the southern
hemisphere measures about 73 square miles, and the metro area
houses roughly 17 million people. Clients can spend days exploring
the cobblestone streets that mark older parts of the city and add
to Buenos Aires’ European flare. Although even the old parts aren’t
really all that dated the city’s post-colonial structures were
built by architects from across Europe around the 1900s. And while
the architecture is classical, the open-minded modern city has
attitude. During my visit last month, city officials decided to
give sightseers a little something extra by wrapping a famed
landmark in a prophylactic. In honor of World AIDS Day the obelisk,
which looks similar to the Washington Monument only smaller, wore a
giant pink condom, making headlines across the world.
Safe-sex displays aside, Buenos Aires has much to offer your
clients who can easily sightsee, shop and eat their way through the
city. The city’s biggest hits include the Recoleta Cemetery where
rows of marble tombs line a two-square-block spot of land and
clients will find Eva Peron’s final resting place. Travelers can
then people watch and lunch at La Biela, a nearby indoor/outdoor
cafe and bar. A tour of the Teatro Colon opera house offers a
behind-the-scenes peak at rehearsals, costume making and wigs worn
by performers, and a stop at the Museum of Latin American Art
(MALBA) allows clients to see works from the early 20th century to
When exploring Buenos Aires, it’s difficult to avoid the temptation
of the many shops along the way. The Recoleta area offers upscale
shopping it’s known as the Rodeo Drive of Buenos Aires. Many
shoppers head downtown near Plaza San Martin to the pedestrian-only
street Calle Florida, which offers leather goods, clothing and
cafes, along with several jewelry and souvenir shops. For a more
colorful, Bohemian atmosphere, clients can shop Caminito, where
painters, artists and sculptors sell their works outside everyday
from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Argentina is also well known for its beef, and one of the top steak
restaurants is La Cabana. In fact, the restaurant provides patrons
with the life story of their steak pictures included. Since it
opened in 1935, La Cabana has hosted politicians and celebrities,
including Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Joan Crawford, Walt
Disney and others. La Brigada, located in the antique district of
San Telmo, also serves fine steak entrees that run about $8.
But clients can’t take a trip to the home of tango without seeing a
show. While tango performances are held throughout the city, El
Viejo Almacen offers a more intimate theater setting to better see
the fancy footwork. Dinner and a show are available nightly and
cost about $65 just the two-hour tango show costs $50.
If clients want to try out some of their own moves, after-hours
milongas (tango clubs) can be found throughout the city although
they can be tricky to locate. On a Thursday night, a popular night
for milongas, I twice tried and failed to find an open tango club.
The concierge then directed me to another milonga, which turned out
to be more of a nightclub. After paying a cover charge, I was
greeted at the door by several drag queens which might be an
indication why Buenos Aires was recently named one of the most
gay-friendly cities by Out Traveler magazine but still there was no
tango in sight.
Clients who want to go beyond Buenos Aires can opt for a day
excursion to one of the estancias (ranches) to see the gauchos
(South America’s cowboys). We took a 45-minute drive northwest to
the Santa Susana ranch, where guests can enjoy traditional
Argentine barbeque and a music and tango show. Clients can also hop
on one of the horses or in a horse-drawn carriage for a ride albeit
a very short one. While remaining a working ranch, much of Santa
Susana’s income comes from hosting tourists, as many as 500 in a
day, which can make for a crowded experience.
If clients choose to venture beyond Buenos Aires, they usually head
south for an eco-adventure in Argentina’s Patagonia region or head
west and stay city-bound. Our trip was an exception offering both a
taste of Patagonia and the wine region but I don’t recommend it.
Most flights connect through Buenos Aires, which means clients lose
a day traveling.
Bariloche, part of Patagonia, is typically cold and wet, but
pristine. With a climate similar to the Pacific Northwest in the
United States, clients must come prepared for rain and should visit
during the summer months between December and February. Several
shops, restaurants and pubs line the city’s few main streets, but
travelers are drawn to the city for the quiet scenery.
When the clouds part, clients can take a cable car or better yet, a
chairlift up one of Bariloche’s mountains for a view of the many
untouched lakes. Bariloche is more of a backpackers’ and
eco-travelers’ paradise full of youth hotels and small lodges. A
far cry from the city lights of Buenos Aires, travelers come here
to fish, kayak and hike or ski during the winter although the short
season and lack of snowfall make it a popular summer destination as
well. For upscale travelers, Bariloche is best enjoyed from the
vantage point of the Llao Llao Hotel & Resort the area’s only
luxury resort, which offers a golf course, spa and gourmet
Another popular tourist activity is hopping a boat for an excursion
across one of Bariloche’s many lakes. In fact, tourists can travel
all the way to Chile by a combination of boat and bus in a day. But
be warned, most tourists are unaware that this can take up to 14
hours. Shorter, hour-long boat trips are also available to ferry
clients through the lakes. But these boats are far from posh, and
some aren’t heated when it’s raining, this can make for a chilling
experience. From Bariloche, travelers typically head further south
into Patagonia for more eco-adventures, including horseback riding
and whitewater rafting.
Unlike Bariloche, travelers come to Mendoza to eat and drink well.
The city draws tourists from North America, Australia and Europe
who want to tour many regional wineries; in fact, Mendoza’s
wineries are making it an up-and-coming destination. Last fall, the
city became a member of the great wine capitals of the world
putting the city in the same category as California’s Napa Valley.
