Capital: Buenos Aires

Size: 2,766,890 km²

Population: 38m

Currency: Argentine Peso

Language: Spanish

Visas: Not required for UK passport holders.

Food: Beef, of course! The parrilla or parrillada is the local version of the barbecue. However, vegetarians needn’t despair. The Italian influence means that pasta and pizzas abound.

Drink: Argentina is a great wine producing nation. Accept any invitation to try the national drink, mate - tea drunk from a gourd through a metal straw - and take part in the country's great social ritual.

Festivals: There are gaucho parades throughout Argentina, with traditional music, on the days leading up to the Día de la Tradición, 10 November.

When to go: It’s always the right time to be somewhere in Argentina, though you should avoid the cold south in winter (May to October) and the north during the summer months (December to February), which can be hot and humid with heavy rains. The Argentine spring, from September to November, is perfect just about everywhere.

Argentina’s contrasts never cease to amaze. One day you’re on a boat rushing towards spectacular waterfalls through subtropical rainforest as electric blue butterflies flutter through the spray. Next thing you know, you’re walking across the sculpted surface of a vast glacier.

Argentina's extraordinary natural wonders are largely untouched. The mighty Andes form the country's spine, their jagged peaks a trekking paradise. From Mendoza, climb Aconcagua or ski for miles down its foothills, and then sip a fine malbec at a nearby bodega (winery). In the mountains around Bariloche are lakes of navy, peppermint green and palest blue, surrounded by ancient rainforest. Fish a huge rainbow trout from sparkling Río Chimehuin, or walk in the silent forest of monkey-puzzle trees at Pehuenia.

Argentina's history stretches back to pre-Incan cultures, whose ruined cities are perched on hillsides in cactus-strewn valleys. Quiet adobe villages are oases in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a vast gorge of vermilion rock. Wander through palm-filled plazas in colonial Salta to a vibrant peña (folklore group), with crowds of locals clapping and singing.

Peace and solitude in the high desert give way to exuberant wildlife in the cloud forest below. Across the sweltering flatlands of the Chaco, storks and alligators perch on islands of vegetation: a birdwatcher's heaven. For more exotic creatures and mighty waterfalls, head to the emerald jungle of Iguazú national parks, or follow red-earth roads to evocative Jesuit ruins at San Ignacio.

The capital, Buenos Aires, is another Argentina altogether, with a swift pace, chic restaurants and Parisian-style architecture. Marvel at the intricate footwork of the tango one night and, next day, ride your horse over the pampas to a colonial estancia (ranch), to eat steaks cooked on the asado (barbecue) under the stars.

There is no experience like Patagonia: liberating expanses of nothing. Just sheep, llamas, wind-whipped clouds and Mount Fitz Roy's granite turrets rising up from the steppe. All along the Atlantic coast are beautiful wild beaches, home to penguins and colonies of seals, with whales basking in the bay right next to your boat. But Tierra del Fuego is the ultimate wilderness, with jagged mountains whose slopes turn to fire with scarlet beech trees in autumn. Sail to the estancia of the first pioneer, and contemplate the end of the world in utter tranquillity.

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Getting there