Cuyo - “desert country” in the Indian language - is the region of the high peaks, the snow-covered volcanoes, and the large wilderness spreading from the Andes mountain range and foothills to the steppe.
The visit to Ischigualasto - Talampaya Natural Parks, is a true journey to the dinosaurs era. Ischigualasto, also known as “Valle de la Luna” (Moon Valley) because of the amazing diversity of forms and colors of its landscape shaped by erosion, is one of the world’s most important paleontologic sites. The Talampaya River Canyon reveals amazing multi-shaped layers in its high red walls.
Pink flamingos, Andean ducks, “vicuñas” and “guanacos” cohabit freely in parks and natural reserves, while condors fly over the area.
The region displays the full splendor of the Central Andean Range.
In the valleys of La Rioja, Mendoza and San Juan, among leaves of grapevines, farms and wineries, visitors can go along the Wine Road, an attraction of international renown.
High peaks (Aconcagua, Mercedario, Tupungato) and snow fields are ideal for mountain winter sports, while foothills are suitable for hang-gliding and paragliding. Canoeing and windsurfing can be practiced in reservoirs and lagoons, while rafting takes place in the Mendoza, Diamante, Atuel and San Juan rivers. In the Barreal El Leoncito plateau, an uncommon sport - known as "carrovelismo" – (windsurfing on tricycles with sails) is also practiced. Mendoza has important winter resorts (Penitentes, Vallecitos and especially, Las Leñas). La Rioja, Mendoza, and San Juan offer horseback rides to see guanacos and vicuñas.
The clear cold waters descending from the Andes Range and forming natural streams and lakes allow for the growth of rainbow and brown trout. You can also fish pejerrey and trout in the region’s rivers and reservoirs. Season: after seasonal ice break-up and thaw.
The 6,959 m (21,000 feet) high Aconcagua - “stone sentinel” in the Indian language – the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, towers over its surroundings. Its steep slopes are renown and respected by mountain climbers from all over there world, who undertake the challenge of reaching its difficult peak, as condors soar over their heads.
Mendoza is 95 Km (60 miles) away from Uspallata, which in turn is 80 Km (50 miles) away from Penitentes winter resort. Leaving Puente del Inca behind, we reach Paso de la Cumbre and the Cristo Redentor tunnel that links Argentina with Chile. The Southeast wall of the Aconcagua can be seen from this place.
Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)
If you spend the night in San Agustín del Valle Fértil in the Province of San Juan, you can visit Ischigualasto Provincial Park, also known as Valle de la Luna, where there was a lake millions of years ago, and today, plant, dinosaur and other animal fossils can be seen.
The North Region
Northern provinces feature traces of pre-Columbian cultures, mingled with ruins of natives’ villages, as well as forts and constructions dating back to the time of the Conquest and Colonization.
Time seems to stand still in the high plateau of the Puna, a land full of mountain ranges, steep mountain paths, and gorges. Villages have been built in the small valleys. Multi-colored and monochromatic hills covered with huge cactuses on the slopes surround the village.
This region offers landscapes full of contrast for tourists to enjoy, from the high peaks to the plains, the salt pans, and the subtropical rain forests.
Salta and the "Tren a las Nubes" (Railway to the Clouds)
Running down Cuesta del Obispo we reach Valley of Lerma dominated by Salta "la linda" (the pretty one), which is probably the town with the largest number of colonial remains in the whole country. Here is where the Train to the Clouds starts its journey up the mountains, which will end in San Antonio de los Cobres, 4,200 m. (12600 feet) above sea level and 163 Km (101 miles) away from Salta.
Quebrada de Humahuaca
Departing from San Salvador de Jujuy, we reach this natural road leading to the altiplano (high plateau). Vividly colored landscapes frame a group of villages with adobe houses, historical chapels and Pre-Hispanic ruins, where time seems to stand still.
