West Argentina Travel and Tourism Information
San Carlos de Bariloche, with about 110,000 inhabitants, is situated on the southern coast of the lake Hanuel Huapi, 1060 km (830 miles) in the northeast of located. It is one of the most important tourist destination of the Patagonian region offering all kinds of tourism services with a high quality standard and modern technology: best skiing modalities of nearly 70 kilometers (42 miles), various hotels, different types of restaurants, shops, solariums.
Bariloche, the charming Andean city, is famous for its Swiss landscape spirit, cute chalet houses and its exquisite chocolate production in the city. It’s a natural paradise surrounded by snow-covered mountains and deep blue lakes in peaceful scenery. Most famous is the viewing point from the highest summit of the city, including the amazing lakes “Gutierrez” and “Nahuel Huapi” and its island and various glaciers (e.g. “Otto” and “Tronador”) surrounding the tiny city. Bariloche, as an all-season destination for vacationers, makes all outdoor activities possible.
Most famous for the great skiing possibilities in the Argentinean Winter (July-October), you can also go trekking, camping, boating, climbing or just relaxing in the summer months.
Skiing: Other excellent ski resorts in Argentina are Mendoza, Villavicencio, Esquel or “Valle de las Leñas”, which have good facilities and beautiful settings. All of them are situated about 1000 km (900 miles) southwest of Buenos Aires.
Located at the foot of the Andean mountains, Mendoza is a fantastic holiday spot as there are plenty of things to do and to see in and outside the city. Being the wine capital of Argentina, Mendoza provides many wine tasting tours and winery. Although in 1861 an earthquake destroyed the old city center, it is still magnificent place to relax. You also shouldn’t miss the impressive Christ the Redeemer Statue and the “Puente del Inca”, a natural stone bridge with a height of 30 meters (90 ft) and a length of 50 meters (150ft), which are situated close to Mendoza. Famous for its interesting museums, unique sights and folkloric festivals, it also offers fantastic endless outdoor activities: wild water rafting on the Rio Mendoza, horseback riding, fishing, skiing during the winter months at “Los Molles” and “Las Leñas” or climbing and hiking on surrounding peaks (most famous “Cerro Aconcagua” which at 6,960 m (22,835 ft) is the highest peak in the region).
Mendoza is perhaps the most important crossroads in Argentina. Located in the heart of Cuyo, Argentina’s Andean wine country at the edge of the vast pampas regions, Mendoza is both the gateway to the Andes and the bridge between the wild desolation of Patagonia and the arid Northwest. However, this delightful city also embodies the enchanting contrasts of present day Argentina, for it is both modern and traditional, and offers both urbane sophistication and rugged outdoor adventure.
Nestled among the foothills of the Andes, Mendoza maintains many of the traditions of Northern Argentina, like the daily afternoon siesta and the early evening promenade around the center of town. However, there is also an emerging modernity that is leading the way towards the city’s bright future – as evidenced by the many Internet cafes, language schools, discos, and the growing university community.
The city bustles with an excitement that is vibrant without becoming oppressive. The best place to witness this refreshing exuberance is the central pedestrian mall along Paseo Sarmiento and Plaza Independencia, which are literally packed with sidewalk cafes, bars and restaurants. The central plaza has an artisans market, a Modern Art Museum, and is very lively anytime after siesta in the late afternoon. There are also four satellite parks to explore, each located two blocks from the corner of the main plaza: Plaza San Martin (named for the great liberator), and Plaza’s Chile, Italia and España, named in honor of the three nations who contributed to relief and reconstruction efforts after earthquakes reduced Mendoza to little more than rubble in 1861.
There is an excellent tourist information center at the corner of Garibaldi and San Martin (at the south end of Paseo Sarmiento) staffed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable young students with complete information and recommendations for the many activities in and around Mendoza.
For many, visiting a winery is the most compelling reason for coming to Mendoza, and wine is indeed the central attraction and defining characteristic, if not the raison d’etre, for much of the activity in and around the city. There are nearly one thousand bodegas located within 50 km of the city center, and visitors may arrange to tour them individually (and independently) or as part of an organized tour that includes visits to several bodegas. The tours arranged by agencies vary considerably in their level of depth and sophistication: some involve a quick bodega tour and tasting session, while others include more advanced visits with in-depth explanations of the wine-making process, followed by wine-tasting sessions that can last for several hours and include food, explanations of tasting practice, and recommendations for specific food-wine combinations.
