Towns and Cities
A quick run through of Argentina's largest and smallest settlements
The towns and cities of Argentina are numerous and varied. The largest, containing around 30% of the total population, Buenos Aires is by far the busiest and cosmopolitan, but there are also ancient cities such as Mendoza and Cordoba that are still worth a visit for the Spanish architecture they hold. Below is a selection of the largest and most important amongst them:
Holding the distinction of being the second largest of Argentina’s cities, at an approx pop. of around 1.46 million, it has an eclectic mix of the historic and the modern.
From its foundation in 1573, Cordoba has been a centre of learning. Initially it was the Jesuits that dubbed it their home with one of the continent’s finest collection of preserved 15th century buildings. Today, however, this distinction has been continued with Cordoba holding no less than 7 major universities and a whole plethora of fine museums and ancient buildings.
One of the great things about Cordoba is that, while it is fairly large, all of the interesting buildings, museums and nightlife are in a fairly small area (only a few blocks in each direction from the main Plaza, San Martin), making getting around very simple. On top of this, considering the young population, there is an energy that is difficult to find elsewhere in Argentina.
One thing that this area has also become famous for are the range of mountains to the northwest of the city, the Sierras Chicas which, it is estimated, are older (due to their roundedness) than the Andes. Combining a few days in the city with the fantastic horse riding of the Chicas is something not to be missed!
Currently the third largest city in Argentina, at an approximate population of 1.2 million, Rosario is a city that is having a bit of a revival these days.
Historically very important, Rosario sits at the end of the mighty Parana River, where it meets the mouth of the Rio de la Plata. Until the late 1960s, this left the city in the unique and logical position of being a gateway to the rich cattle farming lands of the interior and so from its founding in 1720, it has always vied for position with Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, as the cattle markets declined, so did the city.
Today the city is steeped in heritage and history. It can boast being the birthplace for many important, Argentinean people and symbols, amongst others, the flag itself, the revolutionary “Che” Guevara, more recently, Lionel Messi, one of the world’s best footballers.
Geographically, the city is centered towards the waterfront and the series of small islands that sit in the Parana delta. Where this waterfront area was once fairly run down, the revival has meant a re-development that has turned it into on of the cities best features.
On top of this, there are plenty of historical and interesting things to go and find in this old city. While it tends not to really be featured on the tourist map, if you are interested in cities then this is a great place to hang out for a few days.
Located approximately and hour to the south east of Buenos Aires, along the banks of the Rio de la Plata, La Plata was originally founded in 1888 as the principal town of the Buenos Aires district (with Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, being a district in its own right).
The city (pop. approx 600,000) holds the distinction of being the first truly planned city in South America, with a complex series of roads running diagonally, horizontally and vertically that, on an outline, give it a diagonal or star-like appearance.
Today it is has a feel very similar to that of the capital, although on a smaller scale. It offers a good, if urban, break from the bustle of Buenos Aires, with a few points of interest, such as the Cathedral (just off Plaza Moreno) and the natural history museum.
Named for the currents that flow and eddy at this, the meeting point of the might Parana and Paraguay rivers, Corrientes provides a quiet and dignified place to spend a few days.
Historically, Corrientes was the first true settlement of the Spanish as they forged northwards towards the Iguazu River and further into the territory of the Guarani Indians.
Today, it is a relatively small city of around 300,000 inhabitants and provides an entrance point to both the northern town of Posadas and to the Esteros del Ibera, Argentina’s less known wetlands.
Getting around Corrientes is slightly harder than in other provincial towns in Argentina as things are relatively spread out. On the whole, however, the main squares, the Plaza 25 de Mayo and the Plaza JB Cabral are good basing points from which to witness some of this city.
Capital of the province of the same name, the town is a fairly ordinary affair and is used mainly as a through point for itineraries moving to the more well known areas of the lake district to the south.
The main reason to stay in the town is if dinosaurs interest you, as, with three of the world’s most prolific dinosaur sites within an hour or so, it is a mecca for paleontologists.
