Big, busy and brash, MAR DEL PLATA towers above all other resorts on Argentina's Atlantic coast. Around six million tourists holiday here every year, drawn by its bustling beaches and lively entertainment. If the thought of queuing for a restaurant or seeking an unoccupied scrap of sand makes you shudder, you're better off avoiding the resort in the height of summer, but if you prefer to mix your trips to the beach with a spot of culture, nightlife or shopping, you may find this seaside town has a certain cheeky charm for you. Despite some haphazard development, Mar del Plata is a solid and attractive city, favoured by the gentle drama of a sweeping coastline and hilly terrain, and while its rather urban beaches may lack the wild charm of less developed strips of sand, they are fun places to hang out – good for people-watching as well as swimming and sunbathing.
Mar del Plata is also the only resort really worth visiting out of season – while the city may breathe a sigh of relief when the last of the tourists leave at the end of the summer, it certainly doesn't close down. The city has around 600,000 inhabitants, a rich cultural life that includes a number of modest but interesting museums and galleries, and one of Argentina's most important ports, appealing not only for its colourful traditional fishing boats and seafood restaurants, but also for a close encounter with the area's noisy colony of sea lions. Mar del Plata is home to some excellent bars as well, and, once the sun goes down at the height of the summer, a nonstop nightlife. Working off all the steaks and churros won't be a problem – catering to so many tourists, the city also provides the opportunity to pursue a vast range of sports and other activities during the day.