Category Archives: Patagonia

Nine Great Jurassic Park Adventures in Argentina

Argentina is an ancient land, geologically speaking. Once upon a time, its landscape was covered by jungles and seas where dinosaurs and other mythical creatures roamed. Today, you can venture into those lands of Jurassic and other monsters.

Dinosaurs roaming across the Argentine plains. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

During the Permian Period of the Palaeozoic Era (251-299 million years ago), South America was still part of Pangaea. This supercontinent began tearing apart. South America and Africa were still one continent during the Jurassic Period (150 million years ago), the most famous dinosaur era. Those great jungle forests were covered with ash when this great continent tore apart, forming the Andes. The landscape then was covered by sea about 40 million years ago.

 

Fossils from all these eras scatter the pampas of western Argentina and the Patagonia. Some dinosaur species are unique to Argentina.

 

The most famous dinosaur fields are near Neuquén, on the northern edge of Argentina’s Lake District. Plaza Huincul (106 km / 65 mi) west of Neuquén towards Zapala) has a museum that displays dinosaur eggs and a skeleton of the 35-meter-long herbivore dinosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest ever found in the world. You can see a replica of the biggest largest carnivorous dinosaur in the world, Giganotosaurus carolinii, at the museum in Villa El Chocón (80 km / 50 mi southwest of Neuquén). Three kilometers away, near Lake Ezequiel Ramos Mexia, are well-preserved, 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. Centro Paleontológico Lago Barreales, 95 kilometers (58 mi) northwest of Neuquén, is an active dig.

 

North of Neuquén, is San Agustín del Valle Fértil, located between San Juan and La Rioja cities. San Agustín is the gateway to two parks that preserve prehistoric remains. Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) has rain and wind-sculpted, 45-50 million-year-old rocks that are said to be the best fossil fields in the country. The most primitive dinosaur, Eoraptor lunensis, was found here. Adjacent to the Valley of the Moon is Parque Nacional Talampaya, a national park protecting more dinosaur fossils.

 

To see life-size dinosaurs roaming across the Patagonian plains, head to Sarmiento and its Parque Temático Paleontológico Valle De Los Gigantes. This is a Cretaceous Park, featuring great—and small—reptiles from the last dinosaur era, like Aniksosaurus Darwini, which weighed only 50 kilograms (110 lb), Notohypsilophodon comodorensi (25 kg / 55 lb) and Epachthosaurus sciuttoi (10 metric tons / 11 tons). Some 38 kilometers (24 mi) southeast of Sarmiento is Monumento Natural Provincial Bosque Petrificado Sarmiento, a petrified forest created 65 million years ago during the great geologic upheavals.

 

The largest, most impressive petrified forest in Argentina is Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, also known as Bosque Petrificado Jaramilo, located 220 kilometers (132 mi) south of Caleta Olivia and 230 kilometers (138 mi) north of Puerto Deseado. This national park contains not only the remains of the semi-tropical forests that carpeted these prairies during the Devonic and  Jurassic periods, but also fossils of oysters, shark teeth and ancient other marine life from when this was a massive sea.

 

Cabo Curioso. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

More remnants of that sea can be seen at Cabo Curioso, 11 kilometers (6.6 mi) north of Puerto San Julián. The cliffs are rife with 35-75-million-year-old, gigantic oyster fossils that piqued the curiosity of Charles Darwin.

 

The dinosaurs and forests that once carpeted southern Argentina from Neuquén to Puerto Deseado left behind petroleum that the region’s economy thrives upon. The landscape is dotted with oil wells dipping and rising, pumping the rich, black blood to the surface.

 

With the austral spring approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other palaeontological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s Jurassic, Devonian and Cretaceous Parks, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina.

Torres del Paine National Park Reopens

Wednesday morning, just a week after a devastating wildfire broke out in Southern Chile’s Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the government announced the reopening of the park.