One of the most beautiful villages is Purmamarca, an indigenous village lying against the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Seven-color Mount) which strata illustrates various geological ages. Further on, there is an area of mountains with bright-colored stripes, known as La Paleta del Pintor (The Artist's Pallet), in Maimará. One of the most outstanding attractions in this ravine is the Pucará de Tilcara, a fortified town built by the Omaguaca natives in pre-Columbian times. A monolith marks the Tropic of Capricorn, where each June 21st at midday the sun casts an exactly perpendicular shadow, and the celebration of the aborigines’ new year begins (Inti Raymi - Sun Festival). Humahuaca was founded by the Spanish by the end of the XVI century. Its church and Carnival Museum exhibit some of the region’s customs. Approximately 12 Km (7.5 miles) away, the mysterious ruins of what used to be terraces for growing Coctaca can be seen.
Quebrada de Humahuaca was declared World Cultural Landscape by the UNESCO in July 2nd 2003.
This immense extension of land including the provinces of Catamarca, Tucumán, and Salta offers a marvelous landscape, winding roads, and colored hillsides. In each of the small villages lying in the valleys, our ancestors seem to have left their traces engraved on the rocks.
Santa María, “Capital of the Calchaquíes Valleys”, was one of the main settlements of the millenary Yocavile Indian tribe, and many remains of this culture can be found today in this picturesque town.
Tucumán’s strikingly beautiful jungle is part of the valleys’ amazing landscape. Rivers, waterfalls, and rapids run through Tafi del Valle, located at 1,976 meters above sea level. This region was inhabited thousands of years ago, and its valleys are rich in archaeological remains. El Mollar, a summertime villa, is lined with lush, green valleys. Amaicha del Valle, surrounded by bright reddish hills, is typically known for its religious ceremonies.
In Cafayate, San Carlos, Angastaco, Molinos y Cachi, Spanish traditions and customs are still kept, specially in relation to art, architecture, as well as religious imagery.
Leaving Cafayate, surrounded by vineyards where the famous Torrontés white wine is produced, the highway leads to Quebrada de las Conchas. Not only the Valles Calchaquíes, but also Los Cardones National Park may be visited. The term “cardón” means giant cactus, and natives skillfully used this plant to build their houses.
Los Menhires Park and Ruins of Quilmes
10 Km (6 miles) away from Tafí del Valle, upright stones decorated by the Tafí Indians and the llamas and guanacos tell us that we are in the Abra del Infiernillo which leads to Amaicha del Valle, well-known for its Fiesta of the Pachamama.
On the way to Cafayate, the Ruins of Quilmes may be seen. This is a fortified citadel once built by the Quilmes Indians.
Regional cuisine is somewhat spicy but exquisite, with ingredients such as choclo or tender maize, ajíes (chilies), and charqui meat (beef, lamb, or pork), without fat and dried in the sun. When prepared with salt it is called tasajo.
Some of the typical meals are locro, tamales, empanadas (meat pies), chanfaina, quinua soup, and mazamorra, cayote and quesillo for dessert.
As far as drinks are concerned, the chicha (made of maize flour and water fermented in earthenware pots), the aloja (obtained from the fermentation of carob pods), and the excellent wines of Salta and the Torrontés white wine of Cafayate are worth mentioning.
The Argentinean Wine Route
Nowadays, Argentine wine is one of the magnets that attract foreign visitors the most.
Visiting Mendoza and San Juan's vineyards, where the grapes that are making Argentine wines famous are grown, is a real pleasure for curious tourists or fine wine lovers. By doing this circuit, travelers get to know small and big wineries and, guided by artisans and enologists, they can learn about the secrets of the varietals wine production. Some wineries accommodate tourists in old recycled big houses and farms where they can enjoy the best regional gastronomy and the good wines of the region.
Salta, in the north, is another wine epicenter, where the traditional Cafayate Torrontés (white and aromatic wine) is made, together with a wider red wine variety. The neighboring provinces of Catamarca and La Rioja have their wines -mostly white-, as well.
Patagonian wines from Neuquén and Río Negro are becoming famous for their character. Not only has the marked progression of investments improved the breed of local wines, but it has also brought a large amount of international prizes to the country, many of them for Malbec products, which, as experts say, "are not produced anywhere else better than in Argentina".
Read about the >Eight Argentinean Sites Declared as World's Natural and Cultural Heritage by UNESCO