Having Fun When Visiting Mar del Plata
Mar del Plata, known as “the Pearl of the Atlantic,” “the Capital of Surf,” and “the Happy City,” is just 5 hours south of Buenos Aires by bus (about 250 miles). Since the early 1900s, Mar del Plata has been a popular beach getaway for those in other parts of the country. Villas from the 1920s-40s, built as summer homes for those who lived in the capital, can still be found sprinkled throughout the high-rise apartment buildings that now dominate the coast.
Even now, about 6 million tourists flock to the beaches in Mar del Plata each year. Theatre companies from Buenos Aires come to put on shows all season. Craftsmen and vendors set up their goods in booths around the city. Business savvy people rent out empty spaces, throw a store together, and sell as much as they can for several months. From the end of December through the beginning of March, Mar del Plata is the place to be in Argentina.
Other times during the year are much less busy, though surfers continue to brave the cold water year round. Businesses often cut back hours, and some places close entirely. Still, Mar del Plata has a lot to offer. With over 700,000 residents, there are many parks, stores, bars, and restaurants for visitors to enjoy.
Whether you’re visiting Mar del Plata for a week or for a month, in the summer or the winter, you’ll find that there are plenty of great ways to spend your time. Here are 6 of my favorite things to do in Mar del Plata.
Wherever my travels take me, I love checking out the local zoo or aquarium. The Mar del Plata Aquarium is one of my favorite. This aquarium, situated along the ocean, offers beautiful vistas as you walk through the park. If you’re short on time, the grounds can easily be covered in a couple of hours. However, there is enough to do and see at the aquarium that you can easily spend the entire day.
Half-hour shows are spread throughout the day, including the sea lion show, the dolphin show, and the bird show. There is an aviary, a small museum, and habitats for lemurs, otters, sea lions, flamingos, and different species of penguins. Enjoy lunch at the food court where you’ll find pizza, empanadas, salads, and hamburgers. If you have children, there’s a playground area as well. Check the aquarium’s website for information about the special programs they offer, such as learning how to train dolphins.
After you’ve seen everything in the aquarium, you can head down to the private beach for the rest of the afternoon. This is a perfect way to spend a beautiful day in Mar del Plata.
Prices: Adults: AR$132. Children (ages 3-10): AR$95. Seniors: AR$95. Children under 3 years are free. (Prices are with the 20% discount coupon found online.)
2. Crucero Anamora and the Port of Mar del Plata
Climb aboard the 300 passenger ship Anamora, and enjoy an hour-long cruise along the coast of Mar del Plata. On the cruise you’ll see more of the harbor, the colony of sea lions, key landmarks along the coast, and even part of the Naval Base.
There are three levels on the ship for you to enjoy views. If you prefer the open air and sunshine, sit on the upper deck. Below that, there is a space with tables and chairs, fully enclosed by large windows, where you can enjoy a coffee and medialuna from the cafe on the lowest level. Learn about the history of Mar del Plata (in Spanish) or just sit back and enjoy the cruise.
Afterward, walk around the port where there are a few restaurants, shops selling fresh and canned seafood, and the iconic red and orange ships of Mar del Plata.
Prices: Adults: AR$125. Children (ages 3-10): AR$80. Children under 3 years are free.
Transfers to and from Plaza Colón: AR$18
Hours: The ship departs at 11:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. in the summer, and 11:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. in the winter. Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure to purchase tickets and board the ship.
Visit Villa Victoria while in Mar del Plata and step back in time to the year 1912. This remarkable house was constructed in England and then brought by ship to Argentina. It was originally owned by Francisca Ocampo de Ocampo, the great-aunt of the famous Argentine writer Victoria Ocampo. Later, the house was left to Victoria, who used it as her summer home.
Learn all about the Ocampo family, the estate, and the life of Victoria Ocampo in this museum. Also on display are temporary art exhibits, housed in various rooms of the villa. Afterward, enjoy strolling through the beautiful gardens before sitting in the shade with a picnic lunch.
Prices: Adults: AR$12 Students: AR$10
4. Feria de Artesanos (Craft Fair) – Torreón Varese
Walk along the coast between the Torreón del Monje and Playa Varese and you will pass over 80 stalls with a wide variety of craft items. Whether you’re planning to buy anything or not, it’s always interesting to see what’s on display. Go on the weekend during the summer months to experience this craft fair at its best.
I bought four wooden empanada serving dishes, hand carved and painted with birds native to Mar del Plata, for a mere AR$10 each (about US$1 at the time). The next week, I asked the artisan to make me wooden salad tongs to match. He did a beautiful job, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my purchases.
Hours: Vendors are there daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer. In the winter, they are only there on weekends and holidays.
5. Mercado de Pulgas (flea market) – Plaza Rocha
You can learn a lot about a country by looking for items at a flea market. My favorite flea market is in Plaza Rocha near the city center of Mar del Plata. I try to go every other weekend or so. There’s always something new to see (and by “new” I mean very old). Blue and green siphons, antique books wrapped in plastic, dated farm and kitchen equipment, tea sets and dishes, jewelry, lamps, and dolls. I love looking at all the items, wondering about their history.
My favorite purchase has been this 3-piece Verbano tea set. The woman I bought it from said that it belonged to her mother, dating back to the 1960s. The price she was selling it for seemed reasonable and I was in love with the design, so I followed my intuition and bought it on the spot. Several months later, I found another woman selling this same set. Her price? Over 4 times the price I paid. I thanked her for her help and walked away smiling at my bargain.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask the vendor questions, such as “where did this come from?” or “what year was this made?” Most vendors are very nice and love to answer questions.
2. Shop around. Know what price other vendors are asking for similar items. Check online to see the prices of antiques online. MercadoLibre is a good website to compare prices.
3. Haggle! Better yet, go with a native Spanish speaker who can help negotiate prices for you. Try not to reveal where you’re from until after your purchase.
4. Don’t start bargaining unless you intend on buying. If the vendor agrees on your desired price, it is rude to walk away.
Hours: Friday-Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
6. Roller Blade on the Boardwalk
Bring, rent, or buy roller blades for hours of skating along the coast. The boardwalk stretches for miles and is smooth and fairly flat. Occasional inclines provide a fun challenge skating up and a reward skating down. A few breaks in the boardwalk at street intersections test your ability to maneuver over rougher terrain. Lights illuminate the path at night, making it a fun nighttime sport as well. Overall, this is a great activity for beginners and pros alike.
Check out Bicicleteria Madrid (H. Yrigoyen 2249, Plaza Mitre. Tel:494-1932) for bicycle and roller blade rentals. Or ask around for the closest sports store near you. The average price to buy a pair of roller blades is AR$950, so renting may be ideal.
To learn more about the history of Mar del Plata, my favorite things to do, and the best places to eat, check out my other articles about Mar del Plata.