Two extraordinary national parks in the Northeast of Argentina Talampaya and Ischigualasto are a must see for everybody visiting Argentina. While the former is dominated by a massive gorge created by centuries of erosion, the later is more flat but dotted with numerous funny rock formations. They both belong to the same geological formation, but are administratively divided into two provinces, Talampaya belonging to La Rioja, and Ischigualasto being part of San Juan. So this is where the problem starts. Both parks boasts some extraordinary landscapes, and are both worth visiting, but surfing the Internet didn’t clarify for me if they are really next to each other, and if they are both easy to visit together.
Both provincial capitals offer plenty of excursions. From San Juan there is even an excursion that includes both parks in a single day. I would not recommend it. It takes the whole day, starting as early as 5AM. We have to take into account that both San Juan and La Rioja capitals are some 3-4 hours from the parks, so perhaps the ideal starting point would be a place closer to them. It took me quite an effort to find that place and now I can certify it exists: San Agustín de Valle Fértil.
Located just an hour drive from the parks (45 min. from Ischigualasto and a bit over an hour from Talampaya) it belongs to San Juan province. There are three daily buses from San Juan, it takes about 4 hours. From La Rioja there is only one night bus so it’s less convenient, plus the journey is much longer.
So why would you pick Valle Fértil as your base for exploring the parks?
- It’s pretty close to both Talampaya and Ischigualasto.
- It’s small and its natural setting beautiful.
- There is no massive tourism here so it’s not uncommon to arrange private tours for a very decent price. For a cheaper version you get to share a car with no more than 10 people.
- It has a relatively developed tourist structure: decent hotels*, restaurants, supermarkets, travel and rental agents…
- There are plenty of other excursions near the town.
I strongly recommend taking one day to visit each park. Talampaya is privately managed and tours are a bit larger. The typical excursion includes an open double-decker bus where you enjoy views from the top, while getting down for short walks to explore the landscape on foot. I normally try to avoid all group tours, but this one wasn’t bad plus congrats to the management, the park is impeccably clean!
Ischugualasto or Valle de la Luna is state managed and offers a different kind of tour. Normally you have to arrive there by a private car. Be it your own or if you rented a car and driver, you follow the line of cars around the park. There can be up to a dozen cars in the line. Depending on the tour you stop in different spots and spend some time there. Again not entirely my kind of excursion (I prefer exploring the landscape in privacy), but it’s not overcrowded and it is pretty clean.
Talampaya National Park and Ischigualasto Provincial Park are one spectacular place divided into two for administrative reasons. But one should ignore that fact and pay a visit to both of them. In Argentina there are plenty of things to do. It is an enormous country, so you should not be in a rush. So once you are in the region I highly advise you to stay in Valle Fértil for a few days and do at least semi private tours. If you have a car it is a fantastic base. If you are like me, and don’t like driving, renting a car with a driver is not very expensive especially if you join a small group of friendly adventurers. And most of the people coming here are adventurers. Conformists prefer staying in La Rioja or San Juan, but I assure you there is not much to see there.