1050 km (652 miles) west of Buenos Aires and 824 meters (2703 feet) above sea level, Mendoza honors its lemma: “Land of sunshine and fine wines”. The city, founded in 1561, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1861 and rebuilt by the Frenchman Ballofet, who though out an architecture mainly of one story houses in an attempt to prevent the possible consequences of future quakes. The commercial area is concentrated on San Martin and Las Heras avenues. You cannot miss the San Martin Park (400 hectares) and the view from Mt. Gloria. If you are captivated by the native species of the rivers which cross the Andes, the municipal aquarium will result in a richening experience. The Mendoza province produces around 75% of Argentine wine; the province was recently selected by the GWC (Great Wine Capitals Global Network) as one of the main wine production regions on Earth.
Travel guide & tours in Cuyo
Information about Cuyo, by our local travel agency.
SAN JUAN - PROVINCE AND CITY
Located at the foot of the Cordillera, 650 meters (2133 feet) above sea level and 166 km (103 miles) north of Mendoza, the city of San Juan is an important agricultural center, mainly focused on wine production. Westwards, you’ll find the Ullum Dam, the Zonda Quebrada and the Rivadavia Wildlife Park; further on, the main Cordillera with sites like El Leoncito National Park and the San Guillermo Biosphere Preserve. Eastwards, on the oriental slopes of the Pampa Mountains, you’ll find the Fertile Valley, where the Valley of the Moon is located (within the Ischigualasto Provincial Park), 330 km (205 miles) from the capital city. The city of San Juan was totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1944.
LA RIOJA - PROVINCE AND CITY
Located 498 meters (1634 feet) above sea level, the city of La Rioja is mainly an agricultural production center, sustained on the cultivation of vine, nuts and olives, as well as cotton. Westwards, you’ll find the Cordillera of the Andes, which’s most important peaks are the Bonete Chico Volcano (6759 meters – 22175 feet) and the Veladero (6536 meters – 21444 feet). Eastwards, other minor mountain ridges, such as Famatina (6097 meters – 20003 feet) are to be found. The town of Villa Union will give you access to Talampaya National Park and the Laguna Brava Provincial Preserve. And how can we forget Chilecito, a mandatory stop in the wine route? Even with tourism development in its early stages, this traveler-stimulating province sown with natural beauty has a great future to come.
LA MEXICANA CABLEWAY
Witness of the rise of the Chilecito and Famatina mining regions (La Rioja), this cableway of English architecture, avant-garde for the time, functioned from 1904 to 1929. It enabled the optimization of labor in gold, silver, iron, copper and lead mines, replacing the use of mules for transport. It covers 9 stations along 34 km (21.1 miles) and up to 4600 meters (15092 feet). The last station can be reached through an antique mining path, only by 4×4.
CUESTA DE MIRANDA
In the center of La Rioja province, on the route which unites Villa Union with Chilecito, 2020 meters (6627 feet) above sea level, an incredible 10 km (6.2 miles) path borders a cliff flanked by deep valleys dyed with intense reds. A superb contrast between the green of the forest-sown mountains, the blue of the sky and the scarlet red of the rocks.
Talampaya (La Rioja) is a protected area of 215000 hectares, with sedimentary reddish rocks which represent one of the most interesting capitals of the evolution of vertebrates: the Triassic period (245 to 208 million years ago). Its surprising geological formations molded by the scarce rains and wind carry eloquent names: the Monk, the Cathedral, the Needles, the Magician King, the Chessboard, the Manger, the Chimney… The Talampaya Canyon extends along 12 km (7.5 miles) with its 160 meter (525 feet) walls. Talampaya stands out for the richness of its fossils, its cave art and archeological vestiges of pre-Columbian cultures (animal and geometric shapes engravings), which date back to 2500 years ago.
The Ischigualasto Provincial Park in San Juan extends over 63000 hectares, at an average altitude of 1200 meters (3937 feet). It is known as the Valley of the Moon due to the absence of vegetation, its characteristic relief and the grey colors of its soils. It also houses strange mineral silhouettes which date back to 180 to 230 million years ago: the Parrot, the Painted Valley, the Mushroom, Aladdin’s Lamp… Ischigualasto is the only place in the world where you may observe, with differentiated perfection and evidence (dinosaur and plants fossils), all the stages of the Triassic period (245 to 208 million years ago). As Talampaya, Ischigualasto was declared Natural World Heritage by UNESCO in 2000.
LAGUNA BRAVA – PROVINCIAL RESERVE
This provincial reserve in La Rioja protects flora and fauna within 4050 square km (2517 square miles) at an altitude ranging from 2500 to 4500 meters (8202 to 14764 feet). The route to Laguna Brava is magical not only for the curious pyramidal shapes of Quebrada de la Troya, but also for the multicolored palette displayed by the Quebrada del Peñon. 4350 meters (14272 feet) above sea level, a luminous lagoon landscape opens up before our eyes, a great mirror of water of 20 km (12.4 miles) long, with pink flamingos and the Bonete Chico and Veladero Volcanoes in the distance. Near the refuge lay the remains of “El Destapado”, a Chilean who froze to death in 1964 and is still wearing his shoes. On the west margin of the lagoon, you will find the fuselage of a plane which performed an emergency landing in this area in 1963 (from Villa Union: 400 km – 249 miles roundtrip).
QUEBRADA DE LA TROYA
The Quebrada de la Troya in La Rioja is an authentic mountain labyrinth. To get there by car there is only a 7 km (4.3 miles) dirt road which progressively penetrates the deepest part of the impressive mountains, which’s slopes are full of huge clay rocks. The more we approach the peaks, the greater is the contrast of the colors between the sky and the mountains. At a turn in the road you will see a curious and perfect rocky pyramid, shaped by the wind and rain.
QUEBRADA DEL PEÑON
South of La Rioja province is the Quebrada del Peñon. Ten kms (6.2 miles) must be covered to reach the most surprising observation point of the cliff, 2020 meters (6627 feet) above sea level. This road is very pleasant with its zigzags across deep valleys of Alamos, Willows and pecan trees, as well as the river. It is a surprising sight painted by a true palette of colors, among the surrounding vegetation and the intense red of clay and rocks.
CORONA DEL INCA CRATER
Corona del Inca (La Rioja) is a volcanic crater of 5 km (3.1 miles) diameter, which houses the most elevated lake in the world, at 5400 meters (17717 feet). It’s surrounded by several interesting peaks: Pissis (6882 meters – 22579 feet), Veladero and Bonete. We recommend you visit it from November to April.
CUESTA DEL VIENTO - DIQUE Y EMBALSE
This great lake of the north of the San Juan province was created by man. Intense winds blowing north ridge its surface: ideal for windsurf and kite-surf lovers. An impressive site, crossed by route 150 which extends from Rodeo to San Jose of Jachal, in direction to Villa Union.
EL LEONCITO – NATIONAL PARK
Twenty kms (12.4 miles) from Barreal, in the San Juan province, you’ll find a 10 km (6.2 miles) long natural sand path, 1 km (0.62 miles) wide, from where the view of the Andes leaves us breathless. A few miles away and 2552 meters (8373 feet) above sea level, stands El Leoncito Astronomical Observatory, the most important in Argentina, open to the public, with its 215 cm (84.6 inches) diameter telescope. The CASLEO is surrounded by a nature reserve extending over 76000 hectares.
PUENTE DEL INCA
175 km (109 miles) from Mendoza and 2720 meters (8924 feet) above sea level, on route 7, this curious semi-natural rocky structure is to be found. Puente del Inca was created by the erosion of warm waters with high sulfur content. In pre-Columbine times it served as a bridge for crossing the Mendoza River. We say it’s semi-natural since the Incas, who clearly understood the sedimentary effect of the water course, detoured it to consolidate this arch. The 35°C (95°F) thermal water sources have healing properties, especially in infectious skin diseases. The ruins which can be seen by the bridge are those of a thermal center destroyed by an avalanche.
ACONCAGUA – PROVINCIAL PARK
Route 7 unites Mendoza with Santiago de Chile and passes by the end of Aconcagua Park, where the highest peak outside of Asia, Mt. Aconcagua (6959 meters – 22831 feet), is to be found. Established in 1990, this park covers 71000 hectares. The trekking and ascension season extends from November 15 to March 15. The scarce rainfall and violence of the winds (up to 250 km/hour – 155 miles/hour), explain the minimum presence of eternal snows at its peak. The first successful ascension, via the northern slope, was achieved by Matthias Zurbriggen from Switzerland, who reached the top on his own on January 14, 1897. Through the much more difficult southern sector, the same feat was achieved in 1953 by a team of young Frenchmen formed among other by the famous Robert Paragot and Lucien Bérardini. From a strictly technical point of view, the Aconcagua is a relatively easy to climb mountain if approached from the north, through the normal route, although the effects caused by altitude are important (the atmospheric pressure on the peak doesn’t reach more than 40% of the value at sea level). To reach the top through this route, we recommend planning 9 days for the circuit.
After passing the Puente del Inca, the road continues to Las Cuevas, the border post with Chile, located at 3100 meters (10170 feet). The Cristo Redentor path leads to the bronze statue, 7 meters high (23 feet) and weighing 4 tons, at 4200 meters (13780 feet) above sea level, offering testimony since 1904 of the first crossing of the Army of the Andes under the command of General Las Heras.
CRISTO REDENTOR TUNNEL
Built at 3175 meters (10417 feet) above sea level, with a length of over 3 km (almost 2 miles), this tunnel unites Argentina and Chile and was opened to traffic in 1960; it’s located not far from a similar tunnel, built at the turn of the XX century, for the pass of the trans-mountain train. Due to the weather conditions at these altitudes, transiting the tunnel is quite difficult during winter. In order to end this weather impediment, two projects for tunnels located at lesser altitudes have been launched. One of them is the John Paul II Tunnel, which would be built at 2250 to 2720 meters (7382 to 8924 feet) above sea level, measuring 20 km (12.4 miles) long. The other project, known as Las Leñas Pass, would be located 2 km (1.2 miles) away and would have an extension of 13 km (8 miles). This seems to be the best option, since its shorter extension would significantly reduce the perforation costs.
LAGUNA DIAMANTE – PROVINCIAL RESERVE
The Laguna Diamante is located in the San Carlos Department, Mendoza, a few miles from the border with Chile. This lagoon feeds the Diamond River, important affluence of the Desaguadero River. The Diamond Lagoon (3250 meters – 10663 feet) would owe its name to the rhomboid design of the Maipo Volcano (5323 meters – 17464 feet), which is reflected in its waters. It’s surrounded by numerous volcanic remains or slag, which gives the landscape an unmatchable originality. It has a depth which reaches 70 meters (230 feet), a length surpassing 7 km (4.3 miles) and an average width of 3 km (1.9 miles)…
HENRI GUILLAUMET’S ADVENTURE
It was in the surrounding areas of the Maipo Volcano, on the shores of the Diamond Lagoon, where the French pilot Henri Guillaumet crashed his plane on June 1930, which forced him to spend a week in these lands surviving nature and loneliness, until he was rescued by a 14 year old boy. Antoine de Saint Exupéry tells the adventure of Guillaumet in his well know book: Land of Man.
CAÑON DEL RÍO ATUEL
Twenty km (12.4 miles) from San Rafael, the main urban center of southern Mendoza, the basin of the Atuel begins its circuit near the Valle Grande Dam and ascends to the Nihuil Dam. There is a route which borders the canyon, in an impressive 100 km (62 miles) long circuit. The Atuel River is born south of the Diamond River.
LA PAYUNIA (PAYUN OR PAYEN) – PROVINCIAL RESERVE
A protected area located south of the Mendoza Province, in the Malargue Department. Along 450000 hectares, La Payunia constitutes one of the most important volcanic reserves on the planet, with over 800 cones (10.6 volcanoes every 100 square km – 62 square miles) different among themselves due to their size, shape, age and structure. The most important is the Payun Matru Volcano. The great lava extensions and the color diversity, in the framework of an almost lunar landscape, constitute its main attractions. The autochthonous wildlife is characterized by the presence of a great number of guanacos (11000). La Payunia is an area of strange beauty which gives us the sensation of witnessing the origins of our planet.
Open since 1983, this ski center of international recognition is located south of Mendoza and is the most important center in Argentina. It receives people from all over the world who tour the tracks during the day and enjoy diverse nocturnal activities. Even though it’s true that groups with high budgets visit the center, this does not impede people on more modest budgets to enjoy its powdered snow, thanks to a dry microclimate which does not impede the presence of a more than generous amount of snow. For those who prefer the mountain in summer, this ski center offers an ample gamma of activities ranging from a simple trek to horseback riding, or mountain biking!
LAGUNA DE LA NIÑA ENCANTADA
Seven km (4.3 miles) from Los Molles, a small lagoon in an impressive environment: a powerful subterranean water source arises from a lava basin of several miles long and about 50 meters (164 feet) thick.
EL POZO DE LAS ANIMAS
Located in the midst of the mountains, 6 km (3.7 miles) from Los Molles, El Pozo de las Ánimas (Well of souls) regroups two circular cavities of opaline water. The well’s widest diameter is 200 meters (656 feet). The water is 80 meters (262 feet) below, with a depth of around 21 meters (69 feet).
Ninety-five km (58 miles) from Malargue, west of Los Molles, you’ll find this magnificent herding valley. It houses a charming lagoon and numerous streams ideal for fishing; the valley can be accessed by 4X4.