 

Torres del Paine National Park, showing open sectors. Map by: www.laprensaaustral.cl

 

The northern part of Torres del Paine, which is unaffected by the fire, is now open to tourists. These include these sectors: Laguna Sur and Amerga, Valle Ascencio, Hotel Las Torres, Campamentos Cuernos and Cerón, and the Los Perros and Dichoso rivers. For complete details, visit the website of the national tourism board, Sernatur. Click here for a map of the open areas.

 

Local guides, hostels and other businesses are joining efforts to give informative talks at the park entrance, to instruct visitors on safety and environmental issues. They also are forming protection patrols to walk the trails, looking for campfires, illegal camping and other park rule violations.

 

Ecologists, however, are not happy with the government’s decision. They fear that the patrolling of the park will draw necessary manpower from the tasks of fighting the wildfire and reforestation efforts.

 

The fire has consumed 14,504 hectares (35,840 acres) of the nature reserve, as well as about 1,000 hectares of Estancia Lazo, a ranch neighboring the park. Grey Glacier was in danger of partial melting from the intense heat. As of Wednesday afternoon, only one hotspot of the fire remained out of control.

 

Over 700 firefighters from four countries have battled the blaze. Water is still being collected for the crews.

 

Already four Israeli experts have arrived to lend their expertise in reforestation. Volunteers are also being enlisted to help with recovery efforts (see UPDATE: Torres del Paine National Park Wildfire for details). The extent of environmental damage is severe. Experts estimate it will take up to 80 years for the park to fully recover.

 

La Prensa Austral has several stunning photo gallery showing the fire’s aftermath.

Torres del Paine: Before the fire

 

Forest fires are burning in other parts of Chile, including in the Maule and Bío-Bío regions. In Pichiqueime, over 22,500 hectares (55,600 acres) of forest, 100 homes and a cellulose refining plant have been destroyed, and one death has resulted.  The Catholic Church has begun an aid drive to help the affected in these areas.

 

Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera is proposing a new law to replace the present one, passed in the 1930s. The forest fire reform act would reorganize emergency response mechanisms, and increase fines and jail time for individuals that cause forest fires.

UPDATE: Torres del Paine National Park Wildfire

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine: Before the fire

Last Friday evening, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that Parque Nacional Torres del Paine will remain closed through January 2012.

 

As of this morning (Monday), the fire has consumed almost 13,000 hectares (32,423 acres) of the national park. Seven hundred and fifty firefighters from all over Chile, as well as from Argentina, Uruguay and the US, have joined efforts to bring the blaze under control. The entire area has been declared a disaster area.

 

Winds as high as 120 kilometers per hour (73 mph) hampered efforts on Friday. Saturday, a light rain began falling and winds calmed, allowing six helicopters to join in the fight. Three of the six foci of the wildfire were extinguished.

 

Also on Saturday, Israeli citizen Rotem Singer was arrested on charges for starting the blaze. News reports stated he confessed to authorities, which Singer now denies, blaming bad translations. He is on conditional freedom for 41-61 days until investigations are completed.

 

The government has been criticized for its slow response to the unfolding disaster. In the national legislature, Representative Carlos Recondo of X Región de los Lagos is proposing to privatize the park, which he believes will improve its administration.

 

Patagon Journal posts that volunteers for the recovery of Torres del Paine may now sign up. Send your name, age, profession, city and dates available to voluntarios@torresdelpaine.com. The program, which start date is yet to be set, is being organized by Conaf (national park service) and local operators.

 

The park closure is expected to have a tremendous impact on Puerto Natales’ economy. In one season, the tourism sector generates $200 million dollars, as well as 8,000 direct and 24,000 associated jobs.

