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Tourist Profile: Argentina

After Brasil Argentina is the largest country of Latin-America and the world's eighth largest In the north it is bounded on Paraguay, Brasil and Bolivia, in the west on Chile and in the east on Uruguay and the Atlantic Ocean. The name Argentina comes from the Latin Argentum, that means silver. This title goes back to the Spanish Conquerors who settled in this region in 1524. Mention Argentina, and people think of solitary gauchos, sultry tango dancers or Evita Peron and Che Guevara. Or at least they used to, before those roman-tic images were supplanted by television images of people looting supermarkets and banging on pots and pans during massive and occasionally violent protests. Argentina certainly has plenty to cry about, with an economy on the verge of collapse and a revolving-door government that saw five presidents in two weeks. How did this happen to a country blessed with abundant natural resources and a highly educated populace? Decades of political corruption, rampant tax evasion and ill-advised monetary policies are all to blame.

But the romance of Argentina remains. The country boasts a wide variety of cultural and natural attractions Argentina is often called the country with the 6 continents which are as follows:

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  • Where to go
  • When to go
  • Money & Costs
  • History
  • Culture

Cuyo & the Andean Northwest: This area surrounding the Andes began as a colony of Peru, but today only a few miners and herders occupy this unforgiving region with the impressive volcanoes, salt lakes and the blue sky. The Cuyo region consists of the Andean provinces of Mendoza, San Juan and San Luis. The area retains a strong regional identity, with a unique mestizo population reflecting the influence of Chile. It's famous for its grapes and wine and numerous wildlife reserves, lies in the shadow of the massive Andes and is visited for its many activities, such as climbing and trekking. Wineries, hidden mountain villages and San Salvador (the capital), Mendoza and San Juan are other attractions you should see.

Mesopotamia & the Northeast: Mesopotamia, a broad, flat plain between the Parana and Uraguay (with Chaco National Park) Rivers in northern Argentina, is wet, swampy) and extremely hot during the summer The northern province of Misiones, a more mountainous region nearly enclosed by Brazil and Paraguay, contains a section of the majestic Iguazu Falls.

The Chaco: This parched area in the west is part of the enormous Gran Chaco, a region that Argentina shares with Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil. The Chaco provence contains both grassland and thorny forest. The is Resistencia, which is proud to be 'city of sculptures' (there are over 200 of them), and is a major cross roads for Paraguay and excursions through the Chaco to the northwest. Campo del Cielo is an area famous for its meteorite fragments dating back some 6000 years.

The Pampas: The area known consists mostly of flat agricultural land and contains the provinces of Buenos Aires, La Pampa as well as parts of Santa Fe and Córdoba. The area is well-known for its horse-breeding tradition and cattle ranches. as well as the world- class beaches of its surrounding area. So aside from the people, why visit Argentina? First, because the huge metropolis of Buenos Aires, home to two-fifths of the population, is one of the most exciting, charming and fascinating of all South American capitals. Buenos Aires is the country's gastronomic mecca and boasts a frenzied nightlife that makes it one of the world's great round-the-clock cities. Attractions include Casa Rosada, Plaza Mayo, colourful Italian La Boca Quarter, the Catedral Metropolitana, the Teatro Colón, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Museo del Cine and the Museo Histórico Nacional or the Riachuelo waterway, Summer means the beach to the inhabitants of Greater Buenos Aires, and Mar del Plata is most often the beach they have in mind.Sophisticated mansions from the area's heyday as an upper-class resort mingle with the newer, more modest resorts catering to middle-class porteños. Visit Argentina's second city, Córdoba, long rivaled Buenos Aires for political, economic and cultural supremacy; in which a fine collection of colonial buildings is concentrated in its compact center. They include the old market, the Iglesia Catedral , Iglesia de la Compañía, Museo Histórico Provincial Marqués de Sobremonte.

Patagonia and the Lake District: Patagonia - the southernmost portion of South America (located in both Argentina and Chile) - is a land of extremes: glaciers, deserts, granite cliffs and endless flatlands and it results in constantly changing and unpredictable extremes of weather. Visiting the Patagonian coast you can see large herds of seals, sea lions, blue whales and thousands of penguins. The scenic beauty of the Lake District has attracted many tourists since the mid-eighteenth century, and provided inspiration for a generation of poets like Wordsworth etc. who came to be known as the Lake Poets.

Tierra del Fuego: The Land of Fire is actually an archipelago including the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (shared by Argentina and Chile) and numerous smaller islands. Northern Isla Grande is similar in terrain to Patagonia's plains, while the mountainous area in the south is filled with forests and glaciers. Its climate is usually mild year-round, although storms are frequent It's a place of oil derricks, sheep, glaciers, wind and waterways. Ushuaia and Río Grande are the two main towns; awesome scenery, wild walks and fishing are the island's main attractions. Argentina's only coastal national park comprises rivers, lakes, forests and glaciers, with great trekking and wildlife-spotting opportunities.


