Laguna Brava is one of those places we will never forget. On the top of the snow-capped Andes mountains and almost in the border between Argentina and Chile, we discovered a blue salty lagoon surrounded by a dry golden desert and colorful environment. Laguna Brava is a natural reserve created in 1980 for the preservation of vicuñas and guanacos (endangered species) and other species like ducks, pumas, red foxes and falcons. It is located on the west of La Rioja province in Argentina, 185 km from Villa Unión (where we stayed the night before and after) and 115 km from Vinchina, the closeste town.
Since this is a protected area you can only visit it accompanied by a registered guide. You don't need to buy a complete tour, you only need to have a guide with you and you can perfectly go in your own car (contrary to what the tourist office and the touristic book guides say). After spending a couple of hours on internet reading website forums and blogs, we decided to do the visit through the Laguna Brava Vinchina Cooperativa, a local organization that does the visits using people's own cars (200$/person). We got together at their office in Vinchina approximately at 8:30am where we waited for other people doing this visit (Argentinians and Brazilians). We left Vinchina around 9:15am in 3 cars and our car was the only that was not a 4x4 and for sure the less powerful one. Since the other 2 cars were full with 9 people, the guide, Juan, came with us. Despite of that every car received a walkie-talkie so Juan could explain to everyone information about the nature and the local History.
Our first stop was at the end of Vinchina town where we had to pay the reserve entrance fee (40$/person). The first km driving were full of colorful mountains and we saw guanacos and vicuñas on the way. We stopped in a very very small town ("pueblo") called Jague to eat something and use the toilets (no toilets after this place, just on the open air!). From this place the road goes ahead along the Santo Domingo Ravine through gentle slopes and curves, surrounded by hundreds of mountains, each one with a different color (brown, orange, green, violet, blue...).
We stopped a couple of times (to take pictures!) before arriving into an old refuge in the middle of another ravine called Quebrada del Peón. The Peón refuge, built between 1864 and 1873, is a circular construction with stone walls and mortar (mixture of lime and soil) with 5m of diameter. It was used by men driving cattle from Argentina to Chile through the Atacama desert.
At the end of the ravine there it was! The impressive and majestic Laguna Brava! Beautiful and incredible place. Difficult to describe in words (and even in photos) a place like this one. We left the cars to walk around the lagoon and its salty soil. The weather was not the best (but very very good for this place, according to our guide Juan). For us it was freezing and windy so we just walked a little bit (slowly, due to the altitude of more than 4,000 meters above sea level) and took several pictures.
In another side of the lake we also saw the debris of an abandoned airplane that made an emergency landing in the 1950s while carrying horses from Peru to Chile. It is also possible to admire the majestic (and some of the tallest) peaks in America, such as the Pissis volcano, the second tallest in America with 6,882m above sea level.
After Laguna Brava we started driving down the mountains but unfortunately one of the cars had a flat tire (yes one of the 4x4 cars!). Our guide Juan helped them to change it and in less than 30 minutes we were back on the road. Before leaving the park we did our last stop at another ravine called Quebrada de la Troya and where we say the famous La Pirámide (the pyramid), a perfect and strange formation carved by rain and wind. Another awesome place!
The tour finished around 6pm in the same place it started, at the Vinchina Cooperativa office. We had to drive for one hour more until Villa Unión, where we stayed for the night. It was one of the most beautiful places we visited until now (you can see the pictures but the place is even more spectacular!).
Next stop: Fiambalá (Argentina)