The northern regions of Argentina are an interesting mix of colonial heritage, incredible natural beauty, agriculture and an indigenous flavour. Two major Argentinean rivers, the Paraná and the Uruguay, flow together in the northeast of the country, creating the Rio de la Plata estuary. The land in between the rivers is known as Mesopotamia, a swampy, wet and very hot region covered with yatay palms, orchids and tree ferns.
One of the principal attractions in this region, the spectacular Iguazú Falls in the Iguazú National Park are tucked away in the extreme northeast, surrounded by Brazil. Lush forests bursting with wildlife and impressive, rugged mountains lie in contrast to the vast, fertile plains of the Pampas below. Spread over a large portion of the country, the Pampas are known as the Gran Chaco in the North, and these plains form the agricultural heartland of Argentina, where (cowboys) roam and where the country's famous beef comes from. The Gran Chaco is much drier than the central part of the Pampas and is a rich source of tannins and timber.
Closer to the Chilean border in the west lies the impressive Andes Mountain Range and its highest peak, Cerro Aconcagua, situated in the famed wine region of Mendoza. The bustling city and industrial hub of Córdoba is where Jesuit traditions, colonial architecture and traditional culture combine, with plenty of traditional festivals and local arts and crafts to be discovered. There are many treasures to be found by travellers willing to move beyond Buenos Aires, and the northern region is not to be missed.
The Iguazú National Park is a huge subtropical rainforest covering 135,000 acres and is home to thousands of different species of flora, fauna and birds, including colourful parrots and hummingbirds. It is most famous for the Iguazú Falls, declared a National Heritage Site by UNESCO. The deep flowing waters of the river tumble down 275 falls, the most famous of which is Devil's Throat. On the border with Brazil, it drops 230ft (70m), almost twice the height of Niagara Falls. As well as enjoying the stunning views from the series of platforms, visitors can enjoy kayaking and other watersports on the river.
The Iguazú Falls was one of the locations used for the 1986 film and, appropriately, Jesuit Mission ruins remain nearby. Iguazú is home to the Guarani people, who sell their handmade crafts inside the park. Some activities available to visitors include a ride on the Ecological Jungle Train, a meal at La Selva Restaurant, and a trip to the San Martin Island at the heart of the falls. Travellers can also enjoy a trek along the Green Trail or Macuco Trail, a walk along the Upper Circuit (the very top of the falls) or the Lower Circuit (the bottom of the falls), and a full moon walk accompanied by national park guides.
The Mendoza Province rests at the foot of the Andes and is Argentina's main wine-producing region, peppered here and there with wine farms offering tours and tastings. The area is known for its Malbec, and also produces some good Cabernet Sauvignon. The city of Mendoza, a low-rise city since 1861 when it was almost destroyed by an earthquake, is characterised by wide, leafy boulevards and a massive network of canals. Well worth seeing is the Enoteca Giol wine museum and if visiting in late February, don't miss the Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia, an annual grape-harvest festival accompanied by concerts and local celebrations. Bodega La Rural is one of the biggest wine farms in the area, offering tours that demonstrate the entire wine-making process.
Near the border with Chile lies Mount Aconcagua. At 23,000 feet (6,900m), it is the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere. The mountain and its surrounds are wonderful for hiking and mountain climbing, although it's important to note that during low season, tourists are allowed only short hikes for safety reasons. High season starts mid-November. Throughout the year, hiking without an official guide is discouraged, but even driving along the roads surrounding the mountain will give plenty of scenic views. The Mendoza Province is home to La Lenas, one of the biggest and most famous ski resorts in Argentina.
The vast flat plains of the Pampas are Argentina's agricultural heartland and the birthplace of the gaucho (cowboy). Lying southwest of Buenos Aires is the location of Argentina's famous beef and grain industry, the source of the country's wealth. The area is festooned with small agricultural towns, which are home to the majority of Argentina's population.
The area provides some of the best horseback riding in the world, and excursions are available to different ranches where visitors can feast on asado after a day's horse riding. Visitors to the area can also attend a doma, a gaucho gathering held every Sunday. The domas consist of rodeo-like events, horse racing, and other games and competitions, as well as a market of stalls selling gaucho-inspired crafts.
There are also some interesting animals that live only on the pampas, including the rhea (a large flightless bird, similar to an emu or ostrich), the pampas deer, the pampas fox, several armadillo species, the white-eared opossum, the Elegant Crested Tinamou, and more.
Northern Argentina offers visitors a diverse range of attractions, from colonial towns and Andean villages to lush rainforest and wide, open plains. Travellers can seek out llamas and pre-Columbian ruins in the Andean highlands of the northwest, or toucans and anteaters in the subtropical forest of Iguazú National Park in the northeast, where they can admire the impressive Iguazú Falls. The majestic city of Salta boasts some of the country's finest colonial architecture, and from here, visitors can explore the amazing Salinas Grandes salt flats, the otherworldly rock formations of the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), or the multi-coloured canyon of Quebrada de Humahuaca to the north.
Explore Argentina's cultural heritage in the pueblos (villages) of the northern Andes; get a taste of traditional gaucho (cowboy) culture in Argentina's agricultural heartland, or sample some of the country's fabulous wine on one of the many bodegas (wineries) in the Mendoza province. The northern region of Argentina is perfect for trekking, horseback riding, skiing, and white-water rafting, while the brave can attempt to conquer Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia, at 22,838 feet (6,961m).
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