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Traveling in Argentina’s great Ruta Nacional 40, travelers encounter La Rioja Province’s second-most important city, El Chilecito. This small city is the perfect base for exploring old mines, Inca ruins, fine museums and a botanical garden. The surrounding countryside provides ample opportunities for hiking and sampling local wines.

This spot of Argentina has always been mined. The Inca excavated silver and gold from the hills. Later, the minerals were exploited by the Jesuits and Spanish. In 1715, Villa Argentina was founded. The village’s name was later changed to Chilecito for the large number of Chileans who came to work in the mine. Centuries later the British took over the lodes, working them to exhaustion. The cable car, which shoots 35 kilometers (22 mi) from the town to La Mejicana mine at 4,600 meters (15,092 ft) altitude, stands as a reminder of those times. The first station is a national historic site and mining museum, Museo del Cablecarril de la Minería (daily 6 a.m.-8 p.m. southeast side of city, Tel: 42-4900). Guides may be hired to trek or 4x4 up the mountain to the cable carril’s nine stops.

On Chilecito’s main square, Plaza Los Caudillos, is Iglesia Santa Rita with an 18th-century statute of Saint Rita that pilgrims consider to have healing powers. Museo Molino de San Francisco was a water-powered flour mill. It now houses an important collection of old weapons (Monday-Friday 2-6 p.m. Ocampo 55, Tel: 42-4900). A panoramic view of the snow-blanketed Nevados del Famatina mountains is had from atop the knoll in Parque Municipal de Chilecito (east en of El Maestro). On the west side of the city is Tambería del Inca, a guard post- rest stop on the old Inca road through the area (Av RE de San Martín).

Just on the outskirts of Chilecito are other attractions travelers can walk to. Six blocks from Plaza Los Caudillos is Chirau Mita, a spectacular botanical garden displaying over 60 species of native cacti (7 a.m.-noon, 5-9 p.m. Calle Motta and Ruta Provincial 12, Tel: 42-4531).

Samay Huasi is (1.2 mi) down the east-bound San Miguel-Anguinán road (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; weekends, holidays 8 a.m.-noon, 2-6 p.m. Tel: 42-2629). This natural sciences museum with a great collection of minerals, flora and fauna is in the former home of writer-politician Joaquín V. González. The estate also has a hotel.

Down the same road, four kilometers (2.5 mi) from Chilecito, is Museo Nocenta Pisetta. Doña Nocenta had immigrated from Italy to marry her betrothed. After his long illness and the later death of her son, Pisetta became a renowned sculptor—at the age 72. Her life-size nativity scenes and other creations are exhibited at her former home, which also has an inn (daily 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 3:30-7 p.m. Tel: 42-4913, E-mail:

Chilecito is surrounded by a countryside laid with vineyards, nut and olive groves, and fruit orchards. The center of such production, as well as weaving, is Famatina village, 35 kilometers (22 mi) north of Chilecito. This village also is a base for paragliding and climbing the Nevados del Famatina (all services; hotels, restaurants, tours).

Thirty-five kilometers west of Chilecito, Ruta 40 passes by Cuesta de Miranda. This ochre and burnt-orange crinkled chain of bluffs stretches for 10 kilometers (6 mi). It provides ample opportunities for hiking and nature observation. The Mirador El Bordo Atravesado (2,020 m / 6,627) lends vistas of the mountains and desert. Further south is Parque Nacional Talampaya.

(Altitude: 1,080 m/ 3,543 ft, Population: 29,453, Phone Code: 03825)


The Dirección de Turismo (tourism office) can give the lowdown on what all to do in the city and surrounding countryside (Castro y Bazán, Tel: 42-2688). Chilecito also has police, banks, post office, Internet, phone, hospitals, pharmacies and other services.


Inka �'an Turismo (25 de Mayo 37, Tel: 42-2418 / 1555-2528, E-mail:

Cuesta Vieja Turismo (J González 467, Tel: 42-4874, E-mail:

Salir del Crater (25 de Mayo 87, Tel: 42-3854, E-mail:, URL:—4x4 excursions


Several campgrounds outside the city, including Tiro Federal (road to San Miguel, 3 km / 1.8 mi away) and Camping Amebalar (to San Miguel, 8 km / 5 mi away)

Hospedaje Don Isidro (19 de Febrero 558, Tel: 42-3310)

Hostería LaCasa (1 de Mayo 840, Tel: 42-3188,E-mail:

Hotel Chilecito (ACA) (Gordillo andOcampo,Tel: 42-2201)


Jaime y Alicia (Av Perón s/n)

Pizzaría Don Colacho (Dávila 160)

El Rancho de Ferrito (Av PB Luna 647)


Other places nearby Chilecito: San Juan, San Agustín Del Valle Fértil, Calingasta, La Rioja, Valle De Iglesia and Barreal.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

27 Jul 2011

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