However, you need not travel far to sample the wide selection of regional wines, since most restaurants in Mendoza offer an excellent selection of wines. Prices are very reasonable, even for wines that are not from the immediate environs of Cuyo, and a glass of regional wine is often as inexpensive as a soft drink. In addition to being very friendly, the residents of Mendoza are also quite knowledgeable about wines, and can be relied upon to make excellent recommendations. There are lots of traditional sidewalk restaurants and cafes along Paseo Sarmiento between Av. San Martin and Plaza Independencia. In addition, the more modern and trendy Avenida Aristides Villanueva also has an ample selection of restaurants and bars, and is the popular destination for many of Mendoza’s younger residents.
Avenida San Martin is a lovely, tree-lined boulevard with an extensive variety of shops, and is an excellent place to observe local color during the late afternoon promenade after siesta.
No visit to Mendoza would be complete without a visit to the majestic Parque San Martin, the city’s most famous geographic fixture and point of reference at the eastern edge of town. The ornate gates at the park entrance are about a twenty-minute walk (or a five minute bus/taxi ride) from Plaza Independencia along the acequias of upscale Avenida Mitre. The park literally has something for everyone: a rowing club, an equestrian park, soccer fields, a tennis club, a bicycle race track, a zoo, a small amusement park, University facilities (including an observatory, zoo, Greek theater, Natural Science Museum, and botanical garden), a multitude of jogging and bicycle paths, and plenty of open space for relaxation and quiet contemplation. In an appropriate testament to the importance of wine in Mendoza’s history, there is also a fountain that flowed wine during the park’s inauguration. For a quick overview of the park’s many features and facets, be sure to take one of the bus tours, which leave from the visitor center approximately every thirty minutes.
The most spectacular cultural attraction of the park (and the first stop on the tour) is the memorial on the summit of Cerro de la Gloria depicting the military campaigns for independence in Peru, Argentina and Chile that were led by the national heroes of Argentina (General San Martin) and Chile (Bernardo O’Higgins).
In addition, be sure to visit the informative Museo del Área Fundacional, a small but informative museum located in the original town hall and dedicated to the history of Mendoza. The structure housing the museum, along with many of the city’s other important structures, was restored after the earthquake. An exception is the ruined Franciscan monastery, only a few blocks from the City museum. Another popular site is the Virgen de Cuyo, which was the patron of San Martin’s “Ejercito de los Andes” (Army of the Andes), located in the Iglesia, Convento and Basilica de San Francisco.
Although the city has many exciting activities that could occupy visitors for several weeks, don’t forget that Mendoza is just the starting point for exploring the incredible region of Cuyo. Mendoza is also the ideal base for exploring the Central Andes, with limitless options and opportunities for year-round outdoor activities: hiking, rafting, skiing, camping, horse-riding, and more radical pursuits such as hang gliding, bungee jumping, and skydiving.
San Juan and La Rioja
San Juan and La Rioja are two charming, rustic, and incredibly scenic provinces to the Northeast of Mendoza. These provinces were the birthplace of some of Argentina’s most important political figures, and still figure prominently in national affairs. Although both are more rural and less well developed than Mendoza, they embody a fascinating archeological history and a rich traditional cultural heritage that is emblematic of Northern Argentina, and are home to two exquisite natural wonders, the Tamalpaya and Ischigualasto national parks. These provinces also have a mystical and superstitious cultural tradition, as you will learn from informal conversations with its denizens, who will readily recount legends of heroes and stories of witchcraft. The folk music of La Rioja is also well-known for its loud and lively character, and captures many aspects of the region’s fascinating cultural heritage.
In La Rioja, there is a friendly visitors’ center located on Avenida Juan Peron a few blocks from Plaza 9 de Julio in the center of town. Although the center has minimal resources, the enthusiastic staff will have many suggestions for interesting sightseeing and cultural activities. There are several worthwhile museums in town, among them the museums of Folk Art, Sacred Art, Inca Archeology, and the City Museum. However, one of La Rioja’s most fascinating attractions is located in the Museum of Natural Sciences on the University campus. Although small, the museum includes a fascinating exhibition of the archeological history of the region, and displays partially excavated sites alongside traditional exhibits of excavated fossils and other early cultural artifacts. These exhibits of partially excavated sites help to illustrate the intuitive nature of the archaeological process, and, together with the traditionally presented archeological artifacts, provide a more complete presentation of archeological science than most natural history museums.
