How to get there?
The city of La Rioja has an airport that receives daily flights from Buenos Aires; another more economical option is to fly to the province of San Juan.
When to visit?
La Rioja has a warm and dry climate, with temperatures ranging from 20 to 35 degrees during the day. The best time to visit is during spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May), when temperatures are not as high and there are fewer tourists.
However, we visited La Rioja in February, during the summer, in order to climb the Corona del Inca Crater, which can only be climbed during this season. If you plan to visit in summer, it is advisable to hike early in the morning or late in the day, as temperatures can be unbearable during midday.
What is the best way to travel around La Rioja?
The best way to travel around La Rioja is by car, since it gives you the independence to visit several places and manage your time as you wish. If you have the possibility of renting a car, this is definitely the recommended option.
In our case, we flew from Buenos Aires to the city of La Rioja and rented a car with Andina Rent a Car to explore the province at our own pace.
On the other hand, if you prefer not to drive, a good option is to take excursions with a tourist agency. This way, you will be able to enjoy the places of interest without worrying about driving. There are several agencies that offer excursions to different places in the province.
Not to be missed in La Rioja
Talampaya National Park
Talampaya National Park is one of the main tourist attractions in the province of La Rioja in Argentina. With an area of more than 2,000 km², the park is located in the heart of the Riojan desert and offers a spectacular view of rock formations dating back more than 250 million years. Some of the most famous are the "Cathedral" and the "Monk", whose walls can reach heights of up to 150 meters.
In addition, Talampaya National Park is a natural habitat for a great variety of native animals such as guanacos, pumas, foxes, condors and eagles, among others. In 2000, UNESCO declared Talampaya National Park and Ischigualasto Provincial Park as World Heritage of Humanity, due to their great geological and paleontological importance, since remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals have been found in the park.
The park can only be visited with authorized guides. There are several companies that offer excursions and it can be difficult to know which one to choose, so here we leave you with a guide with the different excursions that are offered and help to know which one to choose.
2. Ischigualasto Provincial Park (Valley of the Moon)
Although it is located in the province of San Juan, it is very easy to visit it from La Rioja.
Also known as the "Valley of the Moon", this park has unique geological formations dating back more than 200 million years. In 2000, it was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is especially important for geology and paleontology, as it contains numerous fossils of animals and plants that lived in the Triassic era, such as dinosaurs, pterosaurs, reptiles and primitive plants.
It can only be visited with excursions and that is why the park has a guided tour circuit where you can appreciate the most outstanding rock formations, such as the "Mushroom", the "Sphere" and the "Submarine". This is a vehicular excursion where each person goes in their car following a guide, and gets off at each stop where they receive explanations from the guide. In addition, the park offers several options for touring the park, such as hiking, biking and 4x4 vehicle excursions, which must be booked at least 3 days in advance.
We did the vehicular circuit in the last schedule, 17:30, and it was ideal to appreciate the colors of the sunset reflected in the landscape. And if you go on full moon days you can't miss the full moon excursion.
3. Brava Lagoon
Laguna Brava is an impressive salt lake located in the Andes Mountains. This body of water is located at an altitude of 4,170 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest in Latin America.
The landscape surrounding Laguna Brava is impressive, with snow-capped mountains, deserts and huge salt flats that change color depending on the time of day. In addition, the place is important from a scientific point of view, as fossils of prehistoric animals, such as mammoths and giant sloths, have been found in the surrounding area.
Although you can get to the lagoon by private van, we always recommend an excursion (if you have a vehicle, you can join the agencies' excursions for a lower price) since you will be walking through remote places where the weather is unpredictable, the roads are unpaved and there is no signal in case of an emergency. The guides who do this trek every day know the terrain and are prepared for any emergency.
From Villa Union there are many agencies that offer this excursion. We did it with Fernando, a local guide that we recommend 100%. You can write us on instagram and we will send you his contact information.
As we were telling you, on the way to the lagoon you will pass by different points and amazing landscapes, among them: Estrellas Diaguitas Vinchina, Cuesta de la Troya, Jagüe, Portal de la Reserva, Qda Santo Domingo, Vaca Seca, El Pesebre, Refugio El Peñón, Cerro Toro, Bahía de Los Flamencos, Sitio Ala del Avión Curtis C, and other panoramic points.
We recommend that you always wear warm clothes, regardless of whether you go in summer, since temperatures drop drastically at that altitude. Also, drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated during the excursion helps prevent altitude sickness.
4. Quebrada de Troya
The Quebrada de la Troya is located a few kilometers from Vinchina in the province of La Rioja and is formed by the Vinchina River, which is now known as the Bermejo River. The mountains that compose it have very peculiar formations and are inclined in an east-west direction. A cornice road of about 10 km allows you to enjoy diverse landscapes.
These mountain ranges were formed due to the collision between the Nazca plate of the Pacific Ocean and the South American plate. As a result of these folds, the landscape of the area changed radically over time, with changes in the fauna and flora of the region.
In addition, cave paintings and petroglyphs of the Diaguita culture can be found in the area, dating back more than a thousand years.
On the way to Laguna Brava you cross this incredible gorge that is only 1 hour away from Villa Union.
5. Volcancito de Troya
Volcancito de Troya is located about 30km from Laguna Brava and is an even more remote point than the lagoon. Therefore, it is recommended to visit with a tour guide. This dormant volcano rises to an altitude of 4000 meters above sea level and was formed about 10 million years ago. From its summit you can enjoy a spectacular view of the region.
If you book an excursion to Laguna Brava or to the Inca's crown crater, you can ask the guide if you can add a walk through this little volcano. We were not able to do it but we were very much looking forward to it.