As Argentina’s fifth largest city with approximately 700,000 people, San Miguel de Tucuman has the feeling of a large, bustling town.
Historically the town was established in 1565 and played a fairly pedestrian role in the affairs of the Spanish colonizers until 1816, where it was the location of the declaration of Argentina’s Independence.
From these sedate beginnings, the city has flourished as it has utilised its location to become the countries largest supplier of sugar cane. As communications opened up through Argentina in the late 1800s, this allowed connection with the capital, Buenos Aires. While the cane market has slipped over the past 20 years or so, with the move towards renewable fuel sources, their cane production could, again, stand them in good stead.
The city itself has quite a few sights for the interested tourist to Argentina, such as the cathedral, Casa del la Independencia and the folklore museum.
This sleepy little town, dating back to the early 1800s is firm favourite with tourists and Portenos (the name for people from Buenos Aires) alike. Located around a 2 hour drive from the capital, this small town was established in the early 1800s and reeks of history.
As one of the main focus points for the cattle and sheep farming activities in the Pampas, it has been a gathering point for gauchos and estancieros for over a century and a half.
Today it is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours, either wandering through the ancient streets or exploring the wares of the artisans who still produce elaborate and intricate silver and leatherwork. If you are lucky and find yourself there in November, you can then also witness the famous Dia de la Tradition when the town is filled with gauchos from all around, riding their horses in traditional attire.
This small town, located around 2 hours drive from Buenos Aires, is a popular day trip or weekend getaway from the capital.
The town itself is fairly unremarkable, but it is the series of small islands and waterways that lie just offshore that are of real interest. Most of the wealthier Portenos own a property amongst these small islands and merrily spend the weekends in the cooler climes, either kayaking or pottering on boats.
For the average tourist is a pleasant boat ride that can be arranged through the many passageways that offer a glimpse of this peaceful and simple region.
The main staging town for visits to the nearby falls, Puerto Iguazu is, very much a town on the move. Situated on the banks between the Parana and the Iguazu rivers, there is a fairly transitory feel to the place. On a daily basis there is more money and development that floods into the town to ride the wave of the nearby attraction.
For this reason, while it is the best place to base yourself while in the area, it is not somewhere that we overly recommend spending too much time in as there is no longer the sense of community that was once in the area. As far as hotels are concerned see the below link to our reviews…
Historically, “Mardel” developed much later than the rest of Argentina but, over time, became the location where most of the elite from Buenos Aires tended. Today the wealthiest have moved off, preferring the beaches of Punta del Este or the nearby Pinamar, but this seaside town is still a firm favourite with the Argentines seeking some sun and sand.
Accordingly, it can become a bit of a struggle to find yourself a patch for the towel, but, should you be prepared to travel outside of the main Argentina holidays, it can be a worthwhile stopover.
Historically established as a naval port and the outpost town for the Pampas, Bahia Blanca has retained the colonial feel and charm of a much larger city, but without the bustle.
Today the town is Argentina’s largest naval port and, accordingly has plenty of activities and nightlife with which to keep the sailors happy. It is, however, a great little town, and a worthwhile stop on the way from Buenos Aires to Patagonia.
As capital of the Rio Negro province, Viedma is a fairly prosperous town with a population of around 48,000.
Historically important for its location at the mouth of the Rio Negro and in the very north of a province famed for its lack of water, there is not too much else to remark about it. Not a bad basing point on the way down the coast, the waterfront area, with cafes and promenade are the highlights.
Strictly speaking, this is the provincial capital of the Chubut region, but in all reality it is merely a pass-through town for trips to the nearby Playa Union and the famous Commerson’s dolphin.
Also nearby are the small villages of Gaiman and Trelew, both famous for their populations of Welsh descendants.
Capital city of the Santa Cruz province, the Rio Gallegos is little more than a mining town for the coal and oil deposits further south.
While the city itself has had a small facelift recently, it is still not somewhere overly worth a mention but it more of a footnote for fly fishermen on their way to some of the best brown trout fishing the world has to offer!
