Top Five for San Luis Province
- Hiking in the Parque Nacional Sierra de la Quijadas
- A stroll through the sleepy town of Merlo for souvenir shopping and coffee.
- A visit to the rock museum and gold mine in La Carolina.
- A visit to the Hinti Huasi caves
- Cerveza artesenales in San Luis
San Luis province in Argentina is not a particularly touristy place to visit. Overshadowed by more famous places like Mendoza and Patagonia, it probably hasn´t had it´s fair share of visitors. Which is lucky, because it still maintains an authentic and unspoiled feeling.
We visited for three days in Argentinian fall/winter, adding to the lack of visitors. After an early morning flight on Friday, we arrived into the miniscule airport, rented a car, and headed downtown for coffee, medialunas, and an assessment of the plan for the weekend. First, we drove ~100 km to the Parque Nacional Sierra de la Quijadas, where a very friendly park ranger outlined the hiking routes for us. We took a couple short walks around the gorgeous red earth rock formations, relishing in the complete silence in the park.
That evening we checked in at Posado del Paraisos, a completely un-recommendable place (dirty, unheated, and in the middle of nowhere). However the evening became significantly better with a visit to Laterne Beer n Go, and strange name for a fantastic craft beer and burger bar in San Luis. The bartender was incredibly friendly and happy to tell us all about the beers and burgers on offer. We sampled some British and Pumpkin ales, Hoppy IPAs, along with an Argentinian version of Pakhoras with spicy dip, and then the burgers. Grass-fed local beef is ground in-house and served as you like it – I had the “Azul” – blue cheese, caramelized onions, and arugula. The guys tried the Mexican and the Argenta. The burgers were fantastic, and along with great beer it was a thoroughly satisfying meal.
After an awful night in our “Paradise”, we headed out to drive to Merlo on Saturday – with stops along the way at an 8000 years old cave, a hobbit-like coffee shop, a rock museum, and a gold mine.
First up was the coffee shop – a completely surprising discovery at the side of the road. The wooden house was a rather loose convoluted structure with a tiny door to enter through. Inside, the walls and ceilings are covered in handcrafted dwarf and elf paraphernalia, with a suitably slightly off-key owner, who was ecstatic to have some visitors (I think it had been awhile since the last ones). We ordered café con leche and were treated to a basket of traditional Argentina baked flatbread – similar to a nan bread, but denser, with a delicious salty and flaky crust. We gobbled it up and were regaled with stories of the area.
Back in the car, we headed towards the gold mine and rock museum in La Carolina, stopping frequently to take pictures of the amazing landscape.
The rock museum, El Condor Museo Minerologico, was an absolute gold mine (heehee) of gorgeous mica, quartz, rhodocrosite, striped limestones, and many other specimens. We asked about the tour of the mine, which unfortunately seemed a bit touristy and long, so we decided to skip it in favor of heading towards the Hinti Huasi caves. By this time the weather was getting more inclement and we dashed from the car to the caves. These caves, the name meaning “House of the Sun”, with the earliest evidence of settlement by the Ayampitin ~8000 years ago, beat only by the Lascaux caves in France and the Altamira caves in Spain.
With pouring rain, we headed towards Merlo, stopping on the way in San Martin. In Merlo, we checked in at Altos de Merlo Suites hotel, and then turned around immediately to check out the nightlife in town. First up was the El Tono Restaurant/Bar, where we tried some local San Luis red wine and were treated to a live performance of local folk music and dance. We proceeded to cross the street to the Irish Pub (naturally) where we had great beer, more live music, and a massive 2 am snack. Great bar, great value for money, and friendly staff.
After a long sleep-in on Sunday, we enjoyed a lazy breakfast at the hotel, then strolled into town, buying some souvenirs and local regional produce – beautiful vinegars, olive oils, wines, honey, jam, dulce de leche, and herbs.
We drove slowly back towards San Luis, stopping by La Tomo to visit the Onyx mine, which was unfortunately closed on Sundays. Back at the airport, we dropped the car off, checked in for the flight, and took a late flight back to the hustle, bustle, and noise of the city.
I can highly recommend San Luis for any nature and peace lover out there, and a peak into a different Northern Argentina culture.