Mar del Plata is Argentina’s most visited city after Buenos Aires, but what makes is so popular? Well, the fact that it’s a fully developed city sitting pretty on 30km of Atlantic coastline might go some way to explaining why people continue to flock to Mar Del Plata. We dive inside the seafront metropolis to see what it’s all about.
Mar Del Plata was alighted upon by Sir Francis Drake in 1577, who named his discovery Cape Lobos after the colony of sea lions present there, inhabitants who remain to this day. In the mid 1700’s, a Jesuit mission was established just outside of what would now be the main city, but fell to attacks by local Tehuelche Indians. There would be some back and forth of territorial claim between natives and European conquerors before the area was eventually claimed by European settlers in 1856. Once established as an habitable area, the idea of turning into a holiday destination for the wealthy from Buenos Aires was put forward early on, setting the scene for the seaside resort that it has become today. The luxurious Hotel Bristol was the city’s first real attraction, and the city’s most popular beach, Playa Bristol, takes its name from the former glory of this now-demolished hotel. A building boom in the 1960’s saw unprecedented growth in Mar Del Plata, propelling it from seaside resort to full blown city.
Today Mar Del Plata is Argentina‘s most well known beach resort, and benefits from the presence of highly developed tourist infrastructure, as well as a cosmopolitan urban center, marrying the two worlds of beach and city. Mar Del Plata is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and sporty types, who avail of its long beachside promenade to walk, run or rollerblade, and the rugged waters of the Atlantic to surf, sail and windsurf. Then of course there are the hoards of holidaymakers who come in their droves in the summer, making MarDel a surefire hotspot for sun, sea, sand and…you know what else. Interestingly, Mar Del Plata is also Argentina’s foremost destination for conferences and conventions, hosting the acclaimed Mar Del Plata International Film Festival, design conference Trimarchi and the city has also held a number of high profile sporting events, including the 1978 FIFA World Cup.
While the Atlantic is a far cry from the crystalline waters of the Caribbean, Mar Del Plata’s beaches still have it all; from swathes of sand to rocky outcrops, there is something for everyone, no matter what your taste in beachlife. La Perla is Mar Del Plata’s go-to beach for a traditional seaside jaunt. Set against the backdrop of the city skyline, La Perla has everything necessary to enjoy a day by the sea, while Playa Grande is where people go to party. In the summer months, day parties fill the beaches, with beach clubs such as Samsara attracting revelers throughout the day. For a more relaxed beach vibe, head to Playa Varese, a quaint cove sheltered by stone piers where watersports and fishing are popular activities. Further south you can find the dunes and forests for a real escape from the city. And for naturists, an hour away from the city lies Playa Escondido, meaning “hidden beach”, where nudists can languish unabashed.
Mar Del Plata has lots of stuff to do, from museums to waterparks. The Juan Carlos Castagnino Municipal Art Museum is situated on Stella Maris hill and contains over 450 artworks housed in French chateaux-style building that dates from 1909. For family fun, head over to AquaSol waterpark at the entrance to the city and frolic in the wave pool or shoot down one of the many slides. Explore the city’s famous Torreón del Monje complex which, with its unmissable red turrets and Medieval style, affords great views out over the ocean. Head a few miles out of the city and hit up the Aquarium for some fun with fish, or go to the beautiful and symbolic Punta Mogotes lighthouse next door. The sea lion reserve after which Sir Francis Drake named the place can be found along the city’s southern seafront, where you can check out these funny yet charming mammals.
Mar Del Plata has a wealth of restaurants, bars, clubs and cafes. As you can imagine, being on the seafront means that there are a host of delicious seafood restaurants to choose from, many with epic views of the ocean beyond. For the freshest and most reasonably priced seafood, head out the port and go to the Banquina de Pescadores wharf, where fisherman bring their catches in fresh from the boats to be enjoyed at one of the many restaurants there. Try the calamari, it doesn’t disappoint! Back in the city, Mi Mundo, Piazza Ristorante and El Sur are firm favorites for seafood lovers. La Mulita and La Lucila serve up some of the best Argentine steak in town, while Taberna Baska is a no frills affair that offers its guest some of the tastiest Spanish dishes this side of Spain.
For drinks, R/T Garage Bar has great cocktails and an edgy vibe. Antares is a staple beer joint with a wide range of local craft brews, reliable since it can be found all over the country. Rico Tiki Bar has a theme that’s half tropical, half maritime, with mouthwatering signature cocktails and friendly service. Amarre is a classy joint that serves food as well as drinks, and Ogham has a classic yet sophisticated pub feel to it. For the best choice of bars in the city, head down to Avenida Martinez de Hoz.
Nightlife in Mar Del Plata is the stuff of legend, and the city is known for its super clubs and boliches, or discos. Avenida Constitucion and Avenida Costanera boast big name clubs such as Chocolate and Sobremonte, which keep party lovers out ’til the wee hours of the morning.