An excursion to Sanagasta, a small village about 20 miles from La Rioja, makes a quick and pleasant day trip. Visitors who opt for an excursion to this small village are rewarded with a scenic drive that proceeds up a small canyon with spectacular and colorful rock formations, past a deep blue reservoir and on into the spectacular oasis of Sanagasta nestled within the bone-dry canyon. Visitors who take the short climb up to Gruta de la Virgin are rewarded with a lovely view of the acequias that bring water to small independent family farms and vineyards. There is also a center for traditional arts and crafts (artesania), a geological park, and several quaint family-owned restaurants.
Between San Juan and La Rioja lie two relatively unknown and seldom-visited natural wonders, which, despite their magnificent scenery, are still perhaps the two best-kept secrets in all of Northern Argentina, the Ischigualasto and Tamalpaya National Parks.
Although the parks are accessible from both San Juan and La Rioja, the most convenient base for viewing the two is San Agustin de Valle Fertil, a small village with only basic amenities that is approximately 80 km from Ischigualasto.
The drive from San Juan to San Agustin is an unforgettable experience – travelers will be treated to scenic views of the bone-dry valleys and canyons with verdant peaks in the background, charming villages, and candle-lit roadside shrines, some dressed in bright red for truckers, others dedicated to saints or deceased loved ones. Renting a car or taking an organized van tour is really the only practical solution for visiting the parks, since they are both quite far from San Agustin and from each other (Ischigualasto is in San Juan province and Tamalpaya is in La Rioja).
The brilliant color schemes of the two parks provide a striking contrast to one another, and mirror the geological color-schemes of the two provinces – Ischigualasto is characterized by barren, chalky-white desert moonscapes, while Tamalpaya embodies the rich and brilliant red sandstones of La Rioja. The high vaulting sandstone walls of Tamalpaya (pronounced Tah-mal-PASH-a) project a feeling of a natural cathedral with only the vast blue desert sky for a ceiling.
Many of the principal formations are named for religious entities (“the cathedral”, “the monk”, “the wise men”), and a visit to this park is truly a religious experience – even the sounds in the main corridor reverberate and resound with divine overtones. To get to the park, visitors must first driving through miles of dusty desert terrain reminiscent of northern and central New Mexico and Arizona, with high, flat cliffs in the distance, before arriving at the park headquarters, from which visitors may choose to explore the canyon on foot, by rented bicycle, or by park van.
However, sandstorms on hot or windy days may make the first two options impractical or impossible. There is a snack bar and a photographic display of the park’s history at the ranger station, which also rents bikes and sells tickets for van tours. These tours include a park guide and a choice of two routes: visitors can opt to tour the entire canyon all the way to the remote reaches, or just see the principal sites. The petroglyphs at the canyon entrance attest to the ancient cultural origins and human settlements that date back to prehistoric times, and their mysterious origin and meaning set the tone for the ensuing visit to the mystical sandy-floored canyon. After a few miles, the canyon opens majestically into a panoramic view of the vast badlands that stretch for several hundred kilometers into a picturesque backdrop of uninhabited sandstone mesas, canyons, and mountains.
Parque Nacional de Ischigualasto, also known as the “Valle de La Luna”, is known for having the richest collection of archaeological sites in South America, with dinosaur fossils that date as far back as the Triassic (180 million years ago), and include some of the oldest dinosaur fossils ever discovered. The serene park’s desolation provides a reflective and introspective atmosphere. There is also a small museum of natural sciences housed in a makeshift tent at the park entrance that contains a few simple but thought-provoking exhibits that showcases dinosaur bones in both the traditional reconstructed manner and in “natural” semi-excavated archaeological format. As the tent buckles under the force of strong winds, enthusiastic students elaborate on the practice and techniques involved in archaeological excavation, as well as the tools of inference that are essential to the scientific process of piecing together the archaeological record. As part of the park entrance fee, a park guide accompanies visitors during the 2-3 hour park tour.
The guides are very knowledgeable, since many participate in the excavations and archeological research projects. In addition to information on the geological history of the valley, the tours stop at several surrealistic formations (“the mushroom”, “the ball court”, “the submarine”, “the worm”, “the sphinx”etc.) that are dispersed mysteriously throughout the park. Although there are very few plants, animals, or birds in the park, condors are periodically spotted. Some locals will tell you that local witches (“brujas”) still practice witchcraft at night in the secluded canyons of the park.
Lighting is very important for appreciating the formations in their full splendor – Ischigualasto is most spectacular at sunset when the last day’s light brings the fire-red cliffs behind “the mushroom” to brilliant life, while the red cliffs of Tamalpaya are best seen when the morning sun shines directly on them.
A large portion of this text was written by Traveler – Writer Craig Milroy.