When porteños need to escape the city smog, they head to Cariló, Argentina’s ‘green sand dune’ (its meaning in the Mapuche language). Breezy and easy to get to, Cariló is a top Argentina travel destination and the country’s most exclusive summer resort, a green lung which is a small slice of paradise: a pine forest next to the beach.
A stone’s throw (360km) south of Buenos Aires, a tenacious young land owner, Héctor Manuel Guerrero, made it his mission in 1917 to improve on 1,700 hectares of ever-shifting dunes which encompassed his inherited Dos Montes ranch. Thirty years later, he had accomplished that challenge: after using the estancia as a giant nursery, Guerrero had created a fledgling forest with more than 700,000 plants and trees.
Cariló Pine Forest – Photo by Jorge Gobbi on Flickr
Today, the roots of more than three million plants, trees and shrubs have stabilised Cariló’s foundations, and pristine emerald lawns blend with conifers and chatty parakeets among the swanky houses. In keeping with Don Héctor’s nature-is-your-friend philosophy, the town’s roads are sandy and when the sun sets, darkness prevails, given that there isn’t any street lighting. Residents are so strongly against tarmacing the pine forest beach town that they have taken to the streets to march in flip-flops whenever the local council has dared to suggest otherwise.
Roads are named after birds and trees – such as colibri or eucalyptus – with the latter winding their leafy way up from the five-kilometre coastline (growing trees need water, after all). Besides woodpeckers, hawks and armadillos, Cariló is also home to 300 families who live there all year round, while the remaining 2,700 houses open their shutters for long weekends and in summer.
What to Do
The time of year dictates activity choices, but it’s all about beach bumming and splashing about in the warm waters from December to March. Cariló is heaving in January and February – seals also take some rays when the tide is low – but thanks to the 300-metre-wide sandy stretches dotted with lilac sea shells, there’s no need for any argy-bargy by sun worshippers. The town has four beach clubs: from south to north, Divisadero, which has a spacious outdoor swimming pool; Cozumel fries up the best squid rings in the area; Chao Montesco is ideal for kids thanks to the shallow waters; and what better than a massage with a sea view at Hemingway?
Cariló beach – Photo by Sorrel Moseley-Williams
Those with quad bikes or four-wheel drive vehicles can zip six kilometres south towards Villa Gesell to El Medio, a new beach club on stilts offering unrivalled coastal panoramas – although it might be more environmentally friendly to walk or take a horse there.
Although the surf isn’t exactly Florianopolis style, Cariló’s waves are ideal for beginners and the two schools also hire out boards. Why not try sand boarding, or even kite surfing, which has surged in popularity thanks to the brisk Atlantic breezes? If that sounds too energetic, head to the Salada Grande lake near General Madariaga for a spot of silverside fishing.
When the temperature drops – think single digits in winter – golf, horse riding, estancia visits or a pine-forest-and-dune excursion in a giant jeep (from Boyero and Castaño) will keep you busy. There are seven estancias in the area, but check out a piece of history at the Guerrero family’s Dos Montes ranch – activities include polo practice, horse riding and countryside quad biking. Cariló’s 18-hole golf course is second to none, while the Tennis Ranch has a dozen clay courts.
If organised activities aren’t your idea of fun, wander the peaceful sandy streets (with a map, as they all look the same to the unfamiliar eye) and pick up pine cones, or dive into the many restaurants and tea houses. La Vieja Ventola specialises in sea food, De Mi Campo steak house has an excellent salad bar, while Tante serves up tempting cakes and pots of tea.
Where to Stay
Although there is an element of Stepford about the similar looking wooden houses, why not rent one with friends to put the city behind you and take full advantage of a lush garden, a barbecue and a swimming pool? The owner of Cariló Casas speaks perfect English and will happily show you round a selection of modern and rustic rental homes, while the original town centre has a selection of estate agencies from which to choose. Apart-hotels in the style of log cabins are all the rage and some of the cosiest include Cariló Village and Puerto Hamlet. Most hotels have spa facilities, and one tip for winter is to take out monthly membership at the Village: for AR$160, you get to dip into two indoor swimming pools, a Jacuzzi and a sauna.
Cabins in Cariló – Photo by fabio on Flickr
If you’ve exhausted all options available at the tourism office on Boyero y Castaño, Pinamar is just a few kilometres north of Cariló and is known for its bustling summer night life and Ibiza-style sunset DJ sessions. A morning wandering the gaucho town of General Madariaga with local cowboys is a time warp trip worth taking, while Villa Gesell’s street markets are packed with handmade hippy trinkets and surf gear.