Remember that in the southern hemisphere the seasons are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere. In general, Argentina has mild warm climate, but to the North, there is large subtropical area and to the South the cold climate prevails. Despite its current political and economic troubles, Argentina remains a safe destination for foreign travellers. The state of siege declared in December 2001 has been lifted, and while protests continue, they have been mostly limited to peaceful, middle-class crowds banging on pots and pans. The people's anger is directed at their government, not foreigners. Still, traveller should exercise caution, avoiding large gatherings that could turn violent.

Currency: Peso ($)

  • Budget: US$4-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-20
  • Top-end: US$20 and upwards
  • Budget: US$20-30
  • Mid-range: US$30-40
  • Top-end: US$40 and upwards

Until recently, Argentina was an expensive country to visit - so expensive that Argentines were in the habit of taking their holidays in 'cheap' countries, like the USA. The economic policy that pegged the peso one-to-one to the US dollar kept prices high but inflation under control.

The recent devaluation of the peso means that all bets are off. At present, the peso has shrunk to about half the value of the US dollar, and it's anyone's guess as to how much further it may drop when banking restrictions are eased. This could translate to bargains for budget travelers, but that's only if inflation remains in check. Right now, the government is urging businesses not to raise their prices, as rampant inflation would plunge the already fragile economy into chaos. In the 1970s and '80s, inflation consistently exceeded 100% per year and was often much higher, reaching an astounding 5000% in 1989. Given Argentina's history of economic instability, savvy travelers should keep a watch on the exchange markets and on economic events.

US dollars are no longer accepted officially, but there's such a run on dollars at the moment that many shopkeepers would be glad to take them. You'll get a better rate at an official cambio, but be prepared to wait in line for several hours.

Not surprisingly, there's a thriving black market in currency exchange, mostly for US dollars but also for Euros. Avoid the black market - not only is it illegal, but you might end up with counterfeit pesos. Travelers should bring some of their own currency and change it into pesos little by little. ATM withdrawals that reflect the current exchange rate are the best way to keep up with the fluctuating value of the peso.

Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards, but don't rely on them - some travelers have reported problems getting vendors to accept credit cards these days. The same goes for traveler's checks. Tipping around 10% is customary in restaurants. Bargaining is uncommon, except in the artisn markets of the Andean northwest.

Pre-Columbian Argentina was farmed by sedentary Indian groups such as the Diaguita and used as a hunting ground by nomads. Indian resistance inhibited Spanish incursions and discouraged Spanish settlement. Buenos Aires was not successfully established until 1580, and remained a backwater for 200 years. A declining and unevenly distributed Indian population, which could not be milked for its labor, led to the creation of huge cattle ranches, known as haciendas - the genesis of the legendary gaucho (cowboy) and the source of great wealth for a lucky few.

Buenos Aires became the capital of the new Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776, acknowledgment that the region had outgrown Spain's political and economic domination.

However, continuing dissatisfaction with Spanish interference led to the revolution of 25 May 1810 and eventual independence in 1816. Independence revealed the seething regional disparities which Spanish rule had obscured. The Federalists of the interior (conservative landowners, supported by the gauchos and rural working class) advocated provincial autonomy, while the Unitarists of Buenos Aires (cosmopolitan city dwellers who welcomed the injection of European capital, immigrants and ideas) upheld Buenos Aires' central authority. After a disastrous and tyrannical period of rule by the nominally Federalist Juan Manuel Rosas, Buenos Aires and Unitarism prevailed, ushering in a new era of growth and prosperity with the Unitarist constitution of 1853.

Sheep were introduced and the Pampas was given over to the cultivation of cereal crops.

European immigration, foreign investment and trade were hallmarks of the new liberalism. However, excessive foreign interests made the economy particularly vulnerable to world economic downturns; wealth was concentrated in the hands of the very few, and unemployment rose as smallholdings failed and farmers were forced to leave the land and head for the cities.

The first decades of the 20th century saw increasingly weak civilian rule, economic failure, continuing resentment of the landed elite and distrust of British interests, leading to a military coup in 1943 which paved the way for the rise of dictator Juan Perón. An obscure colonel with a minor post in the labor ministry, he won the presidency in 1946 and again in 1952.

With his equally popular and charismatic wife Eva at his side, he instituted a stringent economic program which stressed domestic industrialization and self-determination, appealing to both the conservative nationalist and working-class factions.

His party was squashed by a military coup in 1955, leading to Perón's banishment to Spain and initiating 30 years of disastrous military rule, interspersed by only brief periods of civilian rule. Perón returned to rule briefly in 1973, dying in office in 1974 and bequeathing power to his third wife, Isabel.

Increasing economic problems and political instability led to strikes, political kidnappings and guerrilla warfare.

Isabel's government fell in 1976, and the new military government instituted a reign of terror. The years 1976 to 1983 have been described as the years of the Dirty War. Opposition and criticism were eradicated by paramilitary death squads which operated with the state's complicity, bringing about the 'disappearance' of between 10,000 and 30,000 citizens. The most famous victims of this period were the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, women who bravely kept an open, public vigil for the 'disappeared' members of their families, and who often 'disappeared' themselves.

