4 Off-the-Beaten-Track Adventures in Argentina

Argentina’s vast territory hides many secret treasures. From a lost village, to a moon-like volcanic plain, to a prehistoric lagoon, here are four worth going out of your way for.

Photo © iStock/piccaya

Yavi and Yavi Chico, Jujuy Province

At more than 11,280ft (3,440m) above sea level, Yavi stands frozen in time, its arid Andean landscapes contrasting with the willow trees that grow by the river, and the houses made of clay.

Located near the Bolivian border, 2.5 hours from the backpacker haven of Humahuaca, this barely populated village is the last town in Argentina that belonged to the Royal Road. During the days of Spanish rule, precious minerals were transported through here from Peru, making Yavi a powerful marquisate.

Visitors can check out the Marques de Tojo’s elegant colonial-style house, now a museum, and the 17th-century church with its gold-plated altar.

A short hike takes you to even smaller Yavi Chico, which has an archeological museum and – along the river – cave paintings that date back centuries.

For those who wish to stay, there’s a municipal campsite just by the Marques’ house, or the Hostal de Yavi.

Barreal Blanco, aka Pampa el Leoncito, San Juan Province

In prehistoric times, the Barreal Blanco was a lagoon. Today, it’s a 9mi (15km) long, 3mi (5km) wide expanse of flat, white, dry soil, devoid of no vegetation and with winds that blow at more than 75mph (120kph).

This unique feature makes Barreal Blanco the perfect spot for land-sailing – an adrenaline-producing, unconventional sport like windsurfing, but on land. Even if you try to stand still, the wind will take you. You can book the experience locally, or bring your own vehicle.

Land-sailing at Barreal Blanco. Photo credit: iStock/piccaya

Just 11mi (17km) from the Barreal Blanco is the Complejo Astronomico El Leoncito. This astronomical observatory can be visited on a guided tour – it’s also possible to spend the night if you book in advance. This particular spot has 300 clear nights a year and no light pollution, so sightings of the Milky Way are guaranteed. You can also visit the nearby, the Observatorio Astronomico U. CESCO.

As this area is part of the Leoncito National Park, it’s best accessed from the nearest town, Barreal.

Parque Nacional Sierra de las Quijadas, San Luis Province

Though few travelers know about this national park, it has a very rich cultural and palaeontological heritage. It was once home of the Huarpes Tribe and, long before, of the pterodaustro; a dinosaur species that hasn’t been found anywhere else.

The park’s extremely arid landscape and dramatic rock formations resemble the Grand Canyon. Temperatures can get up to more than 99°F (37°C) – some of the activities within the park may be suspended when this happens, and during summer months hikes are generally not held during siesta (afternoon nap) hours.

The main features of the park are the Potrero de la Aguada (a natural amphitheater carved by wind and water) and Farallones (walls of red sandstone over 656ft (200m) high). You can do some hikes, such as the Guanacos trail, on your own, but must register at the park’s office beforehand. Other hikes, like the Farallones (four hours) or Las Huellas del Pasado (two hours) require a guide.

This is quite an isolated area, and there’s no public transport, so make sure you have plenty of water, food, and proper clothing (and a full gas tank if driving). There is a basic camping and recreation area nearby. Travelers usually visit for the day from the nearby towns of Merlo or Lujan.

Parque Nacional Sierra de las Quijadas. Photo credit: iStock/T-Immagini

Reserva Provincial La Payunia, Mendoza

The Pampa Negra was formed by more than 800 volcanic cones, turning it into a black desert. This moon-like landscape has one of the highest and most varied concentrations of volcanic activity on earth. Still an off-the-beaten-path destination, La Payunia can only be visited with an authorized guide.

Travelers can either hire a guide to join them and self-drive, or do a day trip with a tour operator. This is to preserve the solitude of this volcanic wonderland and to prevent visitors from getting lost or getting their vehicle stuck in the soft black sand. If you self-drive, you’ll need an SUV.

All guided tours depart from Malargue, 93mi (150km) away. There’s no accommodation nearby and the visit lasts the whole day, so you only need to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Reserva Provincial La Payunia. Photo credit: iStock/magazia

Want to know more about Argentina? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. How drinking mate defines Argentinians,  how to kiss properly when you greet someone, and meet Poppi, the scientist who's saving penguins.

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