Argentina is a country of contrasts, with the east bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, and the western edge by the spectacular Andes, a mountain range with rugged canyons, high deserts, deep blue lakes, and the “Roof of the Americas” – the continent’s highest peak – Cerro Aconcagua.
You couldn’t pick a more spectacular place to travel, and when you combine your trip with life-changing volunteer experience, your senses will be on overload from the exciting fútbol games to the sensual tango, to the powerful Iguazú Falls.
Another contrast is Buenos Aires, the capital city with its wide boulevards and its European cosmopolitan flair. “Buenos Aires” is translated as “fair winds” and with around 15.6 million residents, is the fourth-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas.
A melting pot, Buenos Aires is a multicultural city and home to multiple ethnic and religious groups. Several languages are spoken in the city in addition to Spanish, contributing to its unique culture. The city’s wealth and influence overshadow the rest of Argentina and had created decades of political and social unrest.
Economics and Politics
Buenos Aires was first established as Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre(translation: “City of Our Lady Saint Mary of the Fair Winds”) in 1536 by a Spanish expedition led by Pedro de Mendoza after a failed foray into the region by Juan Díaz de Solís, the first European to reach the Río de la Plata in 1516. Both were repelled by the indigenous people of the area. Finally, in 1580, Juan de Garay sailed down the Paraná River from Asunción (now the capital of Paraguay) and created a permanent port – the Puerto de Santa María de los Buenos Aires.
Thanks to its status as a trade port and its population of wealthy immigrants, Buenos Aires became an affluent town, but not everyone has enjoyed the riches.
During the 1930s, shanty towns and slums grew around the city’s industrial areas and these laborers championed Juan Domingo Perón and the Peronist ideal: social justice, economic independence, and political sovereignty. Peronism rejects both capitalism and communism. The Revolución Libertadora was a military and civilian coup that overthrew the Peron regime in 1955, however, in 1970 popular opinion once again placed Peron, and his wife, Eva, at the head of the country. By 1976, the ailing Peron died and his wife was ousted by another military coup.
This chapter of Argentina’s history is dark and the dictatorship and ensuing conflict are known as the “Dirty War,” which targeted people “deemed subversive, especially leftists, including left-wing Peronists.” In 1983, democracy was restored and nearly 300 people, including the leading officers, were charged, convicted, and sentenced for their crimes. Some were pardoned, but the Argentine government repealed those pardons in 2006 and continues to investigate crimes against humanity and the genocide.
Culture and Community
Culture is an important component of Argentina’s charm. Home to 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the country is filled with amazing destinations, and Buenos Aires has been a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network since 2005 after it was named “City of Design.” Often called the “Paris of South America” Buenos Aires has the busiest live theater industry in Latin America! Just check out these UNESCO sites and add a few to your itinerary:
- Los Glaciares National Park
- Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis: San Ignacio Mini, Santa Ana, Nuestra Señora de Loreto and Santa Maria Mayor (Argentina), Ruins of Sao Miguel das Missoes (Brazil)
- Iguazu National Park
- Cueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas
- Península Valdés
- Ischigualasto / Talampaya Natural Parks
- Jesuit Block and Estancias of Córdoba
- Quebrada de Humahuaca
- Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System
- The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement
- Los Alerces National Park
The city of Buenos Aires is separated into 48 barrios, small neighborhoods that are based on the Catholic parishes for administrative purposes, although many are informally broken into smaller neighborhoods. A popular Tango song “Cien barrios porteños” (The 100 barrios of Buenos Aires) keeps this claim alive. Many of these unique barrios are filled with charm, quaint restaurants, and exciting nightlife. The most populous and frequently visited are Palermo, Recoleta, Puerto Madero, Belgrano, San Telmo, La Boca, Monserrat, and Caballito. Check out this guide to the neighborhoods before you go.