This internal conflict ironically came to an end only with the emergence of a 'real' war in the south Atlantic: the battle for the Malvinas/Falklands. General Leopold Galtieri seized the Malvinas from the British to distract attention from Argentina's appalling political corruption and economic mismanagement. Surges of nationalistic hysteria in both countries resulted in a British flotilla sailing across the world to save one of the few remaining pink bits on the map. Britain was the eventual 'victor' in what was a mutually shameful and costly episode. Ownership of the Malvinas, however, remains disputed.

In June 1995, the Argentine foreign minister offered to buy the islands, offering each of the 2000 islanders US$800,000 for their nationality. The matter has been further complicated by Britain's belief that oilfields lie offshore, and further bickering seems likely.

Ignominious failure at home and abroad finally sealed the fate of Argentina's military rule, and the country returned to the constitution of 1853. Former Perónist president Carlos Menem instituted major economic changes - selling off nationalized industries, opening the economy to foreign investment and pegging the peso one-to-one to the US dollar in 1991 - which reduced inflation from 5000% in 1989 to an astonishing 1% in 1997. But while these changes tamed inflation, they also led to rising unemployment and a prolonged recession.

President Fernando de la Rua of the UCR center-left Alliance, elected to a four-year term in 1999, promised a crackdown on corruption and tough fiscal measures to balance Argentina's budget. But after four years of recession and with an unemployment rate of more than 20%, the Argentine people had enough. De la Rua's austerity plans prompted nationwide strikes and demonstrations, which grew violent after the government instituted harsh restrictions on bank withdrawals. Argentina plunged into economic and political turmoil in December 2001 when it defaulted on a US$132 billion loan repayment - the largest default in history. De la Rua and many of his government ministers resigned amid rioting, looting and widespread civil chaos in which 27 people were killed.

On January 1, 2002, Eduardo Duhalde became Argentina's fifth president in two weeks. A staunch Perónist, Duhalde takes a populist and protectionist stance, though a skeptical public has not forgotten the corruption scandals that clouded his term as governor of Buenos Aires.

One of his first moves was to unpeg the peso from the dollar; the currency devalued by more than 50% almost immediately. The move was unpopular but necessary to secure any further aid from the International Monetary Fund.

In a positive sign, the devalued peso has done better than expected in the world currency market, though government imposed banking restrictions may account for its relative strength. Duhalde plans to make sweeping changes to Argentine government, including scrapping the current presidential system for a parliamentary democracy. The public remains dubious about such reforms however, as economic strife and government corruption seem to be endemic here. Protests continue almost daily, strikes are in the works and frustrated people who can't get to their money have vandalized banks. If conditions don't improve soon, Duhalde may have trouble on his hands.

But despite the continuing protests and the long lines at currency exchanges, the violence has for the most part eased and the stage of siege has been lifted. Argentines are waiting warily for word from the IMF (although many blame that organization for causing the crisis) and keeping a worried eye out for the return of hyperinflation. Argentina's climb out of this ever-deepening financial pit promises to be long and arduous.

European influences permeate Argentina's art, architecture, literature and lifestyle. However, in the field of literature in particular, this has been a cross-cultural transaction, with Argentina producing writers of international stature such as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Ernesto Sábasto, Manuel Puig and Osvaldo Soriano. With the education of many Argentines taking place in Europe, Buenos Aires in particular has self-consciously emulated European cultural trends in art, music and architecture. As a result, there are many important art museums and galleries in the city, and it has a vigorous theater community. Argentine cinema has also achieved international stature, and has been used as a vehicle to exorcise the horrors of the Dirty War.

Probably the best known manifestation of Argentine popular culture is the tango - a dance and music which has captured the imagination of romantics worldwide. Folk music is also thriving. Sport is extremely important to the Argentines and soccer is more of a national obsession than a game. Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986, and the exploits of Diego Maradona (the most famous Argentine since Che Guevara), have kept soccer fans, paparazzi and columnists busy for the past 10 years. Argentine Roman Catholicism, the official state religion, is riddled with popular beliefs which diverge from official doctrine. Spiritualism and veneration of the dead are deep-seated, with pilgrimages to the resting places of relations and of the famous dead a common sight.

Spanish is the official language, but some immigrant communities retain their language as a badge of identity. Italian is widely understood, reflecting the influence of the country's single largest immigrant group, and BBC English is the preserve of the Anglo community. There are 17 native languages, including Quechua, Mapuche, Guaraní, Tobas and Matacos. Meat dominates Argentina's menus, and 'meat' means beef. Mixed grills (parrillada) are apparently the way to go, serving up a cut of just about every part of the animal: tripe, intestines, udders - the lot. In this vegetarian's nightmare, Italian favorites, such as gnocchi (ñoquis), are a welcome alternative. Exquisite Argentine ice cream (helado) deserves a special mention - again reflecting Italian influences. The sharing of mate, Paraguayan tea, is a ritual more than a beverage, and if offered is a special expression of acceptance. The leaves, a relation to holly, are elaborately prepared and the mixture is drunk from a shared gourd.