The adventure: rent a car and visit the famous Valle De La Luna (Moon Valley) inside Parque Nacional Ischigualasto, San Juan. We found a good deal at Classic Car Rentals, in San Juan, and secured a nice four door Chevrolet Corsa, and a contract that stated unlimited kilometers.
Valle de la Luna has tour departures every two hours, beginning at 9:00 am, and we wanted to attend the earliest tour in hopes of giving ourselves enough time to drive north to La Rioja and return to San Juan on Ruta 40, the main North-South route in Western Argentina.
After doing two laps on the cities motorway, we finally located the proper exit and headed east on Highway 141 shortly after 5:30 am. The highway was straight, flat and, as a result, very fast. We pushed the rental car well beyond the posted limits, enjoying the empty roads. After turning north onto Highway 510, the road became slow and windy and our speed dropped drastically but we still managed to arrive to the park for the 9:00 tour.
The tour requires that you drive your own vehicle and simply follow a designated guide who stops at the five main attractions of the park and offers a brief description and history, all in very fast spoken Spanish. The main attractions, in order of viewing are: Sleeping Indian, Painted Valley, The Cat, The Submarine and the Mushroom. Honestly, the tour seems to be a bit of a gimmick, but the desert landscapes rival those of Salta and Jujuy, and make the trip worth wild. The submarine is easily the most obvious and attractive formation but the large red cliffs that line the 18km exit route from the park seemed to be everyone’s favorite.
After exiting the park we headed north on highway 76 to Villa Union, a small town in La Rioja. we entered Ruta 40 and headed south on the completely deserted highway. Two hundred kilometers of questioning why nobody was using this highway later, we passed through the small town of Huaco, inside San Juan province, and the pavement ended. Although this would deter a less adventurous type tourist, we maintained our enthusiasm until we arrived at the first river crossing without a bridge!
While contemplating whether or not to attempt the river crossing, we realized that we did not have enough gasoline to turn back, the car would never make it back to Villa Union, and it may not even make it to San Juan. We took a deep breath and plunged the car ahead into the flowing river. Thankfully, it was not to deep and we successfully crossed it, and the following two river crossings, without incident. Our gas situation was worsening to the point that we coasted down hills and drove well below the speed limit, but, thankfully, we arrived at a YPF in San Juan just as the engine ran dry.
Valle de la Luna is recommended, Ruta 40 is not!