- 1 Introduction to the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park
- 2 Geographical and Geological Features
- 3 Biodiversity: Ecosystems and Fauna and Flora Species
- 4 Ecology and Conservation
- 5 Recommended Activities and Excursions in the Park
- 6 Cultural and Historical Importance
- 7 Sierra de las Quijadas National Park in the Context of Argentina’s National Parks
- 8 The Future of the National Park
- 9 Park Access Prices
- 10 Recommendations for Your Visit
- 11 What to See Near Sierra de las Quijadas
- 12 Photo Gallery
The mighty natural beauty of Argentina is impressively manifested in the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park. This park, one of the nation’s most precious sites, offers visitors unique experiences in a natural environment full of astounding geology. From its incredible rock formations to its rich biodiversity, along with its cultural significance and the activities it offers to tourists, it will captivate you from the very beginning.
Introduction to the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park
Situated in the San Luis Province in the central-western part of Argentina, within the Belgrano and Ayacucho departments, the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park (in Spanish: Parque Nacional Sierra de las Quijadas) covers an area of 73,785 hectares, offering a desert and mountain landscape of great beauty. It can be geographically located using the following coordinates: 32°33′03″S 67°03′51″W / -32.55083333, -67.06416667.
Establishment and Park Management
Created on December 10, 1991, through national law No. 24.015/9, the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park was established with the purpose of preserving a representative sample of scrubland and thorn forest, as well as protecting its rich biodiversity. The area has been an important site for paleontological findings, making it a prominent tourist destination in Argentina today.
Prior to the creation of the national park, the government of the San Luis Province transferred the ownership and jurisdiction of 150,000 hectares of land to the National State for the establishment of the park and national reserve.
The legislature of San Luis ratified the agreement through law No. 4844 on September 20, 1989, declaring the lands that would comprise the national park subject to expropriation.
After agreements between both jurisdictions, it was decided to limit the expropriations to an approximate area of 75,000 hectares as the central core area for the national park. The remaining area remained under the ownership of private holders and was designated as a national reserve.
In May 1999, the governor of San Luis, Adolfo Rodríguez Saa, ordered the transfer of 73,534 hectares expropriated to the national government. This transfer was accepted in April 2006.
In March 2006, the Management Plan of the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park was presented, outlining guidelines for the park’s management and conservation.
Meaning of the Name "Quijadas"
The name "Quijadas" originates from a 19th-century story related to the area of Potrero de la Aguada. During that time, this region served as a refuge for bandits who would rob the carts traveling from Buenos Aires to San Juan. After stealing the cattle, the outlaws would roast the animal heads and leave the skeletal remains scattered around the area. This practice gave rise to the name "Quijadas," referring to the jaws and bones of the abandoned animals in the area.
Geographical and Geological Features
The Geology of Sierra de las Quijadas
The park showcases a significant geological diversity, with sedimentary deposits that recount the region’s history dating back to the Triassic period. Scientists have discovered dinosaur fossils and other ancient inhabitants of the planet within its boundaries. The region boasts rich geological formations, featuring impressive mountain ranges eroded by water and wind, forming deep canyons, cliffs, and intensely reddish-colored terraces. It is situated in the ecotone: the transition area between the ecoregions of plains and plateaus, mountain ranges and basins, and arid Chaco.
One of the standout locations to appreciate this wonder is the Potrero de la Aguada, a breathtaking natural amphitheater nestled in the heart of the mountains. Here, visitors can admire the imposing beauty of these eroded mountain ranges and immerse themselves in an environment of astonishing colors and shapes.
Among the most captivating features of the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park are its striking rock formations. The park is home to awe-inspiring mountains and canyons that have been shaped over millions of years.
The Impact of Erosion
The forces of erosion have sculpted the park’s landscape, giving rise to its distinctive rock formations and rugged cliffs. This ongoing process contributes to the dynamic and diverse ecosystems within the park.
Climate in Sierra de las Quijadas
The climate is mountainous arid, characterized by significant temperature fluctuations both seasonally and daily. During the winter, average temperatures hover around 12°C, with average lows of -3°C. In the summer, average temperatures reach 23°C, with average highs of 35°C.
In terms of precipitation, the park receives around 300 mm of rainfall annually, though it is unevenly distributed throughout the year. A dry season occurs during the winter, while a wet season extends from late spring to early autumn.
Biodiversity: Ecosystems and Fauna and Flora Species
The park harbors a unique and captivating ecosystem that blends characteristics of the Semi-Arid Chaco and the Plains and Plateaus Monte. These two ecoregions converge within the park, resulting in remarkable biological diversity and greater species richness.
