This worldwide region, known for the high Andes and quality wines will become your home for two weeks. Hiding alongside valleys, plateaus, cliffs and on the mountains are small towns, fantastic accommodations, millenary rock formations and incredible little wineries. Not much else is needed in life than a good road trip, good music and good company… well, how about a glass of wine waiting for you at your final destination of the day?
What are you waiting for to book this, one of the best road trips in Argentina?
Our set itinerary is meant to give you a deep cultural immersion in a linear itinerary so you don’t drive twice thru the same town, road or even airport. Of course, picking up and dropping off a vehicle in different places has its value but at ASD we are true believers that overall the quality of the experience is the most important.
|DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION||Mendoza Airport / La Rioja Airport|
|DEPARTURE TIME||Please arrive at least 2 hours before the flight.|
|PRICING||Prices shown for a double room per person. If you are a group or need something different please consult.|
We arrive today at Mendoza City, an energetic, city set in the foothills of the Andes. We pick up our car at the airport and drive to our accommodation. The city center is a great area to visit, with large parks and monuments, markets, wine bars, small breweries and fancy restaurants. Although Mendoza is an old city (to South American standards), founded in 1561, much of its older architecture has been lost to earthquakes. Some of the most important buildings and the Plazas for which Mendoza is well known, are still standing and worth a visit.
The city is busy and vibrant, but with its own vibe, different from Buenos Aires, set on the mountains, with a stronger “country-side” bond. Besides getting oriented, we will use this day to gear up on anything we might need in the upcoming days, since Mendoza will be the only city big enough to get chargers, batteries, technical clothing or anything else. From here on, mountains and small towns await us. If the day is clear, the option of going up to Cerro de La Gloria gives us the opportunity to have a clear view of the whole Valley.
Today is a great day to visit some of the best wineries in the world, more than one hundred wineries are open to tourism. Each one has acquired its own personality and a unique style trying to develop the best wines as possible. Others, have added in site extra attractions for visitors, inviting local and international artists to expose all kind of art pieces. Into the wineries all kind of events take place as well. From art galleries to weddings, product’s presentations, wine fairs and business meetings. But the pearl of each day, are the thousands of wine tastings that tourists are able to take.
We leave the city of Mendoza, 70 km (43 mi) south to enter the Uco Valley, home to some of the top-notch wineries, but also a great place from where to do adventure activities like rafting, mountain-biking and paragliding. For hiking there are several alternatives like Huayquerías, Cajón del Arenales or Quebrada del Cóndor. Different hikes begin at “El Manzano Histórico” a landmark in the history of Argentinians with a huge monument worth visiting.
If you wish to head further and get up higher either just driving or a mix driving+hiking, Laguna del Diamante (200km each way) or the town of Tupungato are excellent places to do this.
Northwestern of the Uco Valley, about 150km is the town of Uspallata, our next destination. On the way, you will see to your right hand side great rafting place, zip wire and kayak at Potrerillos. Water sports may need reservations in advance. The Mendoza River, with its whitewater rapids, winds along the eastern edge of Potrerillos town and then runs into the huge, trout-filled Dam, which is ringed by trails. To the west of the road, towards the Andes, more trails await you, at the Cordón del Plata Park.
Uspallata is an oasis in a desolated desert valley of the High Andes. Shaded by poplar trees, the mountains surrounding the area resemble highland Central Asia, so much that it was used as the location for the epic film Seven Years in Tibet. At 2000 meters high, Uspallata is a great location off the beaten path were tourist would go by everyday on full day tours from Mendoza, but you will have a unique opportunity to stay overnight.
8km away is the Seven Colors Hill, 80km away from Inca Bridge and the Aconcagua (Highest Mountain after the Himalayas) National Park. At the Park or in its vicinities several trails can be performed, like Redeemer Statue trail (at the border with Chile) or the Laguna de Horcones, which is our favourite.
On the Lonely Planet guide you can read the statement, “Barreal: one of the most beautifully situated towns you’ll likely ever come across”, definitely a phrase that invites the visitor to get off the beaten path and find this small town at the foothills of the Andes.
A true oasis, on the high dry deserted valley, sheltered by the poplars, the willows and the murmuring waters in the irrigation ditches that come from the Los Patos River.
From Uspallata we will drive 120km north on unpaved yet well kept Road 149. Before arriving to this charming andean town we have two mandatory visits, but due to the proximity of them to Barreal (no more than 40km), according to weather you can visit them later on the day as well.
First, about 40km before Barreal there is Pampa del Leoncito or the Barreal Blanco a 12 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide plain, with a lunar aspect, where a lake dried out some several million years ago, that captivates with the immensity of the Andes Mountain Range in the background.
The characteristics of the terrain and the almost constant wind make it a unique place. Landyatching is the favorite sport in this place, reaching a speed of up to 120km/h by the force of the winds and the proximity to the ground.
During the night, the place is covered by a starry sky, perfect to engage in good conversation with friends. The location is perfect for stargazing, no wonder two observatories are located in the area.
30 km south of Barreal towards the east you will find the entrance to the El Leoncito National Park, where trails and high Andes plateau ecosystem await you. Also here is where there are two observatories. Night visitations are possible but require reservation.
Today we will get back road tripping one of Argentina’s less famous yet stunning regions. From Barreal we have 300km until our final destination: Huaco, where time and history seemed to have given visitors a chance to spy on life in later colonial Argentina with its adobe houses.
North of Barreal, a few kilometres after departure there is Cerro El Alcázar, a sierra, white, yellow and ochre, gullied in a mesas shape, evoking a fortress in ruins. Its a good photo opportunity. After that, 40 km in, Villa Calingasta is a small town where we recommend again taking an alternative route, Road 412 until reaching the end of the road, at the intersection with road 150 where we can have a good “stretch of the legs” moment at Rodeo.
Rodeo is world-famous, for windsurfing and kitesurfing on Dique Cuesta del Viento, a man made reservoir surrounded by spectacular scenery where Between mid-October and early May, wind speeds reach 120km/h nearly every afternoon, drawing surfers from around the globe. Even if you don’t take to the wind, it’s worth wandering around Rodeo and hanging out on the beach, maybe having a picnic lunch while absorbing the views and watching the insanity of airborne windsurfers.
Still have 90 km to go and as we come down the pre-andean mountains we will face incredible views as the sun sets on the Huaco Mountains with its strong red, brown and green shades. We recommend taking the shortest, less used road alternative, thru La Cienaga Reserve which gives stunning views of the canyon, plus climbs to a natural viewpoint at the end from where you can see as far as three different provinces.
As you drive thru San José de Jachal you will see graffiti and sings that refer to the controversial mining activity in the surrounding. From here on, most of the towns on these regions have gone either from accepting to completely blocking the mining activity and this subject will become part of your daily conversations with the locals.
Today we take a deep breath and go for a walk around Huaco, where the main landmarks ar a 200 year old mill and a 300 year old Algarrobo tree whose shade was witness to the meeting of two very important historical leaders of Argentina.
Adobe homes, easy going, slow life and small plantations of walnuts, almonds and quince.
Visiting a local farm or going on a walk on this millennial old mountains and take a river bath is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Huaco is a great location to go visit Ischigualasto National Park, 122 km away to the East. Visiting Ischigualasto means you will be setting foot on the same areas that dinosaurs steppped on 180 million years ago. The lunar-looking soil and the particular geoforms sculpted by water, sun and wind over the rocks over millions of years, make this a site from another world. Visiting it allows you to take a look at the evolution of the Earth.
The park can be self-driven, although with some restrictions like doing so in a “convoy” tour with a car-leader tour guide that speaks on the radio while you drive. Several stops on the way with more explanations, time for pictures and continue the main tour which covers 42km and is about 3 hours. Eventually also a visit to the museum where more information is provided and also you have the opportunity to have snack at a nice picnic area.
The common name to this park is “Moon Valley and the native name, Ischigualasto refers to a land without life, which represents the rough, antique yet fascinating landscape. Time and water have exposed a wealth of fossils, from the Triassic period kept in a unique stage for which this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The desert flora of algarrobo trees, shrubs and cacti complement the eerie land forms. The oldest dinosaur ever found, was found here! The Eoraptor of 230 million years old.
From the park 137km separate us from our destination for the next two nights, Villa Unión.
Villa Unión is a cozy small town strategically located to those that are driving across the Cuyo región near Ischigualasto and/or Talampaya Parks. Besides the obvious visit to Talampaya National Park, an incredible site which has the same age as some of the formation at Ischigualasto, although while at the first park there are six different geological ages present, here the erosion has left the oldest, the Early Triassic, represented by the pink to red sandstone high walls and cliffs.
Talampaya can not be self-driven, and must be visited in tours, which will take you on half day to full day excursions according to which tour you might choose. Tours are booked directly at Villa Unión or can be pre-arranged through our office as well.
Besides the Park in the vicinities of Villa Unión, other places stand out as worth visiting, like Cañón de Achumbil, Laguna Brava or Quebrada de la Troya.
As we leave Villa Unión towards Chilecito we get on the famous Route Number 40 across the mythical Cuesta de Miranda, a winding section of that crosses the Sierra de Famatina and the Sierra de Sañogasta mountain ranges, following the ancient Inca Trail (UNESCO World Heritage Site of Camino del Inca) where besides magnificent views, the original narrow cliff-hanging highway with sharp bends is still there to visit, while you drive on a new modern paved two way road that has replaced it.
On the way also other formations like Las Torres, El Chiflón or even the Quebrada de Miranda are great photo stops and after the Miranda Pass you will reach Chilecito (11okm from Villa Unión).
At Chilecito visits to the mining history of one of the highest cable car systems on the world can be very interesting and actually visit some of the first stations can be done by a vehicular unpaved road. 262 towers, 9 stations across 35km and with an altitude difference of 3500 meters is an impressive engineer work, considering it was built on the first decade of the XX century. As you climb to the second station you can also find the meeting of the rivers Amarillo and Azul that relate to the amount of minerals the mountain has on one side (ochre tones) and the glacier water coming straight from the peak (over 6000 meters), quite a picture!
After Chilecito, the town of Famatina is famous first for having a fantastic system of strong currents of raising wind that allows excellent conditions for paragliding that can be spotted on most afternoons. The second reason why Famatina is famous not only regionally but world-wide is because the town by demonstrations against mining expelled a canadian strong mining company away in 2015 with impressive non-violent demonstrations. The road block where this was held can be visited and learn more about their triumph.
We still have 145 km until reaching our final destination, Tinogasta a town known by the amount of adobe buildings still found today. Everything from old houses to countless churches and buildings has been made with the same material and the same technique for the past 350 years: adobe. Also visits to small olive plantations and wineries are available.
Today we get on the longest road tripping section of this, one of South America’s best road trip. We drive 350km from Tinogasta to reach Peñón, a town still unpopular, a hidden gem reserved for those willing to get off the main drag and adventure themselves o a true Argentina Self Drive road trip.
El Peñon is located at the high altitude plateau known as Puna, at 3400 meters above sea level, while the road is partially paved and partially unpaved, it is in very good shape and well kept.
This lost town in what seems the middle of nowhere serves as a perfect base to explore wonders like Laguna Grande where thousands of flamingos meet in spectacular surroundings, as well as towering dunes, the vaste Natural Reserve Pumice Stone Field (Campo de Piedra Pomez) or the Oasis of Antofalla.
Because of the isolated location of Peñón, electricity is limited and usually works by generator or solar panels for a limited time or specific uses. Same goes for the water.
From Peñón the visit to either Antofagasta Volcano or Laguna Carachi Pampa are great and birdwatching for Puna Wildlife is fantastic, but nothing compares to the insane landscape of the Natural Reserve of Pumice Stone Field, located 30km away from town. The road is not in great shape and for that is recommended to hire a tour 4×4, which can be arranged before hand or on site.
No wonder the South American version of Dakar went thru all of this region.
We are getting to the end of this, one of Argentina’s best Road trips and to get to La Rioja we will have 440km most of them paved but due to the length and sites we might find along the way (plus the unpaved section may take us a bit) we use all day to get to La Rioja, capital city of the province with the same name and from where our flight will departure the following day.
An excellent stop along the way, maybe for a lunch break is Belén, a place were ponchos are still handmade in workshops which can and are worth a visit. The skills of Belén’s textile artisans are on show everywhere, hence its recognition as the “National Home of the Poncho”.
Upon arrival at La Rioja, a good night rest in one of the most vibrant cities of the Central Andes and it’s completely off the traditional tours for which you can blend in and try the local food, wines at a really fair price.
If you arrive early enough, the botanical garden and the folkloric museum are two of the most recomended places to see.
From La Rioja we have daily flights to Buenos Aires that allow our travelers to connect with international flights or fly to other regions of Argentina. Also, La Rioja is south to Salta and Tucumán which are part of the “Northwestern Argentina circuit”, for which, continuing driving north is also possible and much worth for one, two or even three more weeks of self driving.
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