Both La Rioja and San Juan are located in the Cordillera de los Andes area in Argentina. They are not as popular destinations as others in Argentina, but they have incredible landscapes that can leave anyone speechless. There, people are very friendly and as a consequence of not being a highly exploited touristic destination, you can still enjoy the customs and local dishes without being a big show off for tourists, instead keeping it as real and authentic as it is.
As my idea was mainly to visit the Valley of the Moon (San Juan, near the border with La Rioja) and the National Park Talampaya, I chose to spend a couple of days in Villa Union. It is a village with a few hotels and some cabins for rent, which allows you to stay in both national parks (Ischigualasto and Talampaya) in a short time.
La Rioja in NW Argentina
National Parks Ischigualasto and Talampaya
The whole roadtrip took me a week from Buenos Aires to La Rioja, Villa Union, stopping in villages along the way to shorten the drive, spending one night in Cordoba and other towns.
Buenos Aires-Córdoba, Route 40
Lali grilling barbecue
The 3 must do in this area.
1 – Talampaya National Park. It is located in La Rioja Province near the border with San Juan Province and can be visited in different ways. One of them, the most traditional one, is by bus, that tour lasts approximately 3 hours and includes a snack.
This tour is very nice. After the first stop, the seats on the are raised and, if you want, you can travel upstairs to appreciate the majestic landscape.
Another option, I could not do because the day I went there were no guides available, is to rent bikes with a guide and partially visit the area by bike and then hiking. For this ride, it is recommended to be in the park at 8:30 am since it lasts several hours.
Additionally, for the more adventurous, the park has a camp site with excellent facilities, allowing you to spend the night in the national park and appreciate the incredible night sky. It is highly recommended to spend the night there.
2 – Ischigualasto National Park (Valley of the Moon). This park is located in San Juan, near the border with La Rioja. One of the options is riding your own car (you follow a guide showing the way) and is very recommendable. My guide was a knowledgeable person who explained took the time to explain everything we came across.
This ride can also be done at night, only on full moon nights, in which the moon illuminates the road and practically no additional lighting is required.
Another activity inside the park is hiking in Cerro Morado. It is a 6 km route in 400 m elevation, from the base. It is considered of intermediate difficulty. You have to be somewhat fit. From the top you can see condors soaring very close.
3 – Laguna Brava Reservation. This is a full-day tour, you will be picked up in a pre-agreed point in Villa Union at 8:30 am (can be the hotel or where you arrange with the agency). From there you will go to Laguna Brava Reserve, which is located north of Villa Unión in the province of La Rioja and is at an altitude of more than 4000 masl. The lagoon has a surface of approximately 17 km long by 4 km wide. Not only the reserve itself is amazing, but the road, where stops to take photos and to acclimate to the height has unique landscapes. In Laguna Brava you can see flamingos. The tour can be done with your own car (it is mandatory to hire a guide to do it, in Vinchina, last town before arriving at Brava Lagoon), or with hire a guide that takes you in a 4-WD. If you are not comfortable driving in winding roads, hire the tour with a 4-WD, so you can relax and enjoy the views.
Road to Laguna Brava.
In addition to these beautiful landscapes, on the way, there are 13 circular stone shelters made out of a mixture of soil and lime, some of which were built during the presidency of Sarmiento, with the purpose of housing the muleteers who brought cattle to Chile.
As you can see, they are shaped like a snail in order to provide shelter from high winds. Inside, it is just a modest room.
When I arrived at Laguna Brava, I could observe from afar the remains of a plane that fell while transporting horses from Peru to Chile in the 50’s.
1. On all tours, carry lots of liquid, sunscreen and several layers of clothing, since it can be cool in the shade, and very hot under the sun.
2. Carry cash, as many tours, Parks and lodging do not accept credit cards.
3. The day you go to Laguna Brava, it is advisable to rest well and eat light to reduce altitude sickness.
4. It is an area where women can travel alone without any inconveniences.
Visa and vaccines
1. Most European and Latin American countries do not require a visa for more details: Http://www.migraciones.gov.ar/accesible/indexP.php?visas
2. Some countries such as US, Canada and Australia require a reciprocity rate to be paid to enter Argentina.
3. To visit this region, no particular vaccine is mandatory. For vaccination recommendations see https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list/
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