In this edition of our Explorer’s Journal, Destination Expert Claudia Cavero takes an awe-inspiring journey to experience the charm and beauty of Argentina. From the vibrant capital of Buenos Aires to the “End of the World,” Ushuaia, follow along as she guides you through a captivating expedition.
Hello from Buenos Aires! My name is Claudia, Destination Expert at SA Expeditions. Recently, I had the opportunity to explore vibrant Argentina and beautiful Patagonia with my partner. Join us as we embark on this long-awaited journey.
On our first day, we woke up bright and early to get to know one of the most modern areas of Buenos Aires, Puerto Madero. Buenos Aires is a big city with over 15 million people (3 million in the central area) and the most popular neighborhoods to stay are Palermo and Recoleta, followed by Puerto Madero and downtown area.
It was a bright and sunny day so we decided to visit the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve, where you can walk or bike and almost forget that you are in South America’s largest city. After a couple hours walking around, birdwatching and enjoying the view with a coffee, it was time to return to our accommodations to freshen up for lunch.
We had lunch at Don Julio, which was one of the first things I booked after our flight and is now the #2 restaurant in all of Latin America! (Food may or may not have played a big part in deciding what country to visit, and it did not disappoint.)
Part of these explorations include inspecting hotels so that we know what accommodations are best for you. Today was a day of hotel exploring and lunch with our local team in Buenos Aires. We started the day by visiting hotels in the Recoleta area and had lunch at the impressive Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt – this old mansion used to belong to a single family, and it truly resembles a palace. Whether you stay at the mansion or the modern building, both share a peaceful garden perfect to enjoy an afternoon coffee or meal.
After a day of walking around under the Buenos Aires sun, we were ready to rest, but not before going for some ice cream – a must-try everywhere in Argentina! We even found a vegan ice cream shop that we visited more than twice during our week there. There are too many options to choose from 😊.
The next day, we went to the Recoleta neighborhood. Our plan was to visit Recoleta Cemetery first, then continue to explore the neighborhood as there are many other things to see with a little free time. However, I made the mistake of only bringing cash with me on this day, and I learned the hard way the cemetery only accepts entry for payment with a credit card. In other words, remember to bring your credit card with you if you haven’t paid the entrance fee!
We decided to make most out of the day and went for an ice cream at the mall just across with views of the impressive graves. This cemetery is popular because it contains graves of notable people, such as former presidents, military commanders, Nobel prize winners, and activists like Eva Peron, a very important character in Argentinean politics in the late 40s. I am definitely coming back to this place!
We ended the day by walking to the Japanese Garden, passing by Floralis Generic on our way – a massive steel flower that will open and close its petals depending on the time of day. As someone who has lived in a big city for most of their life, it was nice to walk in a calm, serene area.
We decided to start the following day by visiting the San Telmo local fair. On Sundays, different artisans set up stands filled with all sorts of souvenirs and handicrafts with different Argentinean decorations. We walked for a few blocks browsing through stands and making mental notes of all the things we intend to buy before flying home. It is recommended to bring cash to get a better deal and negotiate prices. And as with any crowded place, be aware of your pockets!
We then continued to the Obelisk, this classic Buenos Aires landmark where we took a couple of pictures before continuing to explore downtown, walking through Teatro Colon, and truly understanding why the city is called the “Paris of South America”. We closed the day with a nice dinner. In case you didn’t know already, Argentina has great meat and pastas!
It was time to leave the city and travel to the southern tip of the country (and continent!). Landing in Ushuaia, the impressive Andes Mountains welcomed us from the plane. Fun fact: the Andes in the southernmost part of Argentina run from west to east, instead of North to South as usually seen in Peru, Chile, and northern Argentina.
Ushuaia, also known as the “End of the World,” is the second southernmost city in the world and one of the departure ports for Antarctica cruises during the months of October through March. As soon as we arrived, we were able to see one of the cruise vessels making its way back to the city. Taking advantage of the long days, we enjoyed a late dinner in downtown Ushuaia while it was still light outside.
