The quickest way out of Buenos Aires just happens to be the quickest way out of Argentina. Hop on a hydrofoil at the port terminal and you can be prowling the hard cobbled streets of Uruguay’s Colonia del Sacramento in just over an hour. Going inland, past the imaginary point where the city ends and the pampas—its vast agricultural hinterland—begins is a little harder.
But it’s worth the hassle. While the ranches or estancias that dot these drab but not dreary plains vary in size, grandeur and historical significance, the program they offer visitors is a fairly standard one. You can expect tours of the property, some gentle horse riding with a working gaucho, a slap-up asado (barbecue) lunch and, if you're too saddle-sore to face the bus or taxi home, a four-poster bed for the night. A day trip to an estancia is known as a día de campo, and the price generally includes transfer, all activities and a colon-threatening dose of beef and booze.
Smartly refurbished in 2011, this popular estancia feels more like a posh rural hotel than a stately home, and indeed, the damask armchairs and chunky wood tables came from local antiques stores, not down the generations. If you want to spend a day learning the basics of polo (weirdly, not as hard as it looks), this is an excellent place to do it.
On its way to the Atlantic, the mighty Paraná River springs a few leaks, creating an intricate and shifting landscape of wetlands and creeks known as the Paraná Delta. Just 50 minutes by train from Retiro station, Tigre is not only a good destination in its own right—check out the famous market—but also the main launchpad for boat excursions into the Delta.
Colonia del Sacramento
People have always wanted a piece of this exquisite Uruguayan town, from the Portuguese who founded it in 1680, to the Spanish who kept trying to steal it, to UNESCO who declared its historic quarter a World Heritage Site in 1995. Take the fast ferry from Puerto Madero and don’t forget your driver’s license—you can, and should, hire a golf cart when you get there.
Estancia Villa María
More regal than rustic, this drop-dead gorgeous, mock-Tudor mansion was designed by famed architect Alejandro Bustillo in 1919. Explore 74 hectares of stunning parkland on four legs or two, wash off the dust in the pool, then settle down to a long lunch of grilled grass-fed beef with all the trimmings.
Like many rural towns in Argentina, Carlos Keen grew around its train station and when the trains stopped running, the town stopped growing. Ironically, it’s the freeway that now keeps the place alive, bringing daytrippers from the capital to enjoy a heavy lunch of meat or pasta in one of several restaurants. It’s picturesque in a slightly eerie way, like the abandoned movie set of a spaghetti Western.