What’s new, Buenos Aires

Argentina’s capital is a gay mecca, but for the most rewarding experience, explore its lush tropical countryside to the north

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HELP ME I THINK I’M FALLING | It’s not just the visual beauty of Iguazu Falls but the monstrous sound of rushing water that thrills you on a trip to the province of Misiones in Argentina. (Photo courtesy Joey Amato)

JOEY AMATO  | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

In gay culture, the must-visit South American country has always been Brazil — especially Rio, with its carnivale and sexual abandon. But while neighboring Argentina may live in Brazil’s shadow, the nation’s rich history and beauty make it a destination serious travelers will love to explore.

Upon arrival into Buenos Aires, you’ll quickly realize the enormity of the city. With a population of approximately 12 million, it is easily one of the largest cities in the world. And while south of the equator, B.A. exudes a distinctly European vibe. You’ll notice signs of the city’s Italian influence and see hints of Spain scattered throughout the Argentinean capital.

Palermo is the largest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, adorned with cobblestone sidewalks, outdoor cafes and a mix of traditional and modern architecture. One of the swankiest properties there is the Vitrum Hotel, which fuses fashion, art and cuisine. The hotel’s restaurant, Sushi Club, has been voted one of the best Japanese restaurants in B.A. Vitrum is everything the modern day traveler needs, not the least of which is complimentary wireless Internet throughout. It’s perfect for a quick business trip or a vacation with your partner.

Buenos Aires is divided into many neighborhoods, with likeable Puerto Madero one of the newest and trendiest. Filled with upscale residential apartments, restaurants, offices and lofts, it’s centered along picturesque canals. Locals spend afternoons strolling along the docks, riding bikes on the wide pathways, and lingering over coffee and pastries at riverfront cafes.

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GAUCHO LIFE | You can live like a South American cowboy at Santa Cecilia, a century-old resort where guests are invited to engage in outdoor activities such as horseback riding. (Photo courtesy Joey Amato)

Puerto Madero attracts businessmen during the day and a fashionable, and affluent crowd at night. It is lined with elegant restaurants serving Argentine steaks and seafood specialties. The Argentine Catholic University campus and a private art museum also call this area home.

Although Gay Pride in B.A. isn’t as large as it is in Sao Paulo, its parade is still a sight, as thousands of revelers partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning.

Gay life in Buenos Aires sizzles. The locals are friendly and it boasts many nightlife options, from LGBT-owned restaurants to traditional bars to swanky ultra lounges were all within walking distance of the city center. Sitges, Zoom and Glam are all clubs meriting a look-see, as is the Axel Hotel, widely popular for its Sunday T-dance.

But Argentina is more than Buenos Aires; much of the country consists of sub-tropical rainforests. The northern province of Misiones is a great place to discover that fact.

One of the highlights of this region is the incredible San Ignacio ruins. Founded in 1632 by the Jesuits during the Spanish colonial period (the original mission was erected in 1610), in the 18th century the mission had a population of around 3,000 and enjoyed a rich economy, helped by the nearby Paraná River. After the Suppression of the Society of Jesus of 1767, the Jesuits left and the mission was eventually destroyed in 1817.

What remains is a remarkable display of beautifully preserved ruins. A tour guide can walk you through the sprawling compound. There is a mystique about the ruins that lingers. At sundown, guests are invited to enjoy an incredible laser and light show, which rivals most shows you would expect to see at Walt Disney World.

If you have time, stop by one of the small shops that surround the ruins. This is the best place to find local crafts and souvenirs at bargain prices. Argentina is a fairly inexpensive country to visit, especially compared to Brazil.

For a truly unique Argentinean experience, check into Santa Cecilia, a historic Estancia built in 1908, located in close proximity to the ruins. The property features a large main house consisting of four guestrooms each with private bath, a charming sitting area and an expansive dining room. Guests here will indulge in traditional cuisine prepared by a private chef while partaking in conversation with fellow travelers and the gracious hosts.

Guests at Santa Cecilia are encouraged to live like the gauchos, including horseback riding adventures and a variety of other outdoor activities which take you along the spectacular countryside.

It is a short ride from Santa Cecilia to Iguazú Falls, one of the greatest natural wonders of South America — and the world, for that matter.

After a short walk through the lush jungle, you can soon begin to hear the thunderous falls, but it is that first glimpse that’s undeniably breathtaking.

Iguazú is actually a network of more than 275 different waterfalls spanning 23 kilometers. The most impressive waterfall, the Devil’s Throat, is 80 meters high. Three ring-shaped balconies allow visitors to get a close look at Devil’s Throat, which spans 492 feet.

One of the best places to stay while visiting Iguazú is Loi Suites. The hotel, set on a large patch in the Iryapu jungle and only 15 minutes from the falls, has 162 beautifully appointed guest rooms. Built in 2009, the resort features a spa, restaurant, tiki bar and game room. Swinging bridges connect multiple buildings, which was actually enjoyable, but could be dangerous if you’ve had one too many cocktails.

 This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas