Mendoza – Santiago de Chile

Crossing the Andes Mendoza - Santiago de Chile

Mendoza – Santiago de Chile

Type: day trip Mendoza – Santiago de Chile. Departure 9:00 a.m. Arrival around 4:30 p.m.

Distance: approx. 360 km.

Places of interest: mountain landscapes, Aconcagua, Parque Nacional de Aconcagua, Estación Los Horcones, Puesto Fronterizo, Puente del Inca, rafting Rio Mendoza, Los Caracoles.

Spectacular day tour through the Andes

A spectacular drive is through the central Andes from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile. First, it goes from Mendoza with the rental car a few kilometers south along the highway. Then it is important not to miss the turn towards the Andes to the west. You drive along the foot of the Andes. Pass the Mendoza oil refinery on the right and admire the brown Rio Mendoza on the left. Then it gradually gets steeper. You wind your way in a 4 × 4 / 4×4 vehicle through wide gorges with short tunnels and often look at the old railway line. At some point you will pass the monument Puente del Inca. Unfortunately, the bridge to the thermal springs on the Puente is closed. That´s why you can only take pictures of the sinter terraces from a distance. Always postcard motif! We continue over the tree line up the bare debris of the Andes to the Bermejo Pass.

Now there is only one “Puesto Fronterizo” / border check point. At the Argentine-Chilean border post at 3,200 m, you have to plan about 30 – 60 minutes to complete all the formalities for crossing the border in a rental car.

Aconcagua National Park

Immediately afterwards you will be rewarded with a stop at the entrance to the Aconcagua National Park. You should definitely stop here and hike a few hundred meters along the path until you get an impeccable view of the snow-covered Aconcagua.

The Caracoles down to Chile

After screwing up the last few meters in a small passage, the steep switchbacks of the Caracoles suddenly appear. Carefully park the rental car here, with the handbrake on and take pictures of the caracoles from above. Then well buckled up and slowly rolling down with the engine brake. Then there is the international tunnel Cristo Retendor and later you can roll along the pretty, long country road to Los Andes. At some point behind Los Andes, we take the highway towards Santiago de Chile. There you are immersed in the traffic of the bustling metropolis. You should have chosen a hotel in the center beforehand and have a city map with you or a GPS / navigation device.

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Córdoba – Mar Chiquita

Mar Chiquito - Flamingos

Córdoba – Mar Chiquita

The drainless Laguna Mar Chiquita will transform into a salt lake over time. It is the largest lake in Argentina and the second largest in South America after Lake Titicaca in Bolivia / Peru. “The Little Sea” is a brackish water lake, and very shallow. That is why there are hardly any places that are deeper than 20 m.

Miramar is the main tourist town on the south bank of Mar Chiquita. The lagoon is a nature reserve. This is where many migratory birds stop off while hiking from Patagonia further north. In particular, you can watch colorful flamingos here.

The trip by rental car from Cordoba to Mar Chiquita goes through desolate flatlands. The country road is quite narrow, little traffic and has many potholes. The trip itself is not particularly exciting. But on a hot summer day you can go swimming in the Mar Chiquita. The particularly high salt content has a curative effect on many diseases. At lunchtime you should stop in one of the many parrillas in Miramar. Of course, the local fish from the Mar Chiquita is particularly recommended: Merluza and Pejerrey.

Type: day tour

Kilometers: approx. 193 km, 2.5 hours by car

Route: Ruta Nacional 10, Ruta Nacional 17

Attractions: fauna, flamingos, swamps, half-sunken hotel, beach, swimming, brackish water lagoon, eating Pejerrey and Merluza fish.

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Córdoba – Talampaya National Park – Valle de la Luna

Talampaya national park

Córdoba – Talampaya National Park + Valle de la Luna

Excursion to the Talampaya National Park (La Rioja) and Valle de la Luna (San Juan) national parks.

Type: 2-4 day tour.

Distance: Córdoba – Talampaya: approx. 500 km

Córdoba departure: 9 a.m. Arrival at Villa Unión: around 5 p.m.

Drive through the Sierras de Córdoba

From Córdoba it goes towards Carlos Paz. The best way to do this is via La Calera, so that you drive over the beautiful water reservoir and avoid the touristic city of Carlos Paz. Then along Lago Carlos Paz along the beautiful Punilla valley of the Sierras de Córdoba. Here one tourist village follows the next. You come through Cosquin, where the national folklore festival is held in January. Then it goes through La Falda and La Cumbre. From La Cumbre you could make a detour to Cuchi Corral to the paragliding ramp. Every village invites you to linger. You can also go swimming in the rivers in summer. The Dakar Rally also grazed this area in January in the past. Behind Capilla del Monte, the mountains gradually flatten and the landscape becomes drier. Finally, the end of the Sierras has been reached in Cruz del Eje. From now on, the Ruta 38 is mostly straight ahead. You drive through dry, poorer towns like Serrezuela. Less than 20 km later you will reach the border with the province of La Rioja. The semi-desert begins and you have to cross the straight, lonely savanna slope for hundreds of kilometers. You should pay attention to the fuel level, because you can only stop at Chamical or Patquia. In Patquia you are spoiled for choice of the onward journey, depending on the time and the project.

Via Ruta 40 to Villa Unión

Either you drive the Ruta 74 to Nonogasta on the same day and then the spectacular Ruta 40 through a wild massif on gravel to Villa Unión. You should plan a good 3 hours for the 93 km from Nonogasta to Villa Unión, as photo stops are extremely worthwhile here. In Villa Unión you look for a hotel for the night (recommendation: Hotel Las Pircas Negras, definitely use the pool!). Then you can go to both national parks relaxed the next day. In the morning only Talampaya and then Valle de la Luna.

Via Patquia directly to the Ischigualasto National Park

Or you turn in Patquia onto Ruta 150, which then changes into Ruta 76 and make the same day the Ischigualasto National Park (Valle de la Luna) and Talampaya. Usually this is not possible. You cannot drive into the national parks with the rental vehicle. Rather, you have to book a guided tour with national park vehicles on site. These last 2-3 hours and start several times a day. The costs are around 25 euros per national park. There are no accommodations nearby, so you should stay in Villa Unión. Villa Unión is still an hour’s drive from Talampaya and it is always good to arrive at your accommodation by daylight.

In any case, don’t miss the 93 km route of Ruta 40 from Villa Unión to Chilecito the next day. Approximately schedule 3 hours with photo stops. If you have more time, Chilecite invites you with its beautiful surroundings and the wineries to stay before you return to Córdoba or continue in another direction.

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Córdoba – Traslasierra – Mina Clavero

Mina Clavero in Traslasierras

Córdoba – Traslasierra – Mina Clavero

Type: day tour or with an overnight stay.

Distance: approx. 200 km from Córdoba. Travel time: at least 2.5 hours

Places of interest: Observatorio Bosque Alegre, Pampa de Achala, Parque Provincial Los Condoritos, Mina Clavero, Nono, San Javier, Dique La Viña.

Nice day tour to Traslasierra

A very nice day tour with a rental car or to continue your journey to Mendoza leads over the high plateau Pampa de Achala (2,000 m) to the west side (Traslasierras) of the Sierras de Córdoba. In the morning you rent a car and then take the number 38 motorway from Córdoba to Carlos Paz. Before Carlos Paz you turn off at the junction to Falda del Carmen / Alta Gracia. The C45 goes over a lovely, open landscape to the Rotonda in Falda del Carmen. First you screw the E96 up to the observatory Bosque Alegre. Be sure to drive right up to the observatory and do not leave the rental vehicle at the entrance gate! The planetarium can be visited between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Admission with a guided tour costs around 1.50 – 2.00 euros. The tour of the observatory takes about half an hour.

Through the Pampa de Achala

Then it goes downhill again before you screw up the next switchbacks on the plateau of the “Pampa de Achala” to over 2,000 m. This drinking water protection area (Reserva Hídrica) is characterized by the round, large granite chunks (so-called wool bag weathering). You can stop at the Parador “El Condorito”, the entrance to the national park of the same name. Here you should not leave the rental car unattended, as you have to walk about 2.5 km to the gorge. You can have lunch a few kilometers further at “La Posta”. At some point you get a clear view of Traslasierras on the right side. Then it goes down steeply until the Ruta 20 at the junction Mina Clavero (to the right) or Nono (to the left).

Mina Clavero and Nono

Mina Clavero is a well-known holiday resort and full in summer when many locals relax and go swimming along the rivers. If you drive left towards Nono, you come through a garden of Eden. A very beautiful landscape with small tourist towns such as Las Rabonas, Villa de las Rosas, San Javier, Yacanto to Merlo (San Luis). Our tip: stop for lunch in La Viña at Dique La Viña for a fish meal in the restaurant “El Murallón”. Here you sit on a terrace directly at the reservoir with a beautiful view of the calm water.

Traslassierras is ideally accessible by rental car. A bus can take you to Mina Clavero, but then you can’t make photo stops and you can’t stop where you want. Simply rent a car in Córdoba and drive through the Sierras.

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Córdoba – Alta Gracia

Estancia Jesuitica de Alta Gracia

Córdoba – Alta Gracia

Type: Afternoon excursion to Alta Gracia.

Distance: approx. 35 km, half an hour by car.

Places of interest: Estancia Jesuítica, Che Guevara Museum, casino.

Alta Gracia can either be done as a leisurely coffee ride in the afternoon with a rental car. Or as a stopover for the onward journey to Villa General Belgrano. Thanks to the new highway, this small town of Alta Gracia can be reached quickly from Córdoba. To do this, simply drive Velez Sarsfield in Córdoba city out of town until it branches off into Ruta 5. The toll station then comes outside the city and then the new highway begins.

One could stop briefly at the obelisk, the marking of the southern tropic. In Alta Gracia, just turn into the center at the roundabout (Rotonda), through the brick city gate. It is best to drive to the plaza, where you can leave your rental car. You can walk around the plaza and through the small park up to the Estancia Jesuítica. This Estancia can be visited at any time, the entry fee is low.

Home of Che Guevara

The famous Museo de Che Guevara, on the other hand, is a little poorly signposted. Che Guevara lived in Alta Gracia during his student days. The entrance fee for this small museum is disproportionately high, but just have a look inside. Among other things, the legendary motorcycle Che Guevaras is exhibited. The motor cycle has become famous through the cinema success “Motocycle Diaries”.

Then you can still walk through the peaceful town. Drink a coffee, eat an ice cream or visit the casino.

In the Argentine summer, the so-called Fiesta de los Colectividades or Encuentro de Colectividades takes place every year in Alta Gracia. Then there are food trucks with specialties from many immigrant countries. Artists of different nationalities also appear.

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Córdoba – Villa General Belgrano

Villa General Belgrano

Córdoba – Villa General Belgrano

Type: day trip from Córdoba to Villa General Belgrano

Distance: approx. 80 km. 2 hours drive.

Places of interest: Valle de Calamuchita, Dique Los Molinos, Villa General Belgrano, La Cumbrecita.

The “German alpine village” Villa General Belgrano (VGB), inhabited by descendants of the seamen of the Graf Spee armored ship sunk in World War II. Many German, Swiss and Italian immigrants have settled here. Due to its “alpine” character, Villa General Belgrano has blossomed into a popular tourist town. The Oktoberfest or “Beer Festival” is known throughout Argentina and is marketed accordingly due to its German origin. The environment is very nice. You can enjoy hearty German cuisine or a mountain trout in one of the many German-named restaurants.

