Things to do


Casa Natal Domingo Faustino Sarmiento San Juan Argentina

Casa Natal Domingo Faustino Sarmiento

A visit to the Natural Science Museum – Museo de Ciencias Naturales, is a must –Argentina has long been recognized by the scientific community as a paleontological gold mine with all kinds of never-before identified dinosaurs popping out of the ground from Patagonia upwards. The museum puts on a really good show. If you’re into history, one of Argentina’s founding fathers, the educator Domingo Faustino Sarmiento who established an educational system across the country and later became president, was born and brought up here. His home has been turned into a museum – Casa Natal de Domingo Sarmiento where you can pick up some interesting facts about the turbulent nation-building process in the 18th and 19th centuries. Also try the Museo Historico Sanmartiniano for more of the same and an insight into the deeds of General San Martín, one of Argentina’s most famous heroes.

Cavas de Zonda Chamagnera San Juan ArgentinaDon’t miss a visit to a vineyard for wine-tasting and the chance to learn more about the regional specialties. The most interesting ones are: Bodega Santiago Graffigna, one of the largest wineries, with its own museum about the family who dedicated generations to producing some of the best vintages in the province (Colón Norte Nº 1342 – Desamparados – (0264) 421 4227) and Champañera Cavas de Zonda, inside a labyrinth of caves beneath a mountain which keeps the temperature cool and stable at 16° all year round for the champagne-making process. Buy some at the shop – the prices are very reasonable.

You need to set aside a whole day for the excursion to the Valley of the Moon –it’s 330 km away and the roads are not great. Your best bet is to join an excursion which has to be reserved beforehand.

Difunta Correa San Juan ArgentinaTake sunblock, hat, sunglasses and plenty of water. The tour groups tend to leave at the crack of dawn and stop off on the way at the shrine of the Difunta Correa, one of the marvelous local hybrid legends which blends gaucho superstition with Catholic miracle working. Basically, the wife of one of the soldiers fighting in one of Argentina’s many civil wars in the 19th century set out to meet him with her new-born baby, but fell ill on the way and perished of thirst. A gaucho found the body and the baby still suckling at her breast, which was at once pronounced a miracle. Ever since then, people have brought votive offerings to her sanctuary in the shape of bottles filled with water to allay her thirst. It really is the mother of all shrines: a huge mountain of offerings, bottles of all shapes and sizes and signs which tell heart-breaking stories of despair. The souvenirs are something else too –think Lourdes. Local delicacies sold here include patay, very dry biscuits made from ground carob seeds (which taste like sawdust), and arrope syrup, also from the carob tree, which is extremely sweet.

On the way back from the Valley of the Moon, the tour will probably stop off at Valle Fertil for tea. If you have time, get out here and spend the night at the Hotel Valle Fertil which overlooks a large lake surrounded by steep mountains, known as the Sierra Pampeana. It’s a charming little mountain village with some great walks and horseback rides. You can also hire a jeep for some off-road trips into the mountains. It’s best to call the Hotel beforehand and organize horses or a jeep ahead of your arrival to make the most of it. Then next day, catch the next trip returning to San Juan from the Valley of the Moon.

The Calingasta Valley lies 180 km from San Juan City on the other side of a dizzying mountain pass in the foothills of the Andes. The tourist center, as such, is a peaceful little village called El Barreal, whose dusty earth roads are lined with silvery poplars. There is really only one place to stay –the Posada San Eduardo, which is extremely nice and has a swimming pool– and you can organize most of your trips and excursions from here as well. There is lots to do: caravelling, or speeding across a huge dry lake bed at 60km an hour on a low-slung kart with a sail in the national park of El Leoncito; horse-riding, off-road driving or hiking up into the mountains for stunning views of the scenery, and rafting and fishing in the icy torrents splashing down from the snowy peaks. In January, which is when the mountains passes are clear all the way over to Chile, you can join a group for a 14-day ride in the footsteps of General San Martín, who led his ambitious campaign on Chile from this point. There’s quite a lot about his battle strategy in the San Martín Museum back in San Juan City. For tour operators, contact Pablo Schlogl, Fortuna Viajes y Turismo, or Fuga.

If your horse riding and walking leave you feeling a bit the worse for wear, chill out –so to speak- at the sulfur hot water springs –los Baños de La Laja- just 30km from San Juan City, a taxi ride away. Your aches and pains will be eased, either in the main pool or a private bath tub, and there are also massages on offer, although the whole affair does have rather a unique smell to it. For a more up-market spa experience, get a bus to Termas Pismanta which is 180 km from the city and spend the night at the spa hotel there.

If you’re into water sports, close to San Juan, the Ullum reservoir offers opportunities for windsurfing and sailing and is just an hour’s drive through spectacular scenery from San Juan city. If you’re fed up with the city, stay at the Howard Johnson Bahia resort and enjoy the sunset over the water from the terrace.

La cuesta del viento San Juan Argentina

Thanks for this picture to them

For truly dedicated windsurfers, a visit to Cuesta del Viento (Windy Hill) is in order. This is a huge artificial lake in the northwest of the province, some 180 km from San Juan City. It looks a bit as if the Valley of the Moon had suddenly been flooded: red and brown peaks reflected in a vast expanse of turquoise blue. Until about lunchtime there isn’t a breath of wind and then suddenly these tremendous gusts lift up reaching 80km an hour, as the air currents change higher up and swirl down to blast into the valley through the funnel created by the mountains. Apparently it’s one of the best places in the world to windsurf. You can do this in a day trip northeast from San Juan City or stay in Rodeo or Jachal (or even in the Pismanta Hotel) which are nearby, small touristic centers where you can also go on rafting and fishing trips, visit the other small villages in the neighborhood and enjoy their traditions. For a more rustic alternative, stay at one of the beautiful working estancias, such as Finca El Martillo, Estancia Guañizuil, or Estancia Don Carmelo (which has its own private nature reserve) in this part of the province, where not only will they organize tours to the various places you may want to visit, but also invite you to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside.

For serious mountain climbers, there are two imposing peaks on offer: Mercedario and the better-known Aconcagua. Mercedario is the 3rd highest peak in the Andes and the highest in the province of San Juan. It’s becoming increasingly popular with international climbers looking for an alternative to Aconcagua’s ever-more crowded slopes.

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