- 1 Introduction to Ischigualasto Provincial Park
- 2 Geology and Main Attractions of the Park
- 2.1 Unique Geological Formations
- 2.2 Climate of the Region
- 3 Biodiversity of the Park
- 4 Activities and Tours
- 5 Scientific and Paleontological Research
- 6 Conservation and Sustainability
- 7 Practical Information
- 8 How to Get to Ischigualasto Provincial Park
- 9 Photo Gallery
The Ischigualasto Provincial Park (in Spanish: Parque Provincial Ischigualasto), also known as the Valley of the Moon, is located in San Juan, Argentina, and offers a captivating experience for nature and history enthusiasts. This park boasts a mighty landscape comprised of geological formations, astonishing biodiversity, and unparalleled paleontological value. It’s a destination that transports its visitors through time, enabling them to explore the history of our planet from the age of dinosaurs.
Introduction to Ischigualasto Provincial Park
Situated in the northwest of Argentina, specifically in the province of San Juan, the park is located within the Valle Fértil and Jáchal departments. It borders the province of La Rioja to the north and is approximately 20 km from Talampaya National Park. Accessing the park is straightforward due to its excellent road connections. You can pinpoint its geographical coordinates as follows: 30°09′46.96″S 67°50′34.05″W. This advantageous location allows visitors to easily immerse themselves in this mighty natural environment and enjoy all its wonders.
History of the Provincial Park
Designated as a Protected Area by the Government of the Province of San Juan on November 3, 1971, due to its invaluable paleontological value, with the aim of preserving the complete sequence of continental sediments from the Triassic period, unique in the world. Subsequently, this distinction was reinforced through UNESCO’s declaration of it as a World Heritage Site on November 30, 2000.
A key figure in the park’s history is William Sill, a prominent paleontologist and researcher. Through his scientific publications, he succeeded in gaining international recognition and appreciation for Ischigualasto. He presented the geological and paleontological significance of the location to international organizations, obtaining the highest recognition for a protected area. In honor of his contribution, the Interpretation Center located within the tourist circuit bears his name. Inside, visitors can explore fossils that provide a better understanding of dinosaur evolution, a topic that appeals to both children and adults.
The Ischigualasto Provincial Park has a robust "Management Plan" with a protection degree of II, based on the protection of anthropological heritage, the development of local communities, and the promotion of tourism. These fundamental pillars ensure the proper conservation of the park and promote a sustainable approach that benefits both the natural heritage and the people living in the region.
Origin of the Name
The name Ischigualasto comes from the indigenous language and translates as "place where the moon rests," a poetic reference to its lunar landscape.
Historical and Cultural Significance
This park is a cathedral of Earth’s history, with fossils dating back to the age of dinosaurs, making it a place of significant scientific and cultural importance.
With its extensive collection of fossils from ancient eras, the park holds immense scientific and cultural importance. Every discovery made at this paleontological site provides valuable insights into the evolution of life on Earth and allows us to better understand our past. It is a sacred place for science and history enthusiasts, connecting us to the fascinating chapters that preceded human existence.
Geology and Main Attractions of the Park
Situated at an altitude ranging from 1200 to 1800 meters above sea level, with the park’s highest peaks, the protected area covers an expanse of 62,916 hectares in the Monte de Llanuras y Mesetas ecoregion, as per records from the Directorate of Geodesy and Cadastre of the province of San Juan, updated until May 24, 2005. This extensive area allows for the preservation and protection of diverse ecosystems and geological formations within the park, while also providing a natural space of immense scientific and cultural significance.
Unique Geological Formations
Ischigualasto is globally renowned for its unique geological formations, including the Bowling Alley and the Valley of the Moon, offering a captivating glimpse into the planet’s prehistory.