 

Puerto Natales, though, has much more to offer tourists than just Torres del Paine. For those needing to get out into nature, another reserve may be accessed from this coastal village: Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins. This is Chile’s largest national park, covering 3,525,091 hectares (8,710,689 acres). A boat treads across Seno de Última Esperanza to the foot of Glaciar Balmaceda to the ranger station at Sector Balmaceda. During the voyage, dolphins, sea lions, fur seals and a variety of waterfowl can be spotted, as well as. Although this park doesn’t offer multi-day treks like Torres del Paine, it does have several short hikes into the stunningly beautiful landscape. From the ranger post, trails lead to the foot of the glacier and to a lookout point. Other activities in this part of the park are rappelling and kayaking, though the paddle down the Río Serrano from PN Torres del Paine not possible at this time.

 

Another nature reserve you can visit from Puerto Natales is Monumento Nacional Cueva del Milodón, a massive cave where the remains of a three meter ground sloth were discovered. Posada Hostería Río Verde on Skyring Fiord is not only a lodge at a working ranch, but also offers day packages that includes horseback riding, sailing and trout fishing. Río Verde village also has a small historical museum. Río Rubens is another place with terrific trout fishing.

 

The Museo Histórico Municipal in Puerto Natales.

When the much-needed rains arrive, you can seek refuge in one of Puerto Natales’ museums. The Museo Histórico Municipal features archaeological artifacts and historical photographs, as well as an exhibit on the 19th century European settlement of the town. The Museo de Fauna Patagónica has a collection of over 350 taxidermied animals from around the area.  Just five kilometers (3 miles) north of town, Museo Frigorífico Puerto Bories offers interesting guided tours of the old meatpacking factory, which was awarded Monument status by the Chilean government. Out in Puerto Bories, you can also go horseback riding.

 

Puerto Natales is also the southern port for the Navemag ferry to Puerto Montt. The five-day north-bound journey goes through fiords, and past glaciers of the Southern and Northern ice fields (Campos del Hielo).

 

Turismo Aónikenk, a Punta Arenas-based tour operator, lists other things to see and do in the Puerto Natales area.

 

The famous Navimag ferry.

 

The US Embassy in Santiago has issued a travel advisory for its citizens planning to go to the region. If you are planning to visit the area, keep up-to-date with the news. Check the websites of the various national agencies: Conaf (park service), Onemi (emergency management) and Sernatur (tourism board). These media outlets are also dependable: Prensa Austral, Radio Polar and Cooperativa. Another excellent source is erratic rock in Puerto Natales.

 

Stay tuned to V!VA’s blog and facebook page for more developments.

 

CLOSED: Torres del Paine National Park in Chile

Into the Fire. Photo by Claudia Saunders.

Because of a wildfire that began last Tuesday, the Oficina Nacional de Emergencia (Onemi) has closed Parque Nacional Torres del Paine until further notice.

 

As of this morning, the fire has consumed up to 5,700 hectares (14,085 acres) of land in the western sector of the park. Rugged terrain and strong winds (up to 95 kilometers / 59 miles per hour) are hampering efforts to bring it under control. In a press conference yesterday, Rodrigo Hinzpeter of the Ministro del Interior y Seguridad Pública stated, “We are confronted with an extremely dangerous and complex fire; in the zone, we have very adverse climatic conditions today and the forecast indicates the weather will be adverse tomorrow. Furthermore, the topography of the place makes it difficult for the brigades to fight the fire, along with highly combustible vegetation.”

 

The weather forecast calls for high winds again today (Friday), with a chance of showers Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

 

On the ground are over 150 firefighters from the national forest service Conaf, the Chilean military and Argentina. Three helicopters are also being employed. Private entities, like Fantástico Sur, which operates several refuges in the park, are asking for volunteers with experience fighting forest fires in mountainous terrain to help preserve their properties. Interested individuals should contact Katherine MacCormick at 61-614184.

 

According to La Prensa Austral, a foreign tourist is suspected of starting the fire. This is the third time in less than a decade that the 227,298-hectare (561,665-acre) park has been hit by a man-made forest fire. In 2005, about 15,000 hectares (37,065 acres) were destroyed and another 10 square meters (108 square feet) were burnt in February 2011. In both cases, foreign trekkers were responsible.