The area is characterized by its solitary mountain ranges rising from the aridity of the surrounding plains. These geological formations hold a history spanning approximately twenty-five million years. The iconic Potrero de la Aguada, situated in the heart of the mountains, has been a true paradise for paleontologists. It is here that fossil remains of dinosaurs and flying reptiles have been discovered, such as the pterodaustro with its distinctive and upward-curved jaws.
The ecotone present in the Sierra de las Quijadas National Park is a transitional zone between the Semi-Arid Chaco and the Plains and Plateaus Monte. This transition allows for the presence of species characteristic of both ecoregions, further enriching the area’s biodiversity. It’s a place where different forms of life adapted to arid and semi-arid conditions come together.
There are several iconic species that inhabit the protected area of the park:
- Chilean Tortoise (Chelonoidis chilensis): This reptile resides in arid and semi-arid regions of Argentina. The terrestrial tortoise digs burrows for shelter during the summer heat and hibernates in autumn and winter. It primarily feeds on plants such as cacti, as well as insects and snails. However, the use of this species as a pet has endangered its survival.
- Chica (Ramorinoa girolae): This plant is a shrub or small tree that grows on the rocky slopes of the Plains and Plateaus Monte ecoregion. It is characterized by its hard wood and slow growth. Its trunk is grayish with rough textures, and it has sharp, green branches that conduct photosynthesis as it lacks leaves. The chica blooms every few years with yellow and orange flowers resembling those of the bean plant.
- Andean Swift (Aeronautes andecolus): A bird known for being an excellent flyer, spending most of its life in the air where it feeds. During rest, it perches vertically in crevices and caves.
These emblematic species represent the diversity and significance of wildlife in the region, acting as symbols of the National Park. They emphasize the need to conserve and protect these habitats to ensure the survival of these species and the ecological balance of the region.
The park hosts a variety of plant species adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert that characterizes the arid areas of the region. From cacti and grasses to thorny shrubs, the park’s flora exemplifies adaptation and survival. Situated in the transition between the Plains and Plateaus Monte ecoregion and the Dry Chaco, Sierra de las Quijadas enjoys a unique combination of species.
In the Plains and Plateaus Monte, the most representative shrubs are the jarillas, which are characteristic of this ecoregion. These shrubs adapt to dry conditions and have small, tough leaves to minimize water loss.
In the Dry Chaco, trees like algarrobo and white quebracho can be found, distinct elements of this ecoregion. The algarrobo is a hardy tree capable of enduring long drought periods. The white quebracho is prized for its hard and resilient wood.
In addition to these notable species, the park is home to several endemic plants, with the chica standing out. This tough shrub or small tree thrives on the rocky slopes of the region. It has a grayish trunk with rough textures and sharp green branches that conduct photosynthesis as the plant lacks leaves. The chica blooms every few years with yellow and orange flowers resembling those of the bean plant.
The fauna in the region is varied and fascinating. Animals inhabiting the park include maras, gray foxes, pumas, guanacos, collared peccaries, and brown brocket deer. These creatures are adapted to arid conditions and exemplify the beauty and diversity of the region’s fauna. Additionally, the lesser long-nosed armadillo, an endangered species, is also part of the park’s wildlife ensemble, underscoring the importance of conservation efforts.
Regarding birds, the park boasts a wide representation of species. Among them are tinamous, Andean condors, white-collared swifts, eagles, crowned eagles, and yellow cardinals. These birds bring color and vitality to the park’s ecosystem. However, it’s essential to note that both the crowned eagle and the yellow cardinal are endangered due to habitat loss and trapping. Preserving these species is crucial for maintaining the park’s biodiversity and ensuring their long-term survival.
Endemic and Threatened Species
The park plays a crucial role in the protection of endemic and threatened species, such as the Andean Condor, by providing a safe habitat for their survival and reproduction.
Ecology and Conservation
As in many parts of the world, climate change and human activity present challenges for the conservation of this park. Erosion, wildfires, and the introduction of invasive species are among the issues it faces.
The Administration of National Parks in Argentina is committed to protecting and preserving the national park, implementing various conservation and environmental education initiatives.
The Importance of Environmental Education
Environmental education is a fundamental pillar in conservation efforts. The park offers educational programs for children and adults, promoting respect and appreciation for nature.
Recommended Activities and Excursions in the Park
Potrero de la Aguada
The Potrero de la Aguada is an impressive natural amphitheater located 7 kilometers from the entrance of Sierra de las Quijadas National Park. With its reddish rock formations and magnificent backdrop, it’s a captivating place that offers stunning panoramic views. It’s perfect for contemplation and hiking amidst the beauty of nature.
