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Argentina - A History & Culture Tour

By Paul Stephen Gettings

Posted: 25th February 2013 16:16

Sparsely populated up until the arrival of European colonists in the 16th century, Argentina has now become a well-developed nation and a major power within South America.  With its name derived from the Greek word for ‘Silver’, prospectors initially came to Argentina in the hope that its huge mountain ranges were rich in the precious metal.  Although no such treasures were found, the name stuck.  The colonists did however find fascinating traces of ancient cultures in the land, such as the Cueva de las Manos, the Cave of the Hands, a series of caves in the Patagonia region filled with paintings, including the hand silhouettes after which they are named.  These paintings are thought to be as much as 13,000 years old.  Following their fights for independence from Spain, battles with the marauding British and many regional and civil conflicts, Argentina finally became the country we see today in 1860.  

Buenos Aires

Argentina’s sprawling capital city Buenos Aires is one of the most modern and highly developed cities in South America.  Filled with European-inspired architecture and large, leafy urban parks, the city is very beautiful despite its large size and having a walk around to soak up the atmosphere is a must.  Vibrant cafés and bars offer a wide variety of the delicious local cuisine along with more exotic fare.  Wine tastings are another popular event about the city; get together with some friendly locals and sample some of the best of the national liquor the country has to offer.  Love to dance?  The Tango (no, not Apple Tango...) is the national dance of Argentina and Buenos Aires is an ideal place to see it performed authentically...or perhaps to get involved yourself.  Milongas are public Tango sessions that can last as late as 5AM where a local will be more than happy to show you the ropes.  You’ll know when you’ve been Tangoed.

Patagonia

Patagonia (pictured) is arguably the southernmost inhabited area in the world.  A stark but beautiful wilderness, it features many opportunities to explore beautiful landscapes that seem almost untouched by human civilisation.  Traditionally, the vast grasslands of Patagonia were the province of gauchos, a kind of South American cowboy who made a living hunting game and herding cattle.  Nomadic and fiercely self-reliant, gauchos have a huge symbolic significance to the Argentinean people as icons of national pride.  The Valdes Peninsula at the very lowest part of Patagonia is a UNESCO conservation area inhabited by a variety of rare and unique animals.  The Southern Right Whale is a rarely-seen creature that can be spotted off the coast of Patagonia in the months between May and December, sharing waters with Orcas, Sea Lions and Seals.  Magellanic Penguins endemic to South America colonise the coastline, which, while hardly being a good place to top up your tan, is quite beautiful.

El Calafate

A small Patagonian town that is nonetheless very popular with travellers, El Calafate places you within an area of incredible beauty on the shore of the huge Lago Argentino lake.  Close by is the immense Perito Moreno glacier, a great sheet of ice which is perpetually inching forward over the side of the mountains.  As it moves, great cracks can be heard as the densely packed ice shatters and eventually tumbles down in great quantities into the waters below.  A sight of nature’s unbelievable majesty, on a sunny day a boat trip across the lake to the glacier is an awesome and inspiring sight.  If all this clear mountain ice falling into a lake seems like a waste to you, how about having it fall into a glass with a spot of whiskey?  Glacier Ice whiskey is one of the specialities in this part of Argentina, and the surrounding areas of El Calafate include many such experiences which, while touristy, are still novel in this unique setting.

Food and Wine

Argentine cuisine is an interesting mix of local, Spanish and French influences.  Argentina is famed all over the world for its steak, and accordingly beef, along with other meat such as Goat, Lamb and Pork, accounts for a large amount of the diet of the average Argentinean.  This meat is typically cooked by way of Asado, a local method of barbeque that is the national dish.  Dulce de Leche is a local speciality dessert of caramelised milk beloved to the Argentineans.  It is often used to flavour cakes and pancakes, ice-cream, and spread onto toast like jam.  Mate is a popular traditional drink made from the dried leaves and twigs of the Yerba Mate plant, brewed in hot water and sipped from a gourd through a straw.  Local interpretations of European foods are also staples, including pizza, which is often served with a layer of chickpea flatbread and with more Spanish-inspired toppings.  Argentina is also one of the world’s leading producers of wine, and much of their produce is consumed domestically.  The country’s national liquor, red and white wine is produced in vast vineyards, the grapes made sweet and rich by the intense sunlight.

Round Up

A large nation which covers a great deal of climates, Argentina offers a wide range of experiences to a traveller, from the warm, metropolitan vibes of Buenos Aires to adventures at the very bottom of the world in Patagonia.  These thrills, combined with the charmingly friendly national character of the Argentineans along with their delicious food and feverish entertainment makes this a place that, once visited, will leave a lasting impression that will be hard to shake off.

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