After a free morning of walking around the bay and catching views of local birds and the city of Ushuaia, we started our 1.5-hour scenic drive to the Harberton Ranch. Today was one of the days I was most looking forward to – we were off to see penguins! Upon arrival, our group of 40 people was split into two groups. Groups must not exceed 20 people on Martillo Island as it is important that we do not interfere with the penguins’ day-to-day lives.
On the way, we were told about the two types of penguins that we’d see: Gentoo and Magellanic. These penguins will migrate to the island from November to March to breed. As soon as we arrived, we realized that there were two King Penguins as well. Although not typical, this couple in particular has been returning for a few years. Female and male penguins take turns incubating their eggs. While one of them goes off to the ocean to hunt, the other stays with the egg and won’t eat until their partner returns and takes their place.
The Magellanic penguins in particular will even use the same nest year after year. This is why it’s so important to watch your step and follow the designated paths, as the penguins won’t always care about the man-made walkways. As a guest, you must obey your guide’s instructions. Don’t get too close, don’t leave anything, and don’t take anything. However, we learned that penguins don’t always follow social distancing rules, as one little fella who came up close to say goodbye!
We started the next day with a beautiful, scenic 20-minute drive to Tierra del Fuego National Park where we had a full day of hiking and canoeing lined up. After a quick introduction, we began wlaking through the beautiful forest. Unlike the Andes in Peru where mountain elevation is too high to grow trees, here you could see plenty!
The hike we did was quite easy; it was a total of 3 hours with stops along the way and no major inclination. If keen on an easier experience, there are shorter versions that you can do with the assistance of a vehicle. After a quick break during which our guide offered tea or coffee and we had a quick snack, we continued walking until we met our vehicle and were taken to the lunch spot, which included wine! Afterwards, we had our safety briefing for the canoe portion of our tour.
During the peaceful ride, we saw some endemic birds, admired the views, and got to know others in the tour group. We ran into locals enjoying the bay as well in the camping areas and even some kids that of course were not stopped by the cold waters! We made it back to Ushuaia in the afternoon with plenty of daylight left in the day.
On our last day, we decided to do a self-guided hike with a couple of friends we met the previous day. Depending on how comfortable you are, you can either do the trek guided or unguided. Our driver picked us up at the prearranged time and we went to the Laguna Esmeralda trailhead. During our 30-minute scenic drive, our local driver shared super interesting information, such as the environmental effect of beavers.
Beavers were artificially introduced to Ushuaia in the 1940s to encourage Argentineans to move to Ushuaia and work in the leather industry. Having Argentineans living in Ushuaia would also help maintain sovereignty of the region, as it had been disputed with Chile in the past. However, as beavers have no natural predators, they quickly turned into a plague and are sadly ruining the natural ecosystem of the area.
We started our hike and immediately spotted a little grey fox. They are friendly and will likely follow you, hoping you drop some food (but please don’t feed them!). After 90 minutes of hiking with some ups and downs, we were rewarded with Laguna Esmeralda’s beautiful views! After some rest and lunch with a view, we opted to walked around the lagoon for some extra adventure before heading back.
From here on out, we said goodbye to the southern tip of the world and made our way north to El Calafate to continue exploring Argentinean Patagonia.
Craving adventure? Take on the expedition from southern Patagonia to Buenos Aires! Or if you’re wanting to take your experience to the next level, adding Antarctica to your itinerary will create memories that will last a lifetime. Talk to one of our Destination Experts to start planning.
About the author: Claudia Cavero was born and raised in Peru and calls Lima home. Throughout her life, she has shared her liveliness and charisma as she studied, worked, and traveled all over. As our South America and Southeast Asia specialist, Claudia brings her personal embodiment of the golden rule to every immaculate trip she designs with SA.