The Pampas

The Pampas is home to one of the most enduring images of Argentina: the gaucho on horseback, roaming the plains. All over the pampas there are quiet, unspoiled towns where gaucho culture is still very much alive. Two impeccably preserved gaucho towns very much worth visiting are San Antonio de Areco and Chascomús. The former is home to expert craftsmen, working silver and leather in the traditional gaucho way. Near here there are many of the finest and most historical
estancias: two are recommended, El Ombú and La Bamba. Further southeast, Chascomús is similarly charming, a traditional cowboy town come to life, with pristine examples of 1870s architecture,
a good museum of the pampas and gauchos, and a lake for watersports in summer. There are fine
estancias
here too: friendly, relaxed La Fé, and best of all, Dos Talas, with its extraordinary history and beautiful grounds. Further inland, there are three more excellent
estancias
, La Concepción, Santa Rita, and the Loire chateau-style La Candelaria. Whether you stay the night or just visit for an afternoon to eat lunch and ride, you'll get an unforgettable taste of life on the land. The Pampas is also rich in wildlife, and on lakes and lagunas you're likely to spot Chilean
flamingos and herons, maguari storks, white-faced ibis and black-necked swans. Ostrich-like greater
rheas can also be seen in many parts. For more information, see www.styd.gba.gov.ar (in Spanish). 

Getting around

It's easy to get around the province with a network of buses to and from Buenos Aires, and between towns. Train lines operate to Mar del Plata, and to Chascomús and Tandil, stopping at many coastal towns on the way. You'll need to hire a car to reach the more remote
estancias.
Check out
www.chascomus.com.ar, www.lobos.gov.ar, www.sanantoniodeareco.com/turismo, and
www.probairesturismo.gba.gov.ar; www.turismo.gov.ar also has links to all these small towns.

Background

Travelling through these calm lands you wouldn't think they'd had such a violent past; but these are the rich fertile plains that justified conquering the indigenous people in the bloody 19th-century Campaign of the Desert. Once the Spanish newcomers had gained control, their produce made Argentina the 'breadbasket of the world', and the sixth richest nation on Earth, exporting beef, lamb, wheat and wool when a growing Europe demanded cheap food and clothing. When you see these huge, perfect wheat fields, and superbly healthy Aberdeen Angus cattle roaming vast plains, you might wonder how a country with such riches can possibly have suffered an economic crisis. It's one of the great enigmas of Argentina. To get an idea of Argentina's former wealth, visit an
estancia
with history, like Dos Talas, and ask their owners what went wrong. Some blame Perón,
and now the Kirchners, for encouraging passivity in the lazy populace, or Menem for resorting to desperate measures to keep up with the US dollar by selling the nationalized industries.
Farmers complain the government imposes impossible taxes for those who produce from the land. The fields of Buenos Aires province provide more than half of Argentina's cereal production, and over a third of her livestock, but many
estancia
owners have had to turn to tourism in order to maintain the homes built by their ancestors in more affluent times. Still, staying in an
estancia
is a rare privilege, to be wholeheartedly enjoyed.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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