We often get asked: “Should I go to Argentina or Chile?”
Argentina boasts the world’s best beef, tango, waterfalls and striking glaciers. In Chile, volcanoes, deserts and tasty seafood accompany a unique take on pisco sours.
These two South American countries that share so much in common have left many travellers struggling to choose which one to visit. Whether there’s a clear winner is largely dependent on what you’re looking for from your trip.
Here’s our advice to help you decide whether you should go to Argentina or Chile.
Active Argentina vs Chilled-out Chile
Argentina is often overlooked as an adventure capital of the world. With incredible mountains and imposing glaciers, it’s a great destination for avid hikers. The aptly-named Los Glaciares National Park is home to the incredible Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few in the world that is still advancing. The glacier is 30 km long, 5 km wide and up to 60 metres high and can move up to 2 metres a day. Walkways allow you to view the glaciers from different angles, but if you prefer to stay closer to the ground can opt to take a boat trip around the base. Those looking for a more daring and thrilling experience can climb the glacier alongside expert guides on a full day excursion.
Of course, no discussion of activities in Argentina is complete without mentioning the iconic Iguassu Falls. With 275 falls cascading over almost three kilometres of the Parana river, the Falls are a truly impressive sight. Similarly to Perito Moreno, there are many different walkways dotted around the cascades. There are also boat trips up to the falls themselves and more adventurous types can take a helicopter ride over them. If you’re drawn towards tropical destinations, waterfalls and a little bit of jungle, then Argentina is a great option for travel when considering whether to go to Argentina or Chile.
Although Chile is filled with many opportunities for adventure, its smaller land mass means it’s easier to navigate than Argentina. Instead of spending a couple of days in various spots across the country, Chile is great for building an itinerary around one or two places and then taking it slow as you explore each of them. Nature lovers can easily fill four nights in the Atacama Desert, sleeping under starry night skies (go in the summer when it’s clearest) and witnessing spitting geysers. You can also spend a fair few days hiking in Chile’s magnificent Torres del Paine. While it’s a great country for desert exploration and rambles, city slickers will feel at home roaming through the streets of Santiago.
Argentinian Patagonia vs Chilean Patagonia
El Calafate is Argentinian Patagonia’s standout region. It offers excellent opportunities for hiking and magnificent landscapes dotted with glaciers. When it comes to hiking itself, though, El Chalten has Argentina’s best climbing and trekking. When debating whether to go to Argentina or Chile, ice climbing enthusiasts should keep this in mind. Nestled just beneath the FitzRoy and Cerro Terro mountains, this unassuming village has one of the world’s most dramatic horizons, with jagged vertical peaks piercing the skyline.
Once you’re done hiking, venture on to Ushuaia – the southernmost city on Earth. A frontier city at the end of the world, Ushuaia has grand appeal of being on the last outpost of civilisation before the icy sweeps of the Antarctic. Spend your days in Ushuaia hiking or canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park, cruising through the Beagle Channel or board the “Trencito de los Presos” – a narrow-gauge track train that was once used to transport prisoners.
The Patagonian coastline of Bahia Bustamante is also worth checking out. Located just south of Peninsula Valdes, it’s a unique and very much off-the-beaten track destination. Bahia Bustamante is great for wildlife enthusiasts, as the region is home to 21 breeds of seabirds and an abundance of marine life. Sea lions are commonplace and orcas or dolphins are also often spotted. The bay is dotted with small islets and white sandy beaches, making it a beautiful place to explore.
Of course, no visit to Argentina is complete without a ranch stay – Las Pampas is the perfect place to experience this Argentinian tradition. While you’re there, round off your stay in Argentinian Patagonia with a horse ride beside gauchos and an afternoon asado (BBQ). If glacial hiking and wildlife sound like they’d be right up your street, then visiting Argentina’s Patagonia is your best bet if you’re wondering whether to go to Argentina or Chile.
The gem of Chile’s Patagonia, and arguably Patagonia in general, is Torres del Paine. Breathtaking mountain peaks combine with turquoise glacial lagoons, endless fjords and sweeping forests to make this a very special part of the world. If you’re an adventurer, then Chilean Patagonia is the way to go – just avoid winter, when services shit down and passes are too snowy to explore. As well as incredible photo opportunities, Torres del Paine is a region that lends itself to adventurous activities. You can hike the many snow-capped mountains, ride horses through the forest or try your hand at a spot of mountain biking.
The Aisen region in Chile’s Patagonia is also stunning. This area is great for travellers looking to get off the beaten track, as simpler accommodation and longer drives mean it’s less explored than Torres del Paine. Its fjords and lakes are teeming with wildlife so the majority of waterside hotels offer boat, canoeing and kayaking trips out onto the deep blue glacial waters of the lakes. Marine life enthusiasts can venture further out to sea to catch glimpses of dolphins, marine otters and South American Sea Lions to name a few.
Argentina’s Winelands vs. Chile’s Winelands
Argentina’s Mendoza is one of the most beautiful wine regions on the planet. It’s a prime area for vine growing due to the almost constant sunshine and water supplied by the run-off from the Andes. The focus here is on reds, as the climate lends itself to growing varieties such as Malbec. The home of Malbec is the Central Valley or Primera Zone, made up of the counties Luján de Cuyo, Maipú, Guaymallén and Godoy Cruz. Some of the most prestigious wineries in Argentina are also located in this area.
A good way to introduce yourself to Mendoza’s wine is on a private tour to three different wineries in the Central Valley. From boutique establishments to larger operations, you’ll be able to see the contrasts and differences between different wineries. Finishing the tour with a gourmet tasting lunch at a local Bodega is a great way to get an insight into Argentina’s food and wine culture. Mendoza’s Valle de Uco is also worth a visit, as a scenic drive down Los Cerrillo Route makes the wine tasting here feel magical.
If you want to experience the wine in South America but you don’t want to dedicate three or four nights to it, then Chile’s wine region wins the debate of whether you should go to Argentina or Chile. Chile has seen both Spanish conquistadors and French immigrants, leading to the wine regions here becoming one of the largest and most important in the world. To the north of the Santiago and east of Valparaiso is the Aconcagua Valley and stretching south of the capital is the Valle Central – divided into the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó and Maule Valleys. Go in autumn for beautiful colours and wine festivals.
To make the most of Chile’s wine region, take a half day tour around the Indomita and Casas del Bosque wineries. Both are located in the Casablanca valley, a relatively young wine area where winemakers only started planting vines in the mid-1980s. This region is perfect for lovers of both red and white, as cool coastal temperatures produce excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. If one wine tasting is enough for you, then you can move on to explore the beautiful countryside either on foot or on horseback.
Argentina’s Coastline vs Chile’s Coastline
Argentina’s Peninsula Valdes is on the rugged Patagonian coast and is one of the best places to see wildlife in the country. For those with an interest in marine life, it’s a don’t miss destination. As well as being home to Southern right whales, sea lions and Magellanic penguins, the three giant salt lakes in the middle of the peninsula are awe-inspiring due to their natural beauty. This coast is ideal for diving, as the UNESCO World Heritage Site remains pristine with crystal clear water. There are plenty of ways to explore this Patagonian coastline, from riding along the beaches on horseback to salmon fishing.
Chile’s coastline is less inundated with beaches but is still great for scenic walks to superb historical sites and quaint fishing villages. One of the most interesting places to visit along Chile’s coast is Valparaiso. Built up of dozens of hilltops, the city’s maze of cobbled streets overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It is an interesting city for creatives; brightly coloured wooden-clad buildings are matched by the work of street artists across the city. With excellent restaurants, sunset facing pisco bars and boutique hotels, Valparaiso is worth the two hour drive from Santiago. A real highlight is visiting the remarkable house of one of Chile’s most beloved poets, Pablo Neruda.
Argentina’s food and drink vs Chile’s food and drink
Argentina’s steak scene is second to none. With a plethora of steakhouses across the country, food is a major part of daily life. If you’re a real foodie, you can learn about the ‘Nueva Cocina Argentina’ movement on a culinary tour of Buenos Aires. Then, head to the vibrant Boca district for lunch in a traditional parilla (steakhouse) before a cooking demonstration by the head chef at the renowned Tarquino restaurant. If you really want to immerse yourself in Argentinian culture, combine these gourmet experiences with a private tango lesson. Those with a deep interest in Buenos Aires’ food history can also meet and chat with our local wine and food expert in a small restaurant set up in a private house.
Argentina is home to some of the best steak in the world, whilst Chile is more of a seafood nation. From erizos (large sea urchins) to machas (razor clams), Chile’s seafood is eclectic. Although Argentina might be a popular foodie destination, Chile does cocktails better than its neighbour. This slim South American country does a great take on a pisco sour. In the Atacama Desert, local plants and herbs such as rica rica give this cocktail a distinct Chilean flavour. Food-wise, in both Argentina and Chile, portions are generous – so make sure you leave enough room to fill your stomach!
Argentina’s Lake District vs Chile’s Lake District
Argentina’s Lake District has an alpine feel to it – majestic snow-capped peaks sit alongside dense forest and crystalline lakes. This is the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors with all manner of outdoor activities possible, from mountaineering to skiing to kayaking. Chocolate lovers will also be glad to know that Argentina’s lakeside paradise is just a stone’s throw from Bariloche, home to the best chocolate in the country.
Chile’s Lake District is very similar to Iceland and is a lot more volcanic than Argentina’s. Here, it’s easy to combine outdoor pursuits such as fishing with more relaxing options, including visiting hot springs and lake side beaches. Charming lakeside towns, epic 4×4 drives, scenic picnics, kayaking, hiking and white water rafting are just some of the other ways to pass the time. If you’re looking for a more relaxing break, then spend time dining on delicious seafood and gourmet cuisine at luxury lodges or indulge in various spa treatments.