Vallecito Encantado and Guandacol

The surroundings of the village hide nooks where we can travel back in geological time and discover their astonishing shapes that appear to be out of this world.

We left Villa Unión behind to go in search of the nearby paths where travelers lose track of time and space. Maybe they are not so famous as Talampaya or Ischigualasto. However, their age is measured in centuries and millennia.

We got on the car and let our guide, Víctor Reinoso, drive towards Vallecito Encantado (The Charmed Little Valley). It is located on the road to Guandacol, on the left. We parked and started hiking. It was a new world.

The contact with a wild environment and the way up and down the ravines provided a different approach for us. Víctor announced each of the figures and told us some interesting information that made us have certain feelings. Standing on the sand and rock that had changed whoever knows how many times by the work of the prevailing wind and rain, all that had a strong value for us.

  • Shapes and signals of nature

    Shapes and signals of nature

  • The Paleozoic Era, in the Carboniferous period

    The Paleozoic Era, in the Carboniferous period

  • The World Cup

    The World Cup

  • Hotel in Guandacol

    Hotel in Guandacol

  • The house of Felipe Varela

    The house of Felipe Varela

The wind was blowing hard and Víctor had to shout in order to tell us the story of each geological form we came across. A huge crag resembling a large football appeared before us. It is referred to as the World Cup. We remembered the trophy Maradona held in representation of Argentina once.

These formations were created during the Paleozoic Era, in the Carboniferous period, which dates back to approximately 360 million years ago. The rocks are made up by sedimentary material like solidified sandstone which were dissolved by the rain and the wind and adopted strange forms. Thus, structures such as Barquito de Papel (paper boat), Helado (ice-cream), Sombrero Mejicano (Mexican hat), Perfil de la Momia (mummy profile) and Cola del Cocodrilo (crocodile tail) caught our eye. They have become famous by word of mouth.

As if we were walking on the moon, we always faced round or flat rocks, craters, dunes with changing hues according to their clay composition with iron oxide or other materials. Suddenly, everything changed and a green valley appeared before us. The deep groundwater makes a difference here. That is why it is known as the "Enchanted Valley", namely: Valle Encantado. Its gorge, its high walls and its dry riverbeds showed us an unusual view.

We drove onto Guandacol, a town whose adobe houses are warm and flexible when it comes to earthquakes. Two historical facts left their imprint on its 300 years of age. The former was that one of the columns that crossed the Andes towards Copiapó, in Chile, went across this area. An olive tree was witness to such event. A group of gauchos from Guandacol cross the same pass every year on horseback to commemorate this deed. The latter is that Colonel Felipe Varela -a controversial figure often known as Quijote de los Andes- lived in this town. We visited the ruins of his house. At present they are being restored in order to be turned into a museum.

Guandacol is an old town with a quiet life and a huge square with plenty of green and little movement. All the denizens have known one another for ever and they take pride in how much value has been given to the natural wonders they already knew and coexisted with all throughout their lives. The Enchanted Valley is almost in their backyard.

Autor Mónica Pons Fotografo Eduardo Epifanio

Contact of the excursion or tour

Secretaría de Turismo Municipal

Joaquín V. Gonzalez Esq. Hipolito Irigoyen (5350) Villa Unión, La Rioja

Tel: +54 3825-470543

How to get hereHow to get here: Vallecito Encantado lies on National Route 40 at approximately 30 kilometers from Villa Unión, in the direction of Guandacol, which lies 10 kilometers ahead.

Bear in mindBear in mind: Provincial guide:
Víctor Reinoso

Wear hiking shoes or appropriate footwear to avoid slipping. Take a bottle of water.


Activities and tours in Villa Unión

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