Argentina is known for a vibrant culture that gave us tango, literary geniuses, and cinematic masterpieces. It’s also home to breathtaking landscapes such as the Iguazu Falls and the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia. And of course the capital Buenos Aires is a world of its own.
The eighth-largest country on Earth, Argentina is a fascinating if slightly underrated place.
So on this post, we’ll cover some of the coolest things about the South American country!
Ready to start exploring Argentina? Grab your mate gourd, and let’s get going!
Argentina is known for its evocative capital
Buenos Aires is to Argentina what Paris is to France: the soul of the nation.
1. Buenos Aires
Argentina’s capital is such a stereotypical port city that it outgrew its port twice. It’s no wonder its inhabitants are the Porteños. This vocation has shaped the very identity of Buenos Aires, a metropolis of eclectic architecture full of cosmopolitan and open-minded folks which merges together everything Argentina as well.
Its metropolitan area is home (besides 12 million people) to tons of cool bars, trendy restaurants, world-class museums, and stunning parks. The first time I visited, I was there for a week — yet I still felt I hadn’t seen anything when I left.
You’ll find dazzling natural wonders there
The vast expanses and lush vegetation of the Río de la Plata Basin to the north, the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the west, and the Patagonian desert to the south — Argentina is known for all of that.
Argentina and Chile are the closest countries to Antarctica, which is pretty much what Patagonia, i.e. the whole southernmost tip of South America, looks like (fine, with a tad less ice). But since Chile is even narrower down there than up north, Argentina is more easily associated with the region.
Highlights include Tierra del Fuego National Park and Los Glaciares National Park, which just happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. Iguazu Falls
Some Brazilians who swear they’re funny say one should visit the Argentinian side of the falls because the views — of the Brazilian side, that is — are better. What’s not up for debate, though, is that everyone should tour this binational natural wonder of the world, located on the Paraná River, at least once in their lifetime.
The tallest peak in the spine of the world, i.e. the Andes, is also the highest mountain outside Asia. Yet despite its 6,961 meters (22,838 feet) of altitude, Aconcagua is not typically considered a hard climb by mountaineers, as reaching the top from the northern slope doesn’t require special equipment.
5. Río de la Plata
The Río de la Plata separating Uruguay from Argentina is where the imposing Uruguay and Paraná rivers meet. Depending on your source, it’s either the widest river on the planet or a huge bay on the Atlantic Ocean. Regardless, the Río de la Plata was crucial to the settling and development of southern South America.
Like the country itself (argento means “silver” in Italian, whereas plata is the Spanish word for the metal), the river was named after the mythical Silver Mountains that European explorers believed were located around its basin.
Argentina is known for a strong and dynamic culture
The keyword to define Argentina’s culture, just like Brazil’s culture, is intensity — though with a taste for drama instead of celebration.
6. Gaucho culture
The Pampas, the huge prairie covering southernmost Brazil, the whole of Uruguay, and northeastern Argentina, gave rise to a uniquely South American cowboy, the gaucho. In Argentina, gauchos are short of a mythical figure, embodying the ideals of bravery, loyalty, and solidarity that have almost no place in a predominantly urban country.
It took some time before the quintessential Argentinian dance could make its way into the mainstream. In the early 20th century, it was usually performed in brothels, which is why local elites kept away from it. Oddly, in its early days, tango was primarily a man’s affair. That’s probably why dancers normally don’t face each other.
After WWII, it faded in popularity, only to go through a major revival in the past two decades. Electrotango, which fuses the genre with (you guessed it) electronic music, is partly to blame.
8. A passion for the arts
In a lot of places, if a theater shuts down, chances are it’ll be left to rot. But not in Argentina. El Ateneo Grand Splendid, pictured above, consistently ranks among the most beautiful bookstores on the planet.
That speaks volumes about the profound relationship of Argentinians with the arts. Oscar-winning movies like The Official Story and The Secret in Their Eyes, the literature of the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Ernesto Sabato, and the music of beloved folk singer Mercedes Sosa are a few of the greatest things to hail from Argentina culture-wise.
9. Argentinian Soccer
Argentinians’ love story with soccer started in the late 19th century, brought over by British immigrants. Since then, the country went on to win the World Cup twice and arrive second three times (most recently in 2014 after losing to Germany).
And while, in our days, Messi is quite possibly the best player worldwide, he’s not the first Argentinian to hold this title.
Before him, Diego Maradona made history when he arguably used his hand to score (the so-called “hand of God, seen above) and dribbled past 5 English players to score the “goal of the century”. (Also, the commentary in Spanish is gold.)
10. La viveza criolla
Allegedly, Jorge Luis Borges wittily defined Argentinians as “Italians who speak Spanish, think in French, and wish they were British”. Viveza criolla, literally “Creole smarts”, relates to this love of order and sophistication that is easier said than done.