Internationally recognized for hosting unique geological formations such as the Bowling Alley and the Valley of the Moon. These extraordinary structures transport us to Earth’s prehistory, providing a captivating view of its geological past. The Bowling Alley showcases scattered stone spheres, while the Valley of the Moon immerses us in a lunar landscape of sculpted rock formations. These geological wonders stand as impressive testimony to the history of our planet.
Cancha de Bochas (Bowling Alley)
The Bowling Alley is one of the standout attractions of Ischigualasto Provincial Park. It’s characterized by its unique geological formations in the shape of spheres, known as ‘bowling balls.’ These spherical structures are a remarkable natural phenomenon that captivates both geologists and tourists alike. Their intriguing appearance and origin evoke awe and admiration. Exploring the Bowling Alley offers a unique experience, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty and singularity of these extraordinary geological formations.
Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon)
The Valley of the Moon, with its erosion-sculpted rock formations, is a highlight of any visit. Its stunning rock formations, shaped by millions of years of erosion, make it a must-see during your visit. This lunar landscape transports you to a surreal and captivating world, where rocks take on whimsical and sculptural forms. Exploring the Valley of the Moon is immersing yourself in a magical and astonishing setting, where the forces of nature and the passage of time manifest in every detail. Prepare your camera and be enchanted by the extraordinary beauty of this unique place.
El Hongo y El Submarino (The Mushroom and The Submarine)
These two geological formations derive their names from their unusual appearance and are popular spots for photography. The names The Mushroom and The Submarine stem from their unusual resemblance to a mushroom and a submarine, respectively. These formations are highly favored destinations among visitors, especially for photography enthusiasts. Capturing the uniqueness and beauty of The Mushroom and The Submarine in images is a rewarding experience. I invite you to explore and appreciate these astonishing formations that stand out among the geological wonders of the park.
El Gusano (The Worm)
Another prominent rock formation, "The Worm," is especially impressive at sunrise and sunset. This distinctive structure captures visitors’ attention with its sinuous and curved appearance, resembling a giant worm sculpted by erosion over the years. What makes "The Worm" even more breathtaking is its spectacle at sunrise and sunset, when the sunlight highlights its shapes and colors, creating an unforgettable visual experience. If you have the chance, I recommend visiting "The Worm" during these magical times of the day to enjoy an even more astonishing view.
Talampaya and Tarjados
These formations extend across the westernmost sector of the park, as well as along Talampaya Park in the La Rioja province. They are mainly composed of reddish-brown sandstones and conglomerates, representing sediments left by alluvial fans during the Lower Triassic period.
Found in the southwest of Ischigualasto Park, this formation consists of gray and whitish rocks, such as sandstones and clays. It contains a rich vertebrate fauna that represents the Middle Triassic.
Located in the northeast of the park, in contact with the Talampaya and Tarjados Formations, this unit is composed of layers of mudstones and fine sandstones. Remains of plants, coal, and lacustrine invertebrates have been discovered, deposited during the existence of Lake Ischichuca in the Middle Triassic.
Los Rastros (The Traces)
Emerging to the east of the Chañares and Ischichuca Formations, this formation consists of alternating brown sandstones with layers of mudstones and coal. It represents the last traces of Lake Ischichuca and the sediments left by the rivers that drained into it. Fossil remains of plants, tetrapod footprints, and lacustrine invertebrates from the Middle Triassic have been found in this formation.
Extending from north to south in contact with the Los Rastros Formation, it is composed of gray, whitish, and purple sandstones alternating with fine plain sediments. This formation houses the largest number of vertebrate fossils in the Ischigualasto basin, as well as a rich collection of plant remains from the Upper Triassic.
Present in the easternmost part of Ischigualasto Park, this formation is characterized by a package of red sandstones interspersed with mudstone layers. It contains the youngest Triassic vertebrate remains and some large tree trunks.
These geological formations provide a fascinating insight into the natural and geological history of Ischigualasto, attracting visitors with their beauty and scientific significance.