This site is renowned for its magnificence and unique beauty. The eroded mountain ranges create a kind of natural stage, where the rock walls rise mightily around an open space. The intense reddish color of the rock formations adds a dramatic and captivating touch to the landscape.
The Potrero de la Aguada is a place that invites contemplation and connection with nature. Visitors can marvel at the grandeur of the mountains and the curious shapes that have been sculpted over millions of years. It’s a perfect setting to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views and capture photographs that reflect the grandiosity of the environment, offering wonderful opportunities for exploration and hiking. Visitors can traverse the trails that wind through the rock formations, discovering hidden corners and appreciating the uniqueness of the landscape.
Hornillos de Hualtarán
Impressive rock formations along the access road to the park. The rock structures stand out for their beauty and uniqueness, creating a surprising landscape that captivates visitors from the beginning of their journey.
Native Flora Trail
A 45-minute self-guided route to appreciate the native flora, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the diversity of the native plant life of the area. Along the path, various plant species adapted to the arid conditions of the region can be observed, uncovering their beauty and their importance to the ecosystem.
Las Huellas del Pasado Trail (Footprints of the Past)
A 2-hour guided round-trip route to explore the footprints of the past. The Footprints of the Past Trail offers visitors the opportunity to explore the fascinating remnants of the past found within the park. With the guidance of experts, visitors will discover the remains of dinosaurs and flying reptiles, such as the intriguing pterodaustro, that inhabited this area millions of years ago.
A 3-hour self-guided round-trip route, with prior registration at the Information Office, for observing guanacos. The Guanacos Trail requires prior registration at the Access Information Office. Along this trail, visitors can enjoy the presence of elegant guanacos, observing them in their natural habitat and admiring their beauty and adaptation to the park’s conditions.
A 4-hour guided round-trip route to enjoy the park’s impressive cliffs. The Farallones Trail offers a unique experience for those wishing to explore vertical and steep rock formations that rise sharply from the surrounding terrain. With the company of expert guides, visitors can delve into this awe-inspiring landscape, marvel at the geology of the place, and relish unparalleled panoramic views.
Cultural and Historical Importance
Fossil and Archaeological Remains
The park is an important paleontological and archaeological site. Here, dinosaur fossils and those of other ancient creatures have been discovered, providing valuable insights into the history of life on Earth.
Meaning for Indigenous Peoples
The Sierra de las Quijadas holds a special significance for the indigenous peoples of the region, who consider this land sacred. The park protects several sites that are culturally and spiritually important for these communities.
Sierra de las Quijadas National Park in the Context of Argentina’s National Parks
Comparisons with Other National Parks
While each of Argentina’s national parks is unique, Sierra de las Quijadas stands out for its dramatic desert landscape, rich biodiversity, and paleontological and cultural significance. While other parks may house subtropical forests or glaciers, this park offers a glimpse into the austere beauty of the scrubland and thorn forest.
Cooperation Among National Parks
The Administration of National Parks in Argentina encourages cooperation among the country’s national parks. This enables the sharing of resources and knowledge, and working together to address common challenges such as climate change and the conservation of threatened species.
The Park’s Contribution to Tourism and Argentina’s Economy
It is an important tourist destination that contributes to the local and national economy. It attracts visitors from around the world, generating income through tourism and promoting the growth of local businesses.
The Future of the National Park
Projects and Development Proposals
Various projects are underway to enhance the visitor experience and promote sustainable use of the park. These include improving facilities and creating new interpretive trails.
Future Challenges and Climate Change
Climate change poses new challenges for the park. The administration is working on strategies to mitigate its effects and ensure the conservation of biodiversity in the decades to come.
The Role of the Community in Park Conservation and Maintenance
The local community plays a vital role in park conservation. Community participation and volunteer programs provide opportunities to contribute to the maintenance and preservation of this valuable natural resource.
Park Access Prices
Access fees to the park have a 50% discount on the rate for a second visit, which must be made within 72 hours of the first entry.
Current Rates as of May 22, 2023
- General rate: $5500.
- National residents: $1500.
- Children aged 6 to 16: $1000.
- University/tertiary students: $1000.
- Provincial residents: $1000.
- Students up to 18 years old on a school excursion: $0 (prior accreditation with the Park’s Administration required).
- Local residents, retirees, pensioners, children up to 5 years old, people with disabilities: $0 (supporting documentation required for each case)
*Student status can be proven with a student ID or a certificate of enrollment.
