My Guide: with the GLA through the Argentine La Rioja.
A mystical trail.
It’s often true that the most interesting gems are somehow hidden. This is why it’s worth taking time to visit and discover the Triassic Canyon Trail, a must-see location just a ten minute drive away from the centre of Villa Unión, a small village in this little corner of La Rioja. Four-wheeled adventure enthusiasts will love it here; driving through the colourful rock formations and archaeological remains offered by this extraordinary site bring you straight back to the Triassic Era. Upon entering, the trail leads through a valley with colours ranging from deep reds, light greens and yellows. But the real payoff is at the end of the trip: a field full of 200 million-year-old rocks, naturally eroded by wind and shaped into spheres. It’s a sort of Pink Floyd album-cover experience, but in real-life 3D. But pay attention: it’s possible to look at these magic stones for as long as you like, but not, under any circumstances, to touch them. Anyone keen to get to know all the secrets about this trail should hire an expert local guide who will lead you through this amazing experience.
Taking the scenic route.
La Cuesta de Miranda is a very special, 11 kilometre-long route between Sierra de Fatima and Sañogasta, in the depths of the Miranda River Valley, on the way from Villa Unión to Chilecito. The segment of road is part of the legendary world-renowned Route 40 connecting Patagonia to Bolivia through the western regions of Argentina. This panoramic road offers a unique and thrilling driving experience for well-trained road lovers, through the breathtaking beauty of La Rioja. It’s definitely a must for anyone enjoying engaging driving as part of a lifestyle. The sinuous route that reaches 2,020 metres above sea level was reshaped anew and inaugurated in October 2015; the asphalt is in perfect condition. All there is left to do is to fill the tank, enjoy the trip and choose inspiring music to make the experience unforgettable.
If possible, make sure to drive through this road during mid-afternoon to sunset, when the typically warm sunlight of the region adds significantly to the dramatic surrounding landscape. Petrol stations are available in Villa Unión and Nonogasta only.
The surreal cliffs of Talampaya.
The Talampaya National Park is located near Route 76, in the heart of La Rioja, and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000. Talampaya unfolds through an area of 2,150 square kilometres and is among the most significant archaeological and paleontological sites in South America. Its astonishing canyons, eroded rock formations and extensive dinosaur remains make visiting it an experience of a lifetime.
Visitors can encounter unique natural shapes such as the “monk”, the “cathedral” and the “priest”, experiencing the magnitude of nature while contemplating the beauty of the “big walls”; anyone who has ever imagined walking through a Salvador Dalí painting can make their dream come true here. This is an experience not to be missed!
A desert oasis: Hotel Pircas Negras.
This is the best place to stay while visiting Villa Unión and the surrounding areas, including the Talampaya National Park, Triassic Canyon Trails and Cuesta de Miranda. The Hotel Pircas Negras is located on the edge of Route 76, in the foothills of the Andes, surrounded by vineyards. It’s only 1.5 km from the centre of Villa Unión. The rooms are comfortable and well-equipped. The large garden is magical at sunrise and sunset and the huge swimming pool offers a much-appreciated escape from the hot daytime sun when the heat intensifies. The staff are extremely attentive and kind, and always available to answer all possible questions about excursions, history and local culture. The hotel also offers a gastronomic experience of the small world of regionally produced organic foods.
A feast for the senses: Parrillada la Palmera.
The driving experience through La Rioja intensively stimulates all of the five senses. As soon as the fragrantly warm air intermingles with the sight of breathtaking landscapes, regional food will become a necessary complement for the experience. This is when the “Parrillada la Palmera” comes in. Located on the intersection between Route 76 and Route 40, about three kilometres from Villa Unión, this restaurant first catches the eye with its genuinely rustic decoration. The floor is natural red soil and the walls are made of “adobe”, a traditional material that combines clay with straw and little stones. The structure and atmosphere are a reminder of the region’s colonial past, but the main attraction is of course the food. Not to be missed: “chivito” (grilled goat) a traditional main course that is better enjoyed with a fresh bottle of Torrontes, Argentina’s most iconic white wine, with its moderate acidity, smooth texture and a distinctive peach and apricot bouquet.
Also a feast for the senses: “dulce de cayote” with “nueces y quesillo”, a traditional dessert consisting of a rough fig leaf-gourd jam, fresh goat’s cheese and walnuts – simple and delicious. The route, including travel tips, can be found at Mercedes me “My Guide” and downloaded as a GPX file.