Ischigualasto Provincial Park, known as Valle de la Luna ("Moon Valley") is a protected natural area in the northwest of Argentina (San Juan province). This park has a strange clay formation, with a great variety of shapes and rock formations with different layers of mineral and sediments. Its formations contain deposits with more than 200 million years and the park has some of the oldest known dinosaur remains, considered the world's first regarding its quality, number and importance. It is the only place in the world where nearly all of the Triassic is represented in an undisturbed sequence of rock deposits. Due to its importance UNESCO declared Ischigualasto among its World Heritage Sites in 2000.
The entrance of the park is about 90 km north from San Agustín de Valle Fértil (1h driving), where we stayed in a very nice rustic hotel: Cerro del Valle Hotel. Marisa and Mario, our hosts, explained us all about the park and recommended us to also drive around 40 km more after the park main entrance to enjoy impressive views of the valley and the rocks. Of course we did it and we didn't regret because we saw impressive landscapes all the time!
The park itself cannot be visited alone. Everyone needs to be integrated on a tour with its own vehicle (or through an agency if you don't have a car). The tour takes around 3h30 (200$ARG/person) and it has one guide that makes 6 stops during the circuit to explain the different aspects of the park. At the main entrance there is an Interpretation Center where we read about the formation of this place and the different dinosaur fossils and other animals found in the park. In front of the museum we found some artisan shops with several manufactured products and souvenirs.
After leaving the entrance of the park we began to line up together with other tourists visiting this intriguing place. All starts with the park's name (Ischigualasto) that means the "place where the moon rests" in the Quechua tongue. Where today we see rocks and almost a desert, in the past it was a huge lake surrounded by vegetation and where plenty of animals lived. Due to the high temperatures, strong winds and almost no rain almost everything is gone but this park helps to study the origin of life on the planet. The landscape is gorgeous and along the ride it is possible to admire several formations like the painted valley, which was formed due to the torrential rains that flooded the plains creating a great amount of mud. This spot offers an incredible landscape, specially during the full moon (after which the park has been named). The bowling field has some perfectly polished spheres and some of them are grouped together due to some kind of molecular attraction.
The tour last stop was at the mushroom formation, one of the most famous wind-eroded rock formations. After that we could drive alone until the main entrance for approximately 30 minutes. This allowed us to stop and take pictures by ourselves which was the perfect ending for this visit to the park. Totally worth the visit!
Next stop: Talampaya National Park (Argentina)!