6. Inca's crown crater
One of our favorite places in our visit to La Rioja is the Corona del Inca Crater. Located at 5500 meters above sea level, it is surrounded by glaciers, penitentes, desert, pumice stone and peaks of more than six thousand meters.
Reaching this place in the middle of the Andes Mountains is quite an adventure. It can only be accessed in a 4x4 truck during the summer months. It is almost mandatory to hire an excursion to visit this extraordinary place because it is a remote site, at a very high altitude and with very little signage.
The excursions usually start at 3 am from Villa Union and return in the afternoon. We recommend you to bring warm clothes, plenty of water and some snacks.
We combined this excursion with a visit to Laguna Brava, making it a 2-day, 1-night trip. The first day we arrived at Laguna Brava and from there we went to sleep in Alto el Jagüe, a small town of less than 200 inhabitants. The next day, we started at 5 am our way to Corona del Inca Crater to return to Villa Union around 4 pm. You can also add to this itinerary the visit to Volcancito de Troya. As we told you before, we did the excursion with a local guide named Fernando, you can write us on instagram and we will pass you his contact.
7. Triassic Canyon
Located in the Banda Florida Municipal Reserve, a few kilometers from Villa Unión, the Cañadón del Triásico is an ideal visit if you have time in the area. This place is home to a large number of fossils from the Triassic era, dating back more than 200 million years. The rock formations, colors and textures create a unique and amazing landscape.
It is important to note that the site can only be accessed with authorized guides. There are several excursions to do, but the one organized by the company Runacay caught our attention: a night experience in which they take you at sunset and offer you a snack and wine under the stars. Unfortunately, we could not do it due to lack of time. If you want to do the one during the day you can do it here.
8. El Chiflón
It is part of the Talampaya/Ischigualasto geological basin and shares similar landscape, geological and cultural characteristics with these parks. Its name comes from the sound produced by the wind passing through the rock formations. This provincial park was created in 2002, covering an area of approximately 9000 hectares, in order to protect and preserve its natural, scenic, geological and cultural resources.
It is a little known place in La Rioja but it is worth a visit if you are in the area. It is also mandatory to visit it with an authorized guide. In the hotel located in the park, Hotel Posta Pueblo, they will help you to contact a local guide and make a visit of about 2 hours walking through the park.
9. Cuesta de Miranda
It is one of the most famous and scenic routes in the region, known for its panoramic views of the Andes and the natural beauty of the landscape.
This road winds through the mountains, connecting the city of Chilecito with the town of Nonogasta. Along the way, you can see unique rock formations, deep valleys and canyons, as well as small villages and picturesque towns.
10. Ochre Canyon
It is located about 25 kilometers south of the city of Chilecito.
The canyon owes its name to the ocher color of the rock formations that make up the canyon, which create a unique visual spectacle. In addition to its natural beauty, the Ochre Canyon is also famous for the Mina La Mejicana, a gold and silver mine located inside the canyon.
The La Mejicana Mine was founded at the end of the 19th century and was one of the most important mines in the area. Today, you can take guided tours through the mine to learn about its history and see what life was like for miners in the past.
As for the canyon, you can go on hikes and excursions to enjoy the breathtaking views it has to offer. Some of the most outstanding rock formations of the Ochre Canyon are the "Sleeping Giant" and the "Indian's Head". It is also an ideal place for hiking and landscape photography.
11. Los Colorados Provincial Reserve
It is located on Route 74, one hour from El Chiflón and Chilecito. Los Colorados Provincial Reserve is known for its rock formations of reddish and ochre colors, as well as for its important archeological sites of rock art.
There are 4 walking circuits that can be done, all of them with a mandatory guide. We wanted to do the one of the stone bridge, as it attracted our attention, but we went at noon in the middle of summer and it was very hot, so we decided to leave it for another time.
If you visit the reserve, we recommend that you avoid these times when temperatures become unbearable. On the reserve's official website you can find all the information you need to visit the reserve.
12. Wineries and Vineyards
La Rioja is a province famous for its wineries and vineyards. Most of them are located around the city of Chilecito and produce high quality wines, especially Malbec and Torrontés. Many wineries offer guided tours where you can learn about the wine production process and taste different varieties. There are also restaurants in the wineries where you can enjoy the local gastronomy and pair the wines with different dishes.
We recommend that you inquire and reserve in advance as wineries do not usually do tastings every day.
13. Enchanted Little Valley
It is a natural space of the Paleozoic era, from the Carboniferous period (360 million years ago), which offers a landscape rich in geoforms, such as the profile of the mummy, the boat, the lizard, the hat, the broken cup, the ball, among others. This is a tour that can only be done with the company of an authorized guide, and where you can appreciate the flora and fauna native to the area.
This site is located about 30 km from Villa Unión.
Where to stay?
In La Rioja you will find a variety of lodging options, from luxury hotels to hostels and homestays.
To get to know better the touristic places that the province has to offer, the best thing to do is to stay in the nearby areas, here we leave you a list:
El Chiflón: In this beautiful provincial park is located the hotel "La Posta Pueblo del Chiflón", 30 km from Ischigualasto Provincial Park and 74 km from Talampaya National Park, a perfect intermediate point to visit these natural jewels.
Villa Unión: This small town is located 60 km from Talampaya National Park and is an ideal starting point to explore Laguna Brava and Corona del Inca Crater.
Chilecito: From here, you can visit Cañadón del Ocre, La Mejicana Mine, Cuesta de Miranda, visit the city of Famatina and visit nearby vineyards.