When most travelers think of Argentina, they think of Buenos Aires, the big capital city that’s enchanting and legendary. The capital city overshadows all others in both size and importance, but it’s just a dot in a country that is the eighth-largest in the world. A bit larger than the USA part that is east of the Mississippi River.
As I write this, Argentina is not yet open to visits by foreign travelers, but eventually we’ll be able to travel to the cities of Argentina again and explore the great variety there.
In this long country you could start at the top and see the massive Iguazu Falls on the border with Brazil, explore the desert landscapes of the northwest, traverse wine country, hike the Andes Mountains, and spend weeks in Patagonia. Then board a ship to Antarctica at the bottom. For a start. So why not explore a couple cities beyond Buenos Aires?
Cordoba, Population 1.3 Million
I am bringing these other cities beyond Buenos Aires up because we just posted a review of Azur Real Hotel Boutique in the city of Cordoba. Few people outside the country know about Cordoba, even though it’s Argentina’s second-largest city. To call the tourist flow “a trickle” would still be generous. This is the first time we have had a correspondent in the area and the first time we’ve reviewed a property there.
Why go there? It’s calmer than the capital for obvious reasons, but there’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site there: the Jesuit Block with buildings from the 17th Century. The second-largest university in the country is in Cordoba, so that adds a lot of cultural opportunities and nightlife. There’s a very slow passenger train from Buenos Aires to here twice per week and a tourist train that does a scenic circuit of a few hours.
The 15-room Azul Real Hotel is located in a former school building, blocky on the outside, quite inviting on the inside. There’s a roof deck with a small pool and lots of lounging space, plus a restaurant on site. See the full review here.
Mendoza, Population 1.15 Million
Mendoza fights it out with Rosario for the next-largest city honors, but while Rosario is mostly an industrial city and shipping center on a river, Mendoza is known far and wide as the home of Malbec. It’s also a place of great beauty, whether that’s the city center, the parks, or the views of the Andes Mountains over the grape vines.
There are plenty of great luxury hotels to choose from in this city, from the Park Hyatt right in the center to wine lodges on the sprawling vineyard outskirts like long-established Cavas and newer Casa de Uco. See our previous rundowns of the best Mendoza winery hotels and the best restaurants in the region.
Salta, Population 685,000
The two next-largest cities in Argentina get very few tourists: La Plata and Tucuman. Mar de Plata, next on the list, gets a lot of domestic tourists since it’s the main beach destination in the country, but the location is very seasonal and those with money tend to head to Punta del Este in Uruguay or the beaches of Brazil instead. We haven’t found a hotel there that gets more than a smattering of foreign visitors.
The next city that attracts a fair number of tourists is Salta. It’s not that Salta itself is going to keep you occupied for a week as a traveler, but it’s a gateway to a lot of fantastic places and adventures. One of South America’s most scenic drives is from here to Cafayate on the Quebrada de las Conchas road, to the the white wine capital of the country. Then where the blacktop ends, the adventures begin. See our tour story on exploring the desert region of Salta.
We have reviews of the best hotels in Salta city itself, as well as Cafayate.
For the rest of Argentina, you’re more likely to be in a town than a big city. Whether we’re talking about Ushuaia in the far south, San Carlos de Bariloche further up in Patagonia, or the Argentina base for Iguazu Falls, you won’t be based in a major urban area. Much of Argentina’s draw is its expanse of nature.
You will fly in or out of Buenos Aires though most likely, unless you’re coming overland from Chile. So spend a few days there at the beginning or the end–it is one of the world’s great cities for travelers. Don’t stop there though: it would be like coming to see America and spending the whole time in New York City. Be sure to check out some cities beyond Buenos Aires to get a better feel for the big country of Argentina.