One of the first questions to take into account when visiting La Rioja is that mobility is needed. The distances are long, especially from the airport. To Villa Unión, both from the terminal of the provincial capital and from that of San Juan, there are about 300 km. Route. Of course, there are companies that offer transfers and excursions. If not, the option of getting a car upon arrival is optimal. In this case, instead of the traditional rental houses, the Toyota Kinto Share service was used, where the vehicle arrives directly from the local dealer with a Japanese brand guarantee and an 0800 for eventualities. The option of airport delivery and a Corolla Cross hybrid were chosen for an off road light and improve fuel consumption in sections at low speeds.
Villa Unión, also part of the Route 40 circuit, is about 60 kilometers from Talampaya. The ideal is to stay for about three nights. And the most balanced accommodation is the Don Remo hotel: it has a swimming pool, a large park, a restaurant and comfortable rooms. There are also two high-end options that cost almost double: the Pircas Negras or Cañón del Talampaya hotels. Or, down, more modest cabins.
Why three nights? A must, to go to Talampaya, perhaps one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. The huge red walls, full of rock art that show ancient civilizations with condors hovering overhead, can only be visited through excursions offered by the park management. The color is given by the Unimog type trucks to go through any surface and that allow you to go on the roof, outdoors, to enjoy one of the seven natural wonders of Argentina.
The traditional excursion includes four stops: Petroglyphs (the rock art stands out), Botanical Garden (an oasis of vegetation in the desert of the canyon, where you can also taste the incredible echo with coordinated shouts – it fascinates the little ones -), and two places where the shapes of the stones come to life: Gothic Cathedral (a Holy Family made from millenary erosion) and El Monje (an icon of provincial tourism). To this was recently added the plus of the Shimpa Canyon, a narrower path to do on foot, with lower walls but with fewer human footprints. Safety pin.
This site, which was declared a World Heritage Site, has other lesser-known attractions nearby: the Rainbow Canyon or Lost City, both guided by a local cooperative.
Upon returning from Talampaya, there is a space to go to the hotel pool, or take a nap. It is advisable to be well rested if the next day the tourist opts for the other top excursion: Laguna Brava. The Nature Reserve is located about 4,500 meters above sea level on the Andes Mountains and it is an excursion that lasts all day. Therefore, it is necessary to do it with one of the many authorized agencies in the area. To avoid being crowded, the route includes several intermediate stops, to get used to the height. Upon arrival, one of the most incredible postcards of the entire region emerges: a mountain lagoon, full of flamingos, which give contrast of colors to a visual dominated by the crystal clear waters and the peaks in the background, generally snowy.
The third day at Villa Unión is to have a calmer day and take short walks in the area. There are several options. The recommended ones: Vallecito Encantado, at the side of the route, with curious geoforms, the Anchumbil Canyon, or the Triassic Canyon.
On this occasion, the chosen one was the latter. It is a circuit to do in 4×4 and in less than three hours, since it is a few kilometers from Villa Unión, in the neighboring town of Banda Florida. “We needed to have short excursions in the area, for the free afternoons that were left for the groups that arrive at Villa Unión on closed tours,” explains Fabián Páez, one of the leading guides in the area and creator – along with other colleagues – of the Triassic circuit. Aboard a Nissan 4×4, Paéz acts like an off-road expert, taking a path between stones and gravel to experience an off-road adventure amid unforgettable landscapes.
About 110 kilometers from Villa Unión is Chilecito, the second city in the province. It is advisable to take a reasonable amount of time to cover the path. Not only because of the curves and counter curves of the route, but also because the section is one of the great postcards offered by Route 40. The Cuesta de Miranda appears there: being a high area, the valleys, mountains and the entire palette of colors offered by the area. There are viewpoints to stop and appreciate the landscape. In parallel there is also part of the old Inca Trail.
“There is a jump, in general people came to La Rioja between Easter and winter holidays. Now we see that this seasonality is breaking down, ”Matías Vaca, Chilecito’s Secretary of Tourism, told Ámbito.
The town has a greater hotel offer, in all categories. The recommendation: 60 km. is Chañarmuyo, one of the few wineries that has accommodation in the province. At the foot of the mountain, among vineyards, you can enjoy the calm of the place, a unique visual, first-class gastronomy and export wines.
The city can be explored in an express way in an afternoon or else take more days to go to the mountains and enter the nearby peaks, such as the Famatina, and live a mountain experience. In addition to a view of the Cristo del Portezuelo, which stands with its arms outstretched in the middle of the city, or a visit to the Cooperativa La Riojana (it produces some classic wine labels of the province, among other regional ones such as olive oils), the old mining cableway of more than one hundred years, whose structure is still intact. The La Mejicana mine, from the beginning of the 20th century, operated by a German firm, operated until the end of the 1920s. And the transfer system for metals (gold, silver and copper) from the Famatina, 4,400 m above the sea level, it was for a mega engineering feat. Today, the nine cableway stations can be visited. The base, in the middle of the city, has a museum. Stations 1 and 2, already on the rise, can be done by car. From the third, guided excursions are offered in 4×4 vehicles.