**Retiree or pensioner status is proven with a pension receipt not older than 3 periods.
***People with disabilities must present a valid Unique Disability Certificate (CUD) or similar document.
Recommendations for Your Visit
Getting There by Car
- From the City of San Luis: Take RN 147 northeast until you reach the Hualtarán area, where the park entrance is located. The approximate distance is 120 km.
- From Villa de Merlo (San Luis): Take RP 5 until you reach the town of Quines, then continue on RN 20 westward until you reach RN 147. Turn left and, 8 km away, you’ll find the park entrance. The approximate distance is 180 km.
- From Villa Dolores (Córdoba): Take RN 20 until you reach the town of Quines, then continue westward until you reach RN 147. Turn left and, 8 km away, you’ll find the park entrance. The approximate distance is 150 km.
- From San Juan: Take RN 147 southeast until you reach the park. The approximate distance is 260 km.
- From Mendoza: Take RN 40 until you reach RP 34, then continue on RN 142 until you reach the town of Encon. From there, head southeast on RN 147 until you reach the park. The approximate distance is 260 km.
Other Means of Transportation
- Bus: The city of San Luis has bus services that connect with various towns across the country, providing a public transportation option to reach the provincial capital.
- Flights: Daily flights are available from Buenos Aires to the city of San Luis. Weekly flights also operate from the cities of Córdoba and Mendoza, offering a quicker option for those who prefer air travel.
- Car Rental: To reach Sierra de las Quijadas, you can choose to rent a car or van, which provides autonomy and flexibility to explore the area at your own pace. Car rental companies are available in the provincial capital.
- Remis: Another option is to hire a remis service, which will take you from the city of San Luis to the national park. These services are often more comfortable and personalized but may come with an additional cost.
- Tour Agencies: You can also turn to tour agencies located in the provincial capital or nearby towns, offering tour packages that include transportation. These agencies usually provide group transportation options and specialized guides for a more comprehensive experience.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Sierra de las Quijadas National Park is from April to October, avoiding the high summer temperatures. During these months, the weather is milder and more pleasant for outdoor activities and enjoying the natural beauty of the park.
Accommodation and Services in the Surroundings
The park has an area for free camping, which includes 12 plots, restrooms, and individual barbecue facilities for the convenience of visitors.
For alternative accommodation in Sierra de las Quijadas, it is recommended to explore the cities of San Luis to the south, and Luján and Quines to the north of the park. Here, you can find various options to meet visitors’ needs, such as restaurants, gas stations, hotels, and local shops.
Supplies, Restaurants, and Other Services
- 500 meters from the park entrance, there is a convenience store and dining area.
- Within 500 meters from the park entrance, along RN 147, you’ll find a convenience store and dining area to meet visitors’ basic needs.
- 24 km south of Hualtarán, there’s another dining option available.
- Auto repair workshop: In the town of San Antonio, tire services are available for those who require vehicle assistance.
Safety Tips and Visitor Guidelines
Visitor safety is a priority during visits. It is recommended to carry water and sunscreen, follow signs, and stay on marked trails. Visitors should respect wildlife and carry out all trash when leaving the park. Additionally, it’s important to consider the following during your visit:
- In case of high temperatures exceeding 35°C, the Farallones trail may temporarily close for safety reasons. It’s important to check the weather conditions and access availability, especially after storms, before starting your visit.
- Carry sufficient water, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing.
- Respect park rules and signage, and remember to bring a bag to store your trash and keep the area clean. If you need assistance or information, park staff will be available to help.
What to See Near Sierra de las Quijadas
City of San Luis
The city of San Luis, located 116 km from Sierra de las Quijadas National Park, is a nearby destination that offers a variety of attractions. These include two urban parks where visitors can enjoy green spaces and recreational areas. Additionally, the city has museums that provide an enriching cultural experience. Don’t miss the impressive Cathedral, a prominent landmark of the city.
Potrero de los Funes
Potrero de los Funes, located 131 km from the park, is a true paradise for fishing and water sports enthusiasts. Surrounded by beautiful landscapes, this destination offers the opportunity to enjoy water activities such as fishing and water sports in a spectacular natural setting. Access to Potrero de los Funes can be made via the national routes RN 147 and the provincial routes RP 20 and RP 18.
The city of Merlo, located 210 km from Sierra de las Quijadas National Park, is famous for its healthy microclimate and beautiful mountain landscapes. This destination has gained recognition for its pleasant climate, making it an ideal place for rest and well-being. Merlo offers stunning mountain enclaves and boasts a wide tourism infrastructure that includes hotels, restaurants, and recreational activities. Access to Merlo can be made via the national routes RN 147 and RN 20, as well as the provincial routes RP 23 and RP 5.