Argentina is incredibly diverse and beautiful. The country is blessed with unbelievable nature, including Aconcagua Mountain, Perito Moreno Glacier, and Iguazu Falls. Buenos Aires needs no introduction. What a cool city! Today we are here to talk about Sierra de las Quijadas National Park. The huge desert of impressive cliffs and strange shapes is in the Sierra de las Quijadas range, San Luis Province, Central west Argentina. The place is as superb as its famous cousins Talampaya and Ischigualasto. However, and to our delight, fewer people visit it. Getting there is a comfortable adventure!
- 1 San Luis Province
- 2 3 Day Itinerary
- 3 How to Visit the National Park
- 4 Tips for Visiting Sierra de las Quijadas
- 5 Other Practical Tips
San Luis Province
We took a night bus from Buenos Aires to San Luis and slept almost all the way. Yes, Argentinean buses are that comfortable! The first day we went directly to the Potrero de Los Funes Reservoir to recharge our batteries. On the second day, we explored San Luis city itself. We spent the whole day people-watching on pedestrian Rivadavia Street. Then we visited the tourist office on the main plaza and, with a little help from the charming ladies at the front desk, we were able to arrange a private tour to Sierra de las Quijadas National Park.
3 Day Itinerary
Potrero de los Funes
If you rather stay in nature, go to Potrero de los Funes, a green valley with a big lake in its center. It’s only half an hour by car from San Luis City. Mountains surround it, and you can see streams and waterfalls. The place is ideal for fishing, horseback riding through the mountain range, trekking, mountain biking, climbing, and abseiling. So many options! Nevertheless, we chose to chill and walk around the lake. We stayed at the Hotel Potrero de los Funes and loved it. The large spa and fabulous views make it an unforgettable experience. The hotel manages the cultural center next door, where FIDE World Chess Championship took place in 2005.
San Luis City
The Spaniards founded San Luis in 1594, but it fell into oblivion. Things changed in 1882 when the railway reached it on its way to Chile. The neoclassical Cathedral is from 1883. One of the best organs in the country is inside. The Governor’s Building is from 1911. Most of the neoclassical architecture from that period lines the streets around the main plaza, Plaza Pringles. Check out two museums, the Historical Museum of San Luis and the Dora Ocha Masramon Provincial Museum. The Casa de las Culturas, is a fantastic cultural center. Spend time on pedestrian Rivadavia. Everyone comes here for a bite and to shop.
Sierra de las Quijadas National Park
The National Park Sierra de las Quijadas is over 1500 sq km big. We are talking about millions of years old sharp mountains, tall cliffs, and long valleys. Some of the dinosaur fossils found in the park are that old too! There we were admiring our planet when we noticed condors dancing above. The colors here are intense, from the deep blue of the sky to the white of the clouds and the different shades of reds and greens of the Sierras. You can spend the whole day enjoying the silence with almost no tourists around. That is, of course, if you take a private tour like us.
How to Visit the National Park
Private Tour to Sierra de las Quijadas
Our professional and nice driver picked us up early. The journey from San Luis city to the Sierra de las Quijadas National park takes an hour and a half. The journey is an attraction in itself. Endless pampas, weird vegetation, and wild guanacos kept our eyes glued to the window. The landscape on the way is mostly flat. Thus, we were surprised when we arrived and saw such a deep canyon and sharp rocks. The entrance to the park is immediately after Hualtaran Village. You have to pay a fee to enter. The best viewpoint is Potrero de la Aguada. We spent hours admiring the views.
Group Tour to Sierra de las Quijadas
Another option is to hire an organized tour in San Luis. Buses leave the city early in the morning and return in the afternoon. The whole tour takes some 6 hours. Ask a couple of travel agencies on Rivadavia Street. People are friendly and will cater to your needs. Be sure to specify if you want to trek. You just can’t walk alone around the park. Some tourists we met loved the experience. Nothing wrong with organized tours, but the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park deserves to be visited alone. Thus, find a couple of fellow travelers and hire a private taxi.
Tips for Visiting Sierra de las Quijadas
What to Bring
Take note that the place is wild, with little to no infrastructure. Thus, you have to bring everything you need. Likewise, you must take all of your trash with you. The number one rule in the park is to take care of it! Bring loads of water. You can refill your bottles in the town before the entrance. Bring easy to carry food too. The place can get scorching hot so do not forget a hat. People with sensitive skin should wear long sleeves. At the same, the weather can change and get cold, so bring warm clothes too.
As mentioned, you need to specify what you want to do inside the park. To access most trails you need a guide or to register at the entrance. Ask your travel agent or driver to call the park and verify the availability of guides and the state of the terrain. Trails close depending on the weather. There are only three treks you can do on your own. These are to the Hornillos de Hualtarán close to the entrance, to the Potrero de la Aguada viewing point, and a 45 min. trek to see the autochthonous flora. The park opens from 8AM to 5PM so plan accordingly.
Search for Wild Animals
One of the most popular treks through the park is called Guanaco. You have to register at the entrance for this one. The whole trek lasts 3 hours. Supposedly this trail takes you to fauna viewing points. However, we didn’t take it and still saw beautiful animals. Our favorites are the cute land turtles. Condors we saw from the viewing platform. The bird is truly majestic! Though we didn’t encounter foxes, we were told you can see them all the time. Guanacos, vicunas and wild horses we saw on our way to the park. Regarding plants, we simply can’t explain the beauty and weirdness of the ones that inhabit the desert.
Other Practical Tips
Where to Stay
San Luis city is the perfect base to discover the surrounding area, including the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park. It’s better to stay downtown, so you get to feel the city’s vibe. Most of the nice hotels are along Illia Avenue, next to the main square (Pringles). We stayed at the Quintana Hotel located along the avenue. Our room was comfortable, and we were able to walk everywhere. However, nearby Be Haus Temporary Apartments is probably the best accommodation in town. Other good hotels on the same street are the Hotel Aiello and the Gran Hotel San Luis.
How to Get to San Luis
San Luis is some 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Buenos Aires. You mostly cross the wet pampas until you get to the desert. Cars take some 9 hours, while buses 12 hours. Buses in Argentina are brilliant. The best offer a fully reclining seat, food, entertainment, and a professional driver that never exceeds speed limits. Buses leave from Retiro bus station in central Buenos Aires. We took the night one and slept all through the journey. There are buses from Córdoba (7 hours), Mendoza (4 hours), and San Juan (4 hours). Flights from Aeroparque in Central Buenos Aires to San Luis take 1.5 hours.
Other Day Trips from San Luis City
If you have time, go to the Balde Hot Springs, 30 km from the center. This tiny town is over mineral waters. The Hotel Termas de Balde has the purest natural spring pools. The hotel is top-notch and as relaxing as the waters. You can hop on a taxi from the main square in San Luis and be there in no time. The Bebedero Salt Fields are some 40km from the city. The desert is a natural salt lagoon under the bluest sky. It’s pretty big! Again, all you have to do is hop on an inexpensive taxi!