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Barreal is the biggest town in Valle de Calingasta, and the most convenient for making excursions into the precordillera (Andean foothills) and to Parque Nacional El Leoncito. For these reasons, it has more lodging options. Also, all of the valley’s tour operators are based here.


The life of the village is along Avenida Presidente Roca. At the terraced Plaza San MartĂ­n are the tourism office, hospital and the Feria Artesanal (artisan fair). A half-kilometer (0.3 mi) east of the hospital is Museo Renzo Herrera, which has an eclectic collection of fossils, indigenous artifacts and other items (daily 8 a.m.-noon, 4-8 p.m. Las Heras s/n Este, Tel: 44-1073. Entry: by donation).


At a triangular rotunda (roundabout), Avenida Roca meets Avenida San Martín. Many hostels are on this road. Walking west on San Martín leads travelers to the Río de los Patos, where they may fish. East on San Martín heads to the foot of the precordillera. Six circuits can be done hiking or on horseback in these and other ranges, into untouched nature where flora and fauna may be observed. Some go to abandoned mines, petroglyphs and other reminders of the human past. None of the trails are marked, so a guide is necessary. The most challenging of the treks is the eight-day recreation of General José de San Martín’s crossing of the Andes, which passes at the foot of Cerro Mercedario. At 6,770 meters (22,211 ft) it is San Juan Province’s highest peak and the second highest in the country.


Some 17 kilometers (10 mi) south of Barreal is Pampa El Leoncito. This 50-square-kilometer (19-sq mi) fossilized sand bed is swept by 50-100 kilometer per hour (31-62 mph) winds, making it the perfect place to practice carrovelismo (kite buggy) October-February (Don Toro Carrovelismo, Tel: 0264-156-717-196, E-mail:


Thirty-five kilometers (21 mi) south of Barreal is Parque Nacional El Leoncito. This 89,907-hectare (222,165-ac) park was founded in 1994 as a Strict Nature Reserve and later promoted to a national park in 2002. It preserves puna and high Andean ecosystems. The park’s symbol, Darwin’s Rhea (suri cordillerano), is a frequent sight, as are guanaco. Other fauna are guinea pigs (cuy), largarto cola de piche and Red-backed Hawk (aguilucho común, Buteo polyosoma). The thorny scrub brush includes cacti, escarapela and brea. At the ranger station, three trails may be hiked: Paisajes de Agua, which teaches the importance of water in the desert (Difficulty: easy); Cascada El Rincón, leading to a small waterfall on Arroyo El Leoncito (Difficulty: easy-medium); and Sendero Cerro El Leoncito, a four-hour trek up a 2,519-meter (8,264-ft) high mountain (Difficulty: medium; requires authorization). Entry and camping in the park are free. Authorized agencies offer horseback riding (Explora Parques, Tel: 0264-503-2008, E-mail:, URL: and 4x4 excursions (Explora Parques; also Fortuna Viajes, Posada Don Ramón, Av Roca s/n Norte, Barreal, Tel: 0264-1540-4913, URL:


Parque Nacional El Leoncito’s clear skies also make it the perfect habitat for two astronomical observatories, both of which have free day tours: Observatorio Astronómico El Leoncito (CASLEO) (daily 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. Tel: 02648-44-1088) and Cesco (daily 10 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., 6 p.m. Tel: 02648-44-1087). Night tours may be arranged at either observatory (Entry: foreigners $8.50, Argentines $6).


(Altitude: 1,626 m / 5,334 ft, Population: 2,382, Phone Code: 02648)





The tourism office has information on Valle de Calingasta destinations; staff speak some English (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-9 p.-m., weekends 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Roca and Las Heras, Tel: 44-106, E-mail:, URL: The town also has Parque Nacional El Leoncito administration office (Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Cordillera Ansilta s/n, Tel: 44-1240, E-mail:; police (Roca s/n Norte, Tel: 44-1022), bank, post office, phone, Internet, hospital (Las Heras s/n Este, Tel: 44-1060), pharmacy.




Feria Artesanal (weekends after 3 p.m. South side of Plaza San MartĂ­n)


Güer Aike (Belgrano s/n Sur)—artist studio and gallery





Fortuna Viajes (Posada Don Ramón, Av Roca s/n Norte, Tel: 0264-1540-4913, URL:—national park excursions, trans-Andean trek


Cabalgatas Tato (Roca s/n, Tel: 44-1147, E-mail:, URL:—horseback riding in the Precordillera


Condor Expediciones (San Martín s/n Este, Tel: 44-1144)—rafting, expeditions to Valle Colorado





Many hotels are booked by mining companies.


Camping Municipal (Belgrano s/n Sur, Tel: 0264-156-723-914)—$1.25 per person


Hostel Barreal (San Martín s/n Este, Tel: 44-1144, E-mail:—$10-13 per person; also camping


Hostal Don Lisandro (San Martín s/n Este)—shared room $14.25 per person; private room for 1 or 2 persons $40; bike rental


Posada San Eduardo (San Martín and Los Enamorados, Tel: 44-1046)—1 person $43-72, 2 persons $57-86

RestaurantsEl Alero Parilla (Guiachino s/n, Tel: 44-1027)Restaurante Isidoro (Roca s/n Sur)Cliff Pizzas (Roca s/n Sur)



Other places nearby Barreal: Calingasta,

By Lorraine Caputo

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

25 Nov 2010

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