Despite its famous namesake, arriving in Perito Moreno is a bit of a letdown to say the least! This is a simple little village that only became famous through the river that runs past, the Rio Feniz.
This was the river that Perito Moreno famously diverted overnight in order to prove that the watershed was not the best way to delineate Chile and Argentina. The argument worked and the Argentines walked away with quite a lot more than was being bargained for!
The town itself is mainly used as a passing point to the nearby Cueva de las Manos and the Parque Nacional Perito Moreno.
Like Ushuaia to the south, the Rio Grande has the feel of a town where people have been convinced to come and settle….and it is, pretty much, true.
With this being a fairly inhospitable place at the best of times, the Argentine government gave the Tierra del Fuego a duty free status to encourage development. It then became, for a while, the place to set up an electronics company, manufacturing and then shipping out. Today, a fair amount of this business has moved away and the town is now, principally, a petroleum port.
There is, however, one secret, that lies beneath the dreary exterior of this area…that it is one of the best locations in the world for sea trout fly-fishing. For those in the know, this is a small slice of heaven on earth and, in the waters north and south from the town, there are small Estancias that cater to this highly specialist and highly lucrative past time.
This simple town, nestled between the peaks of two mountain ranges has had an interesting history of sorts. “Discovered” by the hippies in the 70s it runs at an altogether slower pace than the nearby Bariloche and so is a welcome resting post.
While it has been dubbed many things over the years, one thing is certain, that it is a superb setting and provides some of the best walking in Argentina. With superb vegetarian food and great beer, it is a worthwhile haunt for a few days for those passing northwards or southwards by road.
The regional capital of the province of the same name, San Juan is a sleepier, more laid back version of its neighbour, Mendoza. At around half the size, it too has had a similar history of earthquakes and droughts caused by the microclimate that exists on the slopes of the Andes.
There is not a huge amount to be said about San Juan itself that, apart from the meandering pace to life, is fairly ambiguous. What it does offer, on the other hand, is access to exceptionally good vineyards, made all the better as they are less busy and regimented than those around Mendoza, and access to the dinosaurs and lunarscapes of the Parque Provincial Ischigualas to the north.
The capital of the province, San Luis is, as with many of these provincial capitals, more of a simple business destination rather than an out and out tourist destination.
With a population of around 200,000, one of the main highlights to a visit here is the central plaza, Plaza Pringles, which is a good example of the period. Other than this, the most it offers is a bit of nightlife along the main strip, Av Illia (that runs off Pl. Pringles), which features a few bars and restaurants.
Most people who find themselves here are on the way through to experience a few of the province’s main sights, such as Parque Nacional Sierra de las Quijadas to the northwest.
Founded in the 1590s, La Rioja is a pretty, colonial town with a population of around 140,000. Established by de Velasco, the town has a fairly jumbled feel to it with confliction indigenous and colonial, European architecture.
Probably the most important building worth taking a look at is the Convento de Santo Domingo, built by the local tribes folk, the Diaguita, while under the guidance of the local Dominican monks.
A useful stopping point on the way overland from Mendoza to Salta, La Rioja is an interesting place to spend a night or two, surrounded by the spires of the Sierra de Velasco.
Santiago del Estero is remarkable in that it is the first ever town to be established in Argentina, in 1553.
Like the Province of the same name, other than the quiet pace of life and the affable manner of the locals, there is little else to distinguish it.
Most of what there is to see is located in or around the Plaza Libertad and, with a new Cultural development on the horizon, to include three new museums, the sites are certain to improve, but, for the moment, it is fairly passable.
Like many of the provincial capitals of Argentina, Posadas tends to be used more as a gateway and business centre rather being seen as a tourist destination in itself.
The main reason to head to this small city is as a means of entry to the famous Misiones province and as a base to go and see the best preserved of the Jesuit missions at San Ignacio Mini.
The city itself sits on the Rio Parana, across from Encarnacion in neighbouring Paraguay. A relatively simple affair, the main feature of the city is the façade of the government building that presides over the Plaza 9 de Julio.