During my month in Buenos Aires, I stayed with my MBA classmate Julieta. During the MBA, we traveled together to Gran Canaria. Julieta is not from Buenos Aires, but rather the city of Tucuman in the northwest where she worked in her family´s business producing lemons. I have always been intrigued by this unique background. Additionally, I have been Facebook friends with Julieta´s grandmother Clelia for almost two years and we really have hit it off. Visiting Tucuman would give me the ability to not only experience a different side of Argentina but also to meet Clelia.
Tucuman, Argentina´s 5th largest city, is not a touristy place. It´s main source of income is agriculture. 80% of all the lemons in Argentina (the 4th largest lemon producer in the world) are grown in Tucuman.
November 18, 2022: San Miguel de Tucuman
My flight to Tucuman took off at 5:00 in the morning and I landed 2 hours later. I then got a taxi to take me to Julietta´s house in the western suburb of Yerba Buena.
The large, white-brick yellow-accented house belonged to Julietta´s mother Ana. It was here where Julieta grew up.
Ana warmly greeted me and showed me around. All her children have moved out, so to stay busy, Ana turned her home into a sort of hostel with bunk beds and multiple fridges. For this weekend, she was hosting Julieta, her other daughter Ana and Ana´s boyfriend, me, and an American man named Leighton who was renting her Buenos Aires apartment on Airbnb.
For breakfast Ana made us yoghurt and granola! To drink, we had unsweetened lemonade (obviously made from the local lemons). I was shaken that they did not add any sugar to their lemonade.
Julieta explained that a lemon tree will produce two batches of lemons each year. The winter lemons are smaller due to less rainfall but are more flavorful. The summer lemons are larger but have more water and are therefore less flavorful. The winter lemons are considered to be superior.
I spent most of the day working remotely but managed to have a free period in the afternoon, which gave me enough of a window to sightsee. I called an Uber into the city center.
Tucuman is famous all over Argentina because on July 9, 1816, the Congreso de Tucuman declared the United Provinces of South America (modern day Argentina, Uruguay and part of Bolivia) to be independent from Spain. While various civil wars broke up the union into the modern countries today, Argentina considers this to be their day of independence.
The Congress took place in a house in the center of town now known as Casa Historica. Due to poor maintenance, most of the building was demolished sometime in the 1800´s. In 1941, the Argentine government decided to rebuild the house and make it a museum.
The most notable room, and the only one that remains from the original house, is the room where the Independence was actually declared. The room contains a desk that may or may not be real as well as paintings of all the signatories.
In the back are plaques donated by various cities in Argentina and various Argentine government entities.
Due to the summer heat, the city center was empty. All the churches were closed for their midday break. The state capitol building – which on July 9 becomes the capitol of Argentina for the day- was also closed.
I continued to wander north, hopping into random businesses to stay cool.
While Buenos Aires looked and felt very European, Tucuman looked Latin American due to the architecture, the city´s layout and the complexion of the people.
Eventually I walked to a second square called Plaza Uruquiza. There, I took a taxi back to Julieta´s house. Was the city center all that interesting? No, but I am glad I went, and my visit would have felt incomplete without going.
In the evening, Julieta and her mom planned an asado – a Argentine BBQ – at Juli´s eldest sister´s house. After assembling supplies, we drove over around 20:30. Unlike Ana´s house, this house was very modern.
In the backyard, I met the rest of the family: Juli´s sister, her husband, their son…and, at long last, Clelia.
Just as I had hoped, we hit it off and had a great time chatting.
For dinner, Juli´s younger sister´s boyfriend grilled up meats on the impressive grille. The meats were absolutely delicious – unlike anything I have had before.
By midnight, I was incredibly sleepy and passed out on the couch, having been up since 3:00. We ended up leaving at 00:30.
November 19, 2022: Tafi del Valle
Today, we took a day trip to the town of Tafi del Valle, Tucuman state´s top tourist destination.
Juli drove and Leighton tagged along. The drive took two hours. The first hour went through flat agricultural land, but for the second hour we climbed into the foothills of the Andes. The road was mostly through thick jungle. Then, all of a sudden, the trees cleared, and we were in a high treeless alpine plateau around a lake.
The town of Tafi del Valle is located on the far side of the town. Since we were hungry, our first stop was for lunch at a local restaurant. I ordered locro, an Andean stew.
Next, we walked around the city center, which looked like the American southwest with cacti and the architecture. The shops were mostly tourist souvenir shops, but there were a few more functional places like a secondhand clothing shop that sells “donations” from America.
After lunch, we stopped at a café for coffee before buying some of the region´s famous cheese.
For our last stop, we visited a park of historic stone statues. The rocks are not from this specific spot, but rather they have been gathered from around the region and placed in the park. The statues are around 2,000 years old!!!
On the way back to Juli´s house we stopped in the town of Famaila, the self-proclaimed empanada capital of Argentina. The entire northwest of Argentina is known to have the best empanadas in the country and each state has its own unique variety. In Tucuman, the empanadas are known to be extra juicy. We ordered the empanadas frozen and took them home to reheat in the oven. They were delicious.
November 20, 2022: Parts North
This was my final day in Tucuman.
We started the day by driving to El Cadillal, a large reservoir 30 minutes north of the city. The state recently decided to turn it into a local tourist attraction complete with viewing areas, a museum, restaurants, bars and beautiful landscaping.
On the lakeshore, there was a triathlon wrapping up.
We then drove to see the dam. Just beyond the dam, we saw a lady making empanadas on the side of the road. She had a brick oven and Julieta just knew that these empanadas were going to be amazing. And indeed they were far and away the best empanadas I have ever had.
Continuing north and west, we drove along the windy backroads in the hills near Tucuman. After unsuccessfully attempting to eat lunch at a hotel, we drove back into town to get sandwiches.
It was now time to head to the airport. We drove back to Juli´s house where I said goodbye to everyone before I caught a taxi to the airport.
While Tucuman and the surrounding areas are very pretty, there are no blockbuster sights. As a typical foreign tourist, I would have been disappointed had I traveled just to see the sights. The highlights were Tafi del Valle and the empanadas near El Cadillal. Northwest Argentina does have spectacular places to visit further north in Salta and Jujuy.
The town of Tucuman itself is very quiet despite having over 1 million residents. It reminds me a lot of smaller agricultural cities in the US like Fresno.
However, this trip was not about the sights for me, but rather to understand Julieta´s background and meet her family. I loved meeting everybody, hearing stories, and just experiencing how Argentine families spend their time together. By the end of my three days, I felt like Julieta´s family was my family. For this reason, I loved my time in Tucuman and would love to come back!