If you think of Argentina you will probably bring to mind their well-known sports superstars like Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Guillermo Vilas, and Gabriela Sabatini. Don't sell the country short though: Argentina is also home to several historical and natural must-see sites, a lot of which appear on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites list.
Here are five of them for you to visit the next time you are in South America.
Located in the Andes Mountains of the Futaleufú River basin system of northern Patagonia, the Los Alerces National Park is home to moraines, cirques, and clear-water lakes, all caused by successive glaciations. The endangered Alerce trees are endemic to South America and are the second longest-living (the oldest is nearly 2,600 years old) tree species in the world. They are part of the last portions of the continuous Valdivian temperate forests—one of five temperate forest types in the world and the only eco-region of temperate forests in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Best time to visit: January and February
The highlight of Iguazú National Park is the waterfall at its heart. It is a vast site—approximately 80m high and 2,700m broad—and is situated on a basaltic line along the border of Argentina and Brazil. Multiple cascades make it one of the most fantastic sights in the world. The waterfall is surrounded by a subtropical rainforest of over 2,000 species of plants and wildlife such as jaguar, caiman, tapir, giant anteater, howler monkey, and ocelot.
Best time to visit: March, April, and September
Home to a breeding population of the endangered southern right whale—which had disappeared almost entirely due to excessive whaling—the Península Valdés in Patagonia is an important site for the conservation of marine mammals. An isthmus connects it to the mainland while the peninsula's mushroom shape keeps it shielded from the rough south Atlantic. Hence, its calm waters are an ideal breeding, calving, and nursing place for various species. It is also a breeding site for southern elephant seals and the southern sea lions. The orcas here have adapted their hunting strategy and come close to the shore to hunt sea lions and seals.
Best season to visit: June to December
Ranging some 30,000km, Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System, is the Inca civilisation's communication, trade, and defence network of roads. It was constructed over centuries and went through some of the world's most extreme terrains, from the peaks of the Andes, at an altitude of more than 6,000m, to the coast. It runs through deserts and rainforests across the length and breadth of the Andes. The 6,000km of the Qhapac Ñan, Andean Road System has 273 component sites and was selected to show the network's social, political, architectural, and engineering achievements. This includes associated infrastructure for trade, accommodation, storage, and places of religious significance.
Best season to visit: May to October
Created between 13,000 and 9,500 years ago, the Cave of the Hands is an example of early cave art in the form of outlines of human hands. There are also depictions of hunting scenes and animals, such as the commonly found guanacos. Natural mineral-based colours were used to create the artworks, such as iron oxides for red and purple, kaolin for white, natrojarosite for yellow, and manganese oxide for black. These minerals were mixed with an unknown binder element and used on the rock surface. It is believed that the people who created this art could have been the forefathers of the hunter-gatherer communities of Patagonia, which the European settlers ran into.
Best season to visit: September to February
How to get there: Fly into any of Argentina's major cities like Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Mendoza and Iguazú. The country is well-connected by road but the terrain is difficult. Journey through the Andes Mountains or by Ruta 40.