While Mendoza has a way to go before being on par with Napa, wine
connoisseurs will appreciate a visit while Mendoza remains under
the tourist radar.
Mendoza was first founded in 1561, but 300 years later the city was
destroyed by an earthquake. Clients can check out the remains being
excavated by local universities along with a 220-acre public park
that’s always open for picnickers, bikers, runners and other
activities. The newer part of the city near Plaza de la
Independencia features a pedestrian-only street full of shops,
restaurants and outdoor cafes which stay open late but close for
siesta from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The irrigation system which is several hundred years old keeps the
city green. But Mendoza is actually set in the desert, making for
an excellent wine-growing climate. While the region has been in the
wine business for 400 years, it has only been in the past two
decades that the country has exported the product. Some 70 percent
of Argentina’s wines are made in Mendoza, and grapes grow so easily
here, almost all of the region’s wines are organic even if they
don’t bear the coveted label.
Since there are not set wine tour routes or packages, it’s best to
book clients through a tour operator like Brendan Vacations. Our
tour took us to the Familia Zuccardi, a family-owned winery that is
one of the largest in the region. After an escorted winery tour,
our group enjoyed a tasting and a multiple-course lunch at the
on-site gourmet restaurant.
The Road Home
From Mendoza, clients can board a bus for a tour through
the Andes Mountains to Santiago, Chile. While this is a daylong
commitment, travelers will pass the highest point in the Southern
Hemisphere a mountain peak reaching 21,000 feet and the famed Inca
Bridge. The cause behind this naturally formed bridge remains a
mystery, but many believe the minerals in the water below were the
source. Locals leave items like bottles, shoes and picture frames
in the water for several days, which leave them thick with sediment
and ready to sell to tourists.
Clearing customs on the road to Chile can take 20 minutes to
several hours, but one bonus to the bus is bypassing the departure
taxes at the airport in Santiago. The fee fluctuates but can be as
much as $100 for those coming and going by plane.
However clients choose to spend their time in Argentina, the
country is worth staying up late with.
Where to Stay
Sofitel, Buenos Aires
There’s no shortage of posh hotels in Buenos Aires, and during my
trip, I stayed at the 144-room Sofitel Buenos Aires.
The Sofitel, which opened in 2002, features large, art-deco rooms;
marble bathrooms with a separate tub and shower; Le Sud, the
gourmet Mediterranean restaurant; four banquet rooms; and fitness
and business centers. For a fee, guests can log on at the business
center or use the wireless Internet in the lobby or nearby Cafe
The hotel sits on Arroyo Street within walking distance of
tree-lined shopping areas, the financial district and art museums.
Room rates range from $320 for Superior accommodations to $1,800 a
night for Sofitel’s Apartment.
Llao Llao Hotel & resort,
For clients seeking luxury in Bariloche, book them at the Llao Llao
Hotel & Resort. The hotel, originally built in 1940, is located
on a remote hilltop between two lakes, offering guests which have
included Bill and Hillary Clinton panoramic views of Patagonia. The
hotel boasts 147 double rooms, 11 suites and one cabin and is in
the process of adding 42 new rooms by the fall of 2006. Llao Llao
also features a spa, 18-hole golf course and restaurants.
Rates range from a mountain room for $200 in the low season to
$2,245 for the presidential suite during the high season.
Park Hyatt Mendoza
Mendoza’a only five-star hotel strives to incorporate the local
culture into just about everything.
The 186-room Park Hyatt Mendoza’s specialty restaurant, Bistro ‘M,’
offers regional cuisine paired with fine wines made in Mendoza, and
a wine training school is in the works. The hotel also hosts one of
the largest collections of local art. Other perks include a spa and
fitness center, outdoor pool, business center with Internet and
several conference rooms. The hotel casino, Regency Casino Mendoza,
offers two floors of gaming tables and slot machines and will
undergo a $5 million expansion to offer guests more VIP areas.
The Park Hyatt sits across from the Plaza de la Independencia and a
pedestrian-only street full of shops and cafes.
Rates range from $215 to $275 a night.
LAN Airlines offers 10 weekly flights from LAX in
Los Angeles to Buenos Aires with a couple of pit stops along the
way. Clients traveling from Los Angeles should be prepared for
short stopovers in Lima, Peru, and Santiago, Chile.
The award-winning LAN, which was named the best airline in South
America by the Airports Council International-Latin America and
Caribbean, also recently added a nonstop flight from Miami to
Buenos Aires as well as flights within Argentina. In addition to
Buenos Aires, LAN now services several smaller cities in Argentina,
including Bariloche (seasonal), Cordoba, Mendoza, Rosario, Salta
(seasonal) and Ushuaia (seasonal).
Agents should note that in November the pilots and mechanics on
Argentina’s largest airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, walked off the
job at Buenos Aires’ two airports, affecting some 80,000 travelers
when 300 international and domestic flights were canceled.
The airline and workers reached an agreement last month, and the
workers have agreed not to strike for 90 days.
Getting Around: Argentina, especially Buenos
Aires, is best navigated by taxi. And while cabbies are known to
take tourists for a ride, so to speak, the fare is usually under
Even if clients are traveling through Mendoza’s wineries, a cab
will be a cheaper option.
Brendan Worldwide Vacations
El Viejo Almacen
Familia Zuccardi Winery
La Cabana restaurant
Museum of Latin American Art
Teatro Colon opera house