Climate of the Region
The province of San Juan features various climate types, ranging from the arid puna climate in the far north, transitioning to the semi-arid mountain climate in areas near the mountain range that borders Chile, to the arid sierras and valleys climate in the rest of the territory. While there are slight variations among these categories, they are generally characterized by aridity.
Argentina’s arid climate is largely due to the geographical position of the Andes Mountains, which stretch from north to south. In the northernmost part of the country, before reaching the mountains, a series of elevations capture the moisture from northeast winds, leaving the mountains without that moisture. Additionally, the winds from the Pacific, as they ascend the eastern slopes of the Andes, lose their moisture, contributing to the drying effect in the region.
These climatic factors result in the province of San Juan experiencing arid and semi-arid conditions, with minimal rainfall and an overall dry climate. It’s important to consider these characteristics when planning a visit to Ischigualasto Provincial Park, as temperatures can be extreme in both summer and winter, and daily temperature fluctuations can be significant. It’s recommended to dress in layers and take necessary precautions to adapt to these climatic conditions.
Biodiversity of the Park
Despite the arid conditions, the park’s flora is diverse, including cacti, jarilla shrubs, and white carob plants that have adapted to the extreme climate.
This environment also hosts a variety of fauna, including foxes, guanacos, maras, and a wide range of bird species.
Activities and Tours
Natural Sciences Museum of Ischigualasto Park
Complementing the visit to the internal circuit, the museum showcases the paleontological aspects of the park. Through its exhibits, visitors can appreciate the paleontological value of Ischigualasto and learn about the process of fossil discovery, preparation, and research. The museum also displays notable pieces collected in the park, such as the Eoraptor. Furthermore, it features the traveling exhibition "Titans of Ischigualasto," the largest collection of dinosaurs in South America.
The mentioned paleontological taxa encompass a variety of dinosaur species and other organisms that inhabited the Ischigualasto area. Some notable examples are:
Mammal-like Reptiles/Mammaliaformes or Synapsida
- Pseudotherium argentinus.
Additionally, the exhibition features the skull and claw of Herrerasaurus, one of the oldest known dinosaurs to date, along with Eoraptor. These specimens are considered gems of the Natural Sciences Museum of San Juan and are displayed in Ischigualasto, the same place where they were found 230 million years ago.
The museum also presents skeletal mounts, such as that of Herrerasaurus and a Frenguellisaurus, as well as fossils with exceptional preservation that introduce visitors to the field of scientific paleontology. Various disciplines are explored, such as biomechanics, which analyzes the movements and behaviors of animals, as well as taphonomic analysis, which helps understand the death, preservation, and processes that fossil organisms underwent over millions of years.
For those who wish to learn more about the geology, fauna, and flora of the park, guided tours are offered that provide an in-depth view of this unique landscape.
With its rugged terrain and clear skies, Ischigualasto offers photographers the opportunity to capture stunning images.
Hiking and Cycling
For more adventurous visitors, there are a number of hiking and cycling trails that allow you to explore the park at your own pace.
Scientific and Paleontological Research
With its wealth of fossils, Ischigualasto is a place of great paleontological importance, providing a unique view of the Triassic Period.
In 1958, the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum of Buenos Aires entered into an agreement with Harvard University in the United States to study and classify the species found in this remarkable paleontological site. Paleontologists Guillermo Del Corro and Alfred Romer led the project, extracting approximately one hundred well-preserved specimens that were taken to the United States for study. Subsequently, a portion of the specimens returned to Argentina. Alfred Romer stated: "Every paleontologist dreams of finding one day a virgin site covered with skulls and skeletons. This dream is almost never fulfilled. To our surprise and delight, the dream came true in Ischigualasto."
Some of the most important fossils discovered here include dinosaurs, such as Herrerasaurus, and numerous other primitive vertebrates.
Conservation and Sustainability
Current Conservation Efforts
To protect this unique environment, the park is subject to a series of conservation measures, including limiting the number of visitors per day.
With the creation of the "Ente Autárquico Ischigualasto," the government of the province of San Juan committed to preserving the UNESCO World Heritage status granted in November 2000, due to its geological, paleontological, and exceptional scientific value. Additionally, an ambitious project was implemented to enhance the park’s tourism value.
The science-tourism approach highlights Ischigualasto as one of the most important geological-paleontological sites in the world. This approach emphasizes the evolutionary importance and abundance of vertebrate fossils discovered in Ischigualasto in recent decades. The extensive sequence of rocks that document the geological, biological, and climatic history of Earth during the Triassic period is also valued.
These strategies allow visitors to experience Ischigualasto from both scientific and tourism perspectives. An exhibition of nearly 700 square meters has been established, showcasing the complete history of a fossil, from its discovery to its preparation in specialized laboratories. Additionally, "scientific" geology and paleontology excursions are being planned, guided by university experts, to educate visitors about the geological evolution of the Ischigualasto basin over millions of years.
These initiatives are part of a comprehensive development program that includes investments in infrastructure, the approval of a Park Management Plan, the creation of a professional park ranger corps, tourist promotion, and micro-region analysis to benefit local communities and capitalize on the tourist flow near the park.
While tourism brings economic benefits, it also has an impact on the environment. Visitors are encouraged to minimize their impact by following the park’s rules.
Hours and Fees
The park is open year-round, with general entry available at a reasonable cost. Guided tours and other activities may have additional fees.
To ensure the protection of the park and its inhabitants, park regulations must be followed. These include staying on marked trails, not feeding animals, and not collecting plants or rocks.
Where to Stay and Eat
Near the park, visitors will find a variety of accommodations, ranging from hotels to campsites, as well as restaurants offering local cuisine and typical Argentine gastronomy.
San Agustín del Valle Fértil and Villa Unión (La Rioja) are two excellent options for lodging due to their proximity, services, and availability of accommodations. In San Agustín, you’ll find a variety of lodging options, including hotels, lodges, cabins, and guesthouses. These establishments offer different amenities and prices to suit the needs and preferences of visitors.
Another option is near the service area in Ischigualasto, in the camping area available for those who wish to enjoy a closer-to-nature experience. You’ll also find a restaurant where you can enjoy meals and beverages, as well as a shop where you can get supplies and basic products.
How to Get to Ischigualasto Provincial Park
The most common way to get to the park is by car. There is a paved road that leads directly to the park from the nearest city, San Juan.
To reach Ischigualasto, there are different access options from various locations:
- From San Juan Capital: The distance between San Juan Capital and Ischigualasto is approximately 300 km. You can take National Route 40 and then National Route 150 to reach the park. Both roads are paved and in good condition.
- From San Agustín del Valle Fértil: If you’re in San Agustín del Valle Fértil, the distance to Ischigualasto is approximately 73 km. You can take Provincial Route 510 to reach the park. This route is also paved.
- From Villa Unión (La Rioja): If you’re in Villa Unión, the distance to Ischigualasto is approximately 140 km. You can take National Route 76 and then National Route 150 to reach the park. Both roads are paved and in good condition.
On all of these routes, you’ll find signage indicating the way to Ischigualasto Park. You can also choose to take organized tours that will take you to the park in authorized vehicles with specialized guides.
- Departure from ETO (Estación Terminal de Ómnibus) City of San Juan: There’s a service on route 800 departing at 18:00 hours and arriving at Villa San Agustín de Valle Fértil at 22:00 hours.
- Departure from San Agustín del Valle Fértil to the capital: The service departs starting at 17:00 hours and arrives at ETO, San Juan, at 21:00 hours.
- Departure from San Agustín del Valle Fértil to Ischigualasto: There’s a service on route 850-I departing at 7:15 hours and arriving at Ischigualasto at 8:45 hours. The internal park tour starts at 9:00 hours.
- Departure from the Park: The departure time from the Park is at 12:30 hours, arriving at Villa San Agustín at 14:30 hours.