The Oktoberfest is every year very popular and crowed. To find a parkting lot free of charge is a challange. The so called “Naranjitas” also celebrate their high season waiting for the tourist to charge desproportional parking fees…

How to get to VGB?

You can easily get to VGB from Cordoba by a rented car. The easiest way to do this is to drive the Autopista to Alta Gracia. And from there continue the winding road No. 5 through the Calamuchita valley. At the highest point you have a beautiful view of the Dique de los Molinos reservoir with its houseboats. The streets are lined with booths selling handicrafts, local culinary delights and homemade bread (pan casero).

In other words, a great day trip with a rental car. If you still have some time, you should also visit the alpine village of La Cumbrecita at an altitude of 1,450 m. The alpine-style mountain huts and the spruce forests really make you feel in the Alps. You have to leave the car at the entrance to the village. You can then walk the nice town. A long stony through the woods end at a waterfall. At summer time you can take a refreshing bath.

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Laguna Brava – La Rioja

Laguna Brava in La Rioja

Laguna Brava – La Rioja

Type: Day tour from Villa Unión / La Rioja. Departure 9:00 a.m. Arrival around 3 p.m.

Distance: 450 km west of the provincial capital, La Rioja. It is only 69 km from Villa Unión on the lonely, well-paved country road RP26 via Villa Castelli to San José de Vinchina.

Only to be used in the Argentine spring and summer. In winter the lagoon is covered with snow and therefore difficult to reach (only with 4 × 4 and snow chains). Be sure to have a wind-weather jacket and sweater with you. In summer, 4 × 4 is not absolutely necessary, but enough ground clearance and horsepower are still advantageous. Also ideal for a 4WD rental car such as a Toyota Hilux.

Attractions: mountain landscapes, at an altitude of 4,300 m, the Laguna Brava, flamingos, plane wreck, fossils.

More info:

The Reserva de Laguna Brava is located in the extreme northwest of the province of La Rioja. It consists of a unique ecosystem of brackish and salt water lagoons at high altitudes of the Precordillera between 2,500 – 4,500 m above sea level.

Here you can observe high andean flamingos, condors, eagles, water birds as well as guanacos and vicuñas (llama species).

From Vinchina to Laguna Brava

The tour to Laguna Brava begins in the village of Vinchina, about 330 km from La Rioja.

Here you stop at a kind of tourist information, the Cooperativa de Guias Turísticos de Vinchina. You have to hire a guide there. The mountain guide then rides in one of the tourist vehicles. Small columns are assembled from a few vehicles. In between you get out with the guide. This explains the area, plants, animals and geology and answers all questions. These short stops are also used for acclimatization to the heights. The guide also has oxygen for emergencies.

The only village street in Vinchina leads to the bridge over the Bermejo River. From here it is only about gravel slopes up to the La Troya gorge (Quebrada de La Troya).

Last stop in Alto Jague

A short stop in the last hamlet of Alto Jague before screwing yourself up into the Cordilleras. The path leads to the Quebrada Santo Domingo along shallow hills of blue, green, violet and brown color, caused by the minerals found here. Whole herds of guanacos and vicuñas can be observed on the slopes, grazing peacefully in the mountain idyll.

The next gorge is the Quebrada de Piñon. Strange, round shelters appear on the roadside. Around 1864 – 1873 these served as emergency shelters for cattle herders who used this route to Chile.

Then it goes up over 4,000 m to the wide, gravelly main path that leads to the Laguna Brava. The laguna is located in a wide valley, lined with ridges of the el Veladero, el Bonete Chico y el Pissis – the second highest peak in America with 6,882 m above sea level. From a distance you can see the remains of a propeller plane from the 1950s that has landed here. The lagoon itself is home to a number of Andean flamingos. Mostly a cool or icy wind blows and you can only move slowly due to the height.

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