Malargüe is a town in the Province of Mendoza, Argentina. It is located on National Route 40, but it doesn't get much traffic because the road south of Malargüe is in bad condition. Some tourist vans ply this route, though, and if you have your own car you can take this route to Bariloche.
Malargüe is the nearest town to the ski resort of Las Leñas. In the winter, skiers often stay in Malargüe because hotel rates are lower there. Also, nearly all of the hotels in Malargüe can provide their guests with a heavy discount on ski passes for Las Leñas.
Malargüe is also the home of world's largest cosmic ray observatory, Pierre Auger.
- Comodoro D. Ricardo Salomón Airport. Flights are only available for guests of one of the hotels in Las Leñas. Other airport options are San Rafael and Mendoza.
Buses are available to/from San Rafael (2 hours), and Mendoza (5 to 6 hours). Most buses from Mendoza make a stop in San Rafael, however the minibus operated by Viento Sur does not as it takes a shortcut.
Departure times for buses is maintained by the local tourist organization.
Malargüe is small enough to get around on foot. Taxis are available for US$1-2 for any destination within town.
The visitors' centre of the Pierre Auger cosmic ray observatory has a visiting hour at 17:00 (weekdays) and is located at northern end of the city, directly at Av. San Martin. The observatory itself spans 3000 square kilometers and you can catch a glimpse of its immense size when arriving to Malargue by ruta 40. The surface part of the observatory consists of 1600 "tanks" - plastics barells filled with very pure water, equipped with electronics, solar panels and communication antennae, distributed over the pampa in a triangular grid with 1.5 km spacing. First tanks can be seen about halfway between San Rafael and El Sosneado and they extend all the way to Malargue - it takes about an hour to pass through the whole array at the maximum legal speed! There are also 4 Fluorescence detector stations with telescopes operating at night, situated at the edges of the surface array. Two of them can be also seen from ruta 40: Loma Amarilla between San Rafael and El Sosneado (closer to the later, several kilometers north of the road) and Coiuheco (only a few minutes south from El Sosneado, on a prominent hill in the west directly above road, easily seen just before the settlement of Coiuheco), but it is not generally possible to go inside to see the telescopes due to safety concerns. (There are two more stations: Los Morados in the east is unreachable without a 4x4, but Los Leones in the south is only 20 km from Malargue on the unpaved road to General Alvear and it is an easily recognizable landmark of the otherwise flat area). The best view of the whole array is probably from the plateau near the Cohuieco station (the building is locked, but the hill is publicly accessible, the road is rough but doable in a normal car). There you can see at least several dozen tanks and (when the air is extremely clear) also all the Fluorescence stations at the edges of the field - here you can really get the impression of the extreme scale of the project! If you are genuinely interested in the project, you can ask in the visitors centre to be introduced to some of the physicists - usually there is at least a couple of people from all around the world working on site.
In the city, there is the Molino Rufino Ortega, an old mill next the Parque de Ayer and the small museum featuring trilobites and other local archeological finds.
Even though the surroundings of the city may look deserted in the high summer, but the pampa fills with water after heavy rains and for longer periods in the spring, making the immediate Malargue area a world-class spot for birdwatching! In such a case, you may see Flamingos and two kind of Ibises in small lagoons only a few kilometers from the city - the easiest way to look for them is the road to General Alvear to the east which is signposted at the clock junction (but you have to search you way a little). Colorful Austral Parakeets are often seen directly in the city and large dark Turkey Vultures (actually a small variant of the Condor) concentrate on high communication towers in all parts of the town. Together, several dozens of easily identified bird species can be seen during several days of stay in the area, making it an excellent choice for bird-watching beginners.
Tours can be booked to see the caves Caverna de las Brujas (60 km south by ruta 40, but do not attempt to go there blindly, you must pay your visit in advance in Malargue, in the "Turismo" office in front of the Observatory), a castle-shaped mountain called Castillos de Pincheira (25 km west, signposted near the YPF station on Av. San Martin), and a lake featuring flamingos, Laguna Llancanelo (see the La Payuina trip for instructions and note that the chance to see the Flamingos depends on the highly variable water levels in the extremely shallow lake). Other natural features are the Pozos de las Animas, a large pair of sinkholes, the Laguna Niña Encantada, a small clear pool fed by streams in the foothills of the Andes (both on the road to Las Leňas). Less accessible is Valle Hermoso, a large picturesque valley to the northwest of Malargue (see details below).
Nearby are many extinct volcanic cones, the largest being Cerro Diamante to the north. To the south is the Reserva la Payunia containing many volcanoes and lava flows.
If you have your own (or rental) car, you can also visit most of the sights on your own, but most of the local maps are surprisingly unreliable, particularly concerning getting to the volcanic paradise of La Payunia (to add confusion, the local roadsigns are inconsistent). Contrary to what you may be told by the travel agencies, you do not need a 4x4 vehicle for most of the really interesting things during the summer.
There are two passable roads to the heart of La Payunia, one is easier to navigate, while the other is easier to find. It is best to make a round trip. Start early (7-8 am), pack a lot of water and food, warm clothes (even in summer) and go preferably at least by two cars - if your car breaks down, you may end up 50 km from the nearest civilization, with no cell phone coverage outside Malