We visited beautiful Villavicencio and its mineralized waters. The tour included a visit to the old Villavicencio Hotel and its surroundings, accessed through the Caracoles Path, a dazzling route.
It was 8 in the morning when we got a call from the front desk to tell us that Julieta, a guide from Kahuak company, was waiting for us at the door to take us down on a tour to the Villavicencio Natural Reserve
, which lies 60 kilometers away from the Mendoza capital city
The first part of the journey covers a large area of the District of Las Heras, where the first Villavicencio factory used to be located. This company from Mendoza is famous for its production of mineral water.
We watched that the ancient outlets where the people from Mendoza would fill their buckets for free years ago still stood on certain corners.
We left the city behind and took the old Route 7 -today known as Provincial Route 52– which leads to Chile
. The road has a special mysticism which is eloquently felt when passing by the Canota Monument, the site where General José de San Martín resolved to split his army in order to attack Chile.
The first group, led by General Juan Las Heras, crossed the Andes in the South, whereas San Martín led the most important column, which would cross the mountain range in San Juan
Very quickly, the setting changed. The desert began to turn into a wooded area with various shades of green. Our ride also changed, as we entered the pre-Andean area and its ravines. There was no doubt: we were inside the Villavicencio Natural Reserve.
This is a 70-thousand-hectare space surrounded by mountains whose heights range from 900 to 3,200 meters of height. The venue, declared natural reserve in 2000, features a wide variety of wildlife specimens reproduced in blow-ups inside the park ranger's office. In fact, almost as if it was a living show, we were welcomed by countless guanacos during our tour.
We continued along cliff-side paths, old trails shaped by the Huarpes and the Incas on foot, frequent transients of the Andes Mountain Range.
Thus, we got to Los Caracoles viewpoint, which lies at 2,200 meters of height and features a view of the mountains, the trails, the vegetation and, downhill, the tiles of the Villavicencio Hotel, our next destination after we took the mandatory panoramic photograph.
Hotel, Sweet Hotel
As we descended from the viewpoint, we came to the Villavicencio Hotel, which opened its gates in 1940 and closed again in 1978. Well-off families from all round the country and from abroad would stay at the hotel to spend an entire season and enjoy the hot springs and their healing properties.
Reservations were made up to one year beforehand. The German National Football Team stayed there when they came to Argentina for the World Cup in 1978.
The building still preserves its façade, galleries and balconies intact. In one of its gardens, a hose provides visitors the water that comes down straight from the mountain summits. Of course, nobody can resist drinking the crystal-clear liquid. Afterwards, we followed a narrow trail uphill to a chapel where the hotel residents used to celebrate mass every Sunday.
Like in every big excursion, there is a mandatory break to relax. The site where all the meals for the hotel guests used to be prepared has now turned into a countryside pub which serves the best wine from Mendoza and the house specialty: raw ham sandwiches not to be missed.
After a countryside lunch irrigated with Malbec, our group started the way back to the City of Mendoza. Once again, we took the old road leading to Chile, now in the opposite direction.
Our guide asked us to turn our heads towards the reserve we were leaving behind. A gray sky took hold of the summits and Julieta, our guide, warned us that it was raining at the reserve, like almost every afternoon.