Bending the rules and gaming the system is frowned upon yet extremely common in the country (as in the majority of Latin American nations in fact).
Its cuisine is simply amazing
Argentina is known for its top-notch steak and golden brown dulce de leche, but that’s far from everything.
Empanadas are mouthwatering turnovers that can be deep-fried or baked. Though more or less common across the region, they have achieved cult status in Argentina. Cheese+ham and cheese+onions are common fillings, or, as with juicy empanadas tucumanas, hand-cut (not minced!) beef+boiled eggs.
I say confidently that South Americans have taken barbecuing to a whole new level, yet Argentinians may be tough to beat. They’ll grill many sorts of meat, including beef, ribs, sausages, and tripes, over charcoal for several hours.
Argentinians make their classic hot dog with chorizo, a kind of smoked sausage, and top it with chimichurri, a delicious herb-based sauce. It’s perfect as an on-the-go snack. Choripán vendors dot busier areas of town and fill the air with the irresistible smell of their sandwiches.
14. Milanesa + mashed potatoes
If this combo screams comfort food, it’s because that’s exactly what it is. Breaded and deep-fried steak (or chicken breast) paired with creamy mashed potatoes is the main staple on tables throughout Argentina. It’s of course one of countless legacies of Italian immigration in the country.
Alfajores are hugely popular across Hispanic South America, but they’re definitely not as decadent as in Argentina. Elsewhere, the delicacy consists in a soft sandwich cookie (usually) filled with dulce de leche. Meanwhile, in Argentina, alfajores are typically coated with chocolate. What’s more, you can find them at every single corner store. Yum!
Argentina is the fifth-largest wine producer on Earth. It makes sense, then, that the federal government honored the drink with the title of national liquor in 2010. Most wineries concentrate in the west, on the foothills of the Andes, and focus on Moscatel grapes.
Although Argentinian wine was traditionally intended for domestic consumption, it’s become increasingly sophisticated over the past 30 years, to the point it’s been making a name for itself on the international markets.
Their prime steak is not the only thing Argentinians owe to the flatlands around the Río de la Plata; there’s their favorite addiction as well.
Yerba mate is a plant native to South America that indigenous nations have been turning into herbal tea since the precolonial era. The drink’s quite bitter, though, so it’s not for all tastes.
Argentina is known for its rich yet turbulent history
Whlie the war over the Falkland Islands with the United Kingdom might be puzzling enough, a lot of episodes in Argentina’s history are harder to follow than a David Lynch movie.
18. Buenos Aires vs. the rest of the country
Today, Greater Buenos Aires is home to roughly 30% of Argentina’s population, which means its centrality is often moot. But after the independence of the Argentine Republic, rich landowners resented the capital’s immense political power, which wasn’t really matched by economic strength. This led to a series of civil wars that lasted for the best part of the 19th century.
One of the compromises regional and Porteño elites agreed on was building the city of La Plata (pictured above) to serve as the capital of the Province of Buenos Aires. That took control of the vast area surrounding the nation’s capital away from Buenos Aires and allowed the city to become a sort of neutral territory where the interests of the whole nation would come into focus.
19. The Italian heritage
In the early 1900s, you’d hear more Italian than Spanish on the streets of Buenos Aires. So it’s not exactly surprising that Argentina is known for the mark Italian immigrants left on it; to be precise, half of the country’s population descends from them.
And if Argentinian pizzas tend to be cheesier than an Italian would approve of, everywhere else the influence is crystal-clear, from last names, to the peculiar accent and vocabulary of Argentinian Spanish, wine production, and locals’ love for theatrics and bitters like fernet.
20. The world’s breadbasket
Between the end of the nineteenth century and WWI, Argentina was one of the world’s agricultural powerhouses, with a huge output of wheat. Thanks to that, it was at one point the eighth-largest economy on the planet.
Many Argentinians seem to feel nostalgic about this glorious past, when the country virtually eradicated illiteracy and implemented the first subway system in Latin America. Still, it remains a leading crop producer.
21. Political instability
In spite of one of the highest standards of living in Latin America, Argentina has historically been ripe with political turmoil. Between 1930 and 1976, it witnessed six coups d’état (the last two of which were backed by the United States).
While from the mid-1980s Argentina has turned into a thriving democracy, it’s not safe from occasional convulsions. In the final weeks of 2001, for example, a long economic crisis reached a boiling point, and the country had five presidents over a 12-day period.
Now that you know Argentina is known for so many things besides Evita, I’m sure you can’t wait to hop on a plane and discover the country by yourself!
As you plan your next tour of South America, check out the exciting and thought-provoking facts about Brazil we covered here. You’ll have the toughest time deciding which country you should visit first!