 

Unconfirmed reports say that the fire, which began near the Río Olguín, between Glaciar Gray and Pehoé, has spread past the Valle del Francés and Salto Grande. The wharf in Paine Grande is destroyed. Hotel Explora and el Hotel Grey are threatened. Approximately 1,000 people have been evacuated from the park. According to another source, the Cuernos and Torres sectors have not been evacuated yet. Evacuations are expected to continue this morning. Thus far, no injuries or deaths have occurred.

 

News of the extent of the fire remain sketchy. Visitors to the reserve are advised to keep up on the news with the above agencies, Sernatur, Prensa Austral or Radio Polar. Another excellent source is erratic rock in Puerto Natales. Bill Penhollow, owner of erratic rock, recommends tourists come back in a week.

 

Stay tuned to V!VA’s blog and facebook page for more developments.

 

Residents of Puerto Natales will be having a demonstration Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at the Plaza de Armas, to call on the government to bring in more reinforcements to combat the blaze. The environmental groups Frente Defensa Ecologico Austral and Frente Defensa Ecológico Austral II in Punta Arenas will have a candlelight rally Friday evening (6:30 p.m. Colón and Bories streets, Punta Arenas). Another demonstration is planned at La Moneda at 6 p.m., in the nation’s capital, Santiago.

 

Chile’s Carretera Austral: Ten Adventures to Get Your Adrenaline Fix

Taking a rest.

South America’s summer officially begins tonight, but already travelers have been hitting Chile’s Carretera Austral (Ruta 7), which extends 1,247 kilometers (775 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Bicyclists are battling the infamous Patagonian wind as gravel kicks up around their tires. Some backpackers stand by the roadsides, thumb outstretched, to explore the road that way. Very few travelers take the public buses or rent a car. This is a highway where dreams can be made reality.

If the adventure of biking or hitching the Carretera Austral isn’t enough for you, V!VA Travel Guides Chile presents you  with a cornucopia of high-adrenaline activities to keep you pumped going down the highway. This region has many legs of the national hiking trail network, the Sendero de Chile (www.senderodechile.cl). Local families provide homestay and guiding services for not only trekking, but also birdwatching, horseback riding, fly fishing, rock climbing and other sports.

So dig out the hiking boots and pack in the provisions because it’s time to hit the open road.

 

1 – Parque Nacional Horniporén

Parque Nacional Horniporén, near the start of the Carretera Austral, protects important transition zones of flora, fauna and geology. Over 13 kilometers (8 miles) of hiking trails wind through this fascinating landscape. The nearby village of Río Puelo is the starting point for an even more challenging trek: four nights, five days across the Paso Río Puelo border to El Bolsón, Argentina.

Kayaking on the Futaleufú River.

2 – Futaleufú

Rafters and kayakers, get your gear ready to shoot through the rapids of the Futa, one of the world’s three most challenging rivers. The toughest stretches are the “Infierno” (22 kilometers / 14 miles, Class III-IV) and the “Terminator” (7 kilometers / 4.2 miles, Class V). The Espolón River is renowned for its fly fishing. Dry land adventures are horseback riding and hiking near town and in Reserva Natural Futaleufú.

Further down the highway you can get another whitewater  fix on the Río Baker’s Class III rapids at Puerto Bertrand.

 

3 – Palena

Reserva Nacional Lago Palena offers horseback riding, fly fishing and a half-dozen hiking trails ranging from four kilometers (2.4 miles) to 13 kilometers (8 miles) in distance. It is also the staging ground for a 65-kilometer (39-mile) stretch of the Sendero de Chile, from Palena to Lago Verde (near La Junta).

 

A waterfall in Queulat National Park.

4 – Puyuhuapi

The delights around Puyuhuapi, a small German settlement on a fiord, never ceases to amaze travelers. After hiking to the hanging glaciers and waterfalls in Parque Nacional Queulat, soak your tired muscles in one of two hot springs near the village.

 

5 – Coyhaique

While you’re restocking on money and other necessary supplies in the Northern Patagonia’s major city, take some time out to explore the three national reserves near town: Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas, Reserva Nacional Río Simpson and Reserva Nacional Coyhaique. On the coast is Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, most known for its boat tours to the glaciers. But it also has several hiking trails, ice climbing (for the experienced and equipped) and camping.

Coyahique is also home to Escuela de Guías de la Patagonia, a school that trains the region’s guides. During the summer, it also teaches travelers camping, rock climbing and other skills to survive Patagonian rigors.

 

Cerro Castillo.

6 – Cerro Castillo

With geological features much like Torres del Paine, Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo has a distinct advantage: It is virtually unvisited. The challenging 45-kilometer (28 mile) Valle de la Lima-Villa Cerro Castillo trek, which takes three to four days, wraps around the base of the mountain, with stunning views of icy lagoons and glaciers. If time is short, you can visit the park on horseback from the village.

 

7 – Bahía Exploradores

The boat tour of Río Tranquilo’s marble caves provides a respite from Chile’s Northern Patagonia’s trekking opportunities. But it’s now time for the next challenge: Hiking out the 59-kilometer (37-mile) road towards Bahía Exploradores, and ice trekking Glaciar Exploradores.

Capilla de Marmól, near Río Capilla.

8 – Cochrane

Besides being the last place along the highway where you can pick up on money and basic supplies, Cochrane has the Reserva Nacional Tamango. Also near town is Laguna Esmeralda with swimming, kayaking and great trout fishing. If you’re ready to roll up the ol’ sleeves and help restore natural habitats for huemul and puma, then volunteer at Valle Chacabuco nature reserve.

 

Caleta Tortel.

9 – Caleta Tortel

The entire village of Caleta Tortel is a hiking experience, with over seven kilometers (4.2 miles) of cypress-wood boardwalks. This is also where the southern sector of Parque Nacional San Rafael and Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins are accessed.  Both have hikes to glaciers. Caleta Tortel is also a prime kayaking destination.

 

10 – Villa O’Higgins

Villa O’Higgins is the last town on Chile’s Carretera Austral. From here, you’ll have to backtrack north to Cochrane or Lago General Carrera to cross over into Argentina. Or you can boat across Lago O’Higgins and hike to El Chaltén, Argentina—what has been called one of the world’s most beautiful border crossings (Paso Dos Lagunas). Before you leave this end-of-the-road town, though, take some time to hike or horseback ride one of the seven trails in the area, including two in the northern sector of Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins.

The highway’s end.

 

Traversing the Carretera Austral once the snows swirl in late autumn provides other ways to get the old adrenaline pumping. The road becomes impassable and many of towns remain isolated for weeks at a time. The best place to use as a base is Coyhaique. You can snowshoe and cross country ski in the three national reserves near that city or in Cerro Castillo just to the south. Coyhaique also has a downhill ski center, Centro de Ski el Fraile.

The Carretera Austral can be accessed by several border crossings from Argentina, or by boats arriving at Chaitén, Puerto Chacabuco (near Coyhaique) and other villages.

There are many other towns along the Carretera Austral that provide many other delights. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

The Elves of El Bolsón, Argentina: Mythical or Magical?

Most people come to El Bolsón, in Argentina’s Lake District, for its spectacular mountain scenery, wooded hiking trails, holistic spas and bohemian spirit. What many don’t know is that a trip to El Bolsón may mean sleeping among the famous duendes, or goblins, which are said to inhabit the forests around the small village—or at least being entertained by stories of duende sightings over a glass of locally brewed beer at the bar.

"El Bolsón Río Azul lupines," by MiguelVierira, 2011: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miguelvieira/6349893047/

It is no secret within town that a large population of elves lives in this area. Artists and creative types, who have called El Bolsón home since the 1960s, have cited the inspiration of these supernatural beings in their imaginative works.  It is commonly believed that there is a secret record of all the elves that live here, along with the names of some special guests who have visited them. This cherished list is known as the “Omsimitaica Honimac,” and can only be accessed by those who have had chance encounters with the duendes.

"El Bolson 2," by Pablo Arinci, 2009: http://www.flickr.com/photos/polfoto/3228235335/in/photostream

However, it has been an ongoing process of determining the truth in the stories told about run-ins with these gnomes. One thing is for sure: the duendes are nocturnal, sleeping in hidden spaces until sundown, when they gather for all-night revelry. Speculation points to a few major spots where these elves are thought to congregate, including at the foothills of Mount Piltriquiron, around the “Cabeza del Indio” (Indian’s Head), at the Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden), in the “Bosque Tallado” (Carved Forest) and in the area around the “Cajón de Azul.”

"Bosque Tallado," by missgis, 2009: http://www.flickr.com/photos/missgis/3517049417/

The goblins are supposedly very happy, playful creatures, and are unafraid to interact with humans. When visitors happen upon one of their meeting places, they are said to welcome their guests with sweet elixir and strawberries. Three of the gnomes then present the traveler with three tiny clay pots filled with a pinch of stars, which is then planted in the visitor’s soul. After this ritual, the elves begin to recite ancient legends to the guest.

Many campers have reported incidents of duende activity on their campsites, shocked to find their trashed tent areas from the night before completely clean come morning. Some local residents have even mentioned finding passed out elves on their front lawns.

Although duendes are commonly associated with European mythology, enough evidence points to the existence of these magical creatures in the woods of El Bolsón, Argentina. However, whether you choose to believe in the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque nature of this place or not is up to you.

Culinary Adventures in Argentina

Argentina offers travelers many types of adventures, like riding with gauchos across the pampas or hiking in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares around majestic FitzRoy and to breath-taking Perito Moreno Glacier. There are skiing and snowboarding Bariloche, and riding dogsleds in Ushuaia. No matter the season, no matter the place, Argentina has something for everyone. And that includes for aficionados of exotic cooking.

 

Indeed—Argentina’s cuisine goes much beyond its beef and wine. The country’s varied landscapes extend to the dinner plate. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina extends a fork to help you undertake culinary adventures in Argentina.

 

If you are really a parrilla (BBQ) fan, ready to carve into huge chunks of meat, then head to an espeleto joint in Misiones Province, in the Northeast of the country. At restaurants like ­­­­Kelo or La Querencia in Posadas, the waiters come to your table with meat speared on a sword. Another specialty of this region is ­­­­galeto: chicken grilled on a spit, stuffed with smoked ham, sweet peppers and tomatoes.

Carpincho, or capybara.

The Northeast also offers all sorts of temptations out of the ordinary. One of the local denizens is the world’s largest rodents, the carpincho (capybara). You can buy the farm-raised meat in Mercedes (Corrientes Province).

 

On the other side of the Paraná River, in Formosa, another regional resident arrives to restaurant plates: the yacaré or spectacled caiman. This tender meat can be tried at La Ribera, as a grilled steak or in empanadas.

A yacaré, or spectacled caiman.

Northwest Argentina has its share of culinary adventures, too. Because of its strong Andean cultural identity, you’ll see llama appearing on some menus. Cabrito (kid goat) and goat cheese are also common. But the real treat is suri (rhea), an ostrich relative. El Almacén in Tafí del Valle prepares empanadas from farm-raised birds.

 

At the other end of the country, in the Patagonia, lamb is most commonly thrown on the coals. In the summertime, you’re more likely to see campers throwing sides of this meat onto the grill instead of beef. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on some of the world-renowned Patagonian cordero.

 

All of Argentina’s meats, though, do not come from the land. One thing only found in its Patagonia is the Giant Patagonian Oyster, which is about the size of a hand. Try this delectable seafood in a whiskey sauce at El Rey de Mariscos in Las Grutas.

 

Another seafood delight found in the southernmost seas around Tierra del Fuego is centolla or king crab. Unfortunately, it is quite pricy in Argentina. It is much cheaper on the other side of the border in Chile. In the Fueguian village Porvenir, you can try centolla in the Club Croata’s Trilogía Austral crêpe, featuring shellfish, oysters and king crab.

 

These are just some of the culinary adventures V!VA Travel Guides Argentina can take you on. Argentine law states that any exotic game served must be farm-raised, not hunted, in order to protect wild populations Before ordering, ask whether the meat is cazado (hunted) or de criadero (farm raised). And don’t forget to have a bottle of wine to accompany your repast.

 

Buen provecho!

Digging Argentina: Archaeological Sites on the Pampa

A menhire at El Mollar.

Although Argentina isn’t thought of as a country with archaeological riches, there are ancient sites scattered across the pampas where you can dig into this country’s indigenous past. Millennia ago, great cities were founded in the Northwest and wandering hunter nations left their imprint across the Patagonia plains.

 

Salta is the jumping off point to visit the sites that scatter the Northwest of Argentina. From the Bolivian border to Catamarca, the canyons and highlands hide memories of the long-ago times. At Yaví, near La Quiaca, petroglyphs paint rock overhang. In the Quebrada de Humahuaca is Pukará de Tilcara, a pre-Incan hilltop fortress.

 

The sacred city Quilmes.

South of Salta is Argentina’s most famous and significant archaeological ruins, Quilmes. This religious city of the Quilmes nation was established in the 9th century AD and inhabited until 1667. It was a major center of resistance against the Inca and Spaniards. The ruins terrace the cragged desert hills near Amaicha del Valle. The Quilmes descendants, the Diaguita, still consider it a sacred site.

 

Once the entire valley on the other side of the ridge from Amaicha was filled with menhire, or carved stone pillars. The meaning of these enigmatic statues is lost in the mists of time that rise from Dique La Angostura. Modern man has gathered many of the sculptures together in El Mollar, near Tafí del Valle.

 

Pueblo Perdido

Continuing South, edging the Andean mountains, travelers will find more remnants of Argentina’s pre-Columbian past. Near Catamarca, cities of the Aguada nation protected the narrow valleys from the advance of invaders. One of the best-preserved examples is Pueblo Perdido de la Quebrada, dating from the 3rd to 5th century AD. From beneath cardoon cactus and desert scrub, the stone walls mutely give testimony to that part of Argentina’s history.

 

 

From Argentina’s Northwest, Ruta 40 winds through the Andean foothills into the Patagonia—and to a different type of reminder of the country’s ancient past. For thousands of years, the ancestors of the Aónikenk wandered these wind-swept plains, following herds of guanaco. Wherever they went, they left colorful handprints on the walls of shallow caves.

Cueva de las Manos.

The most famous of these sites is Cueva de las Manos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site south of Perito Moreno. The cave earns its name from the 829 handprints adorning the walls. Rhea prints, salamanders, hunting scenes and birthing guanacos under full moons are other creations these journeyers left behind.

 

Many other sites like this extend from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Near Puerto San Julián is Estancia La María, home to what archaeologists consider Patagonia’s second-most important site. In the center of the Patagonia, Sarmiento claims the Alero de Manos Pintadas. The pre-Áónikenk peoples didn’t only stay on the eastern side of the Andes, though. Just across the border from Perito Moreno, in Chile, there are other pre-Aónikenk hand paintings along the shores of Lago Buenos Aires (Lago General Carrera): in Reserva Natural Jeínemeni near Chile Chico and Paredón de las Manos at Cerro Castillo.

 

The hands at Cerro Castillo

With summer approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other archaeological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s barely excavated history, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina. To get to the Chilean sites, pick up on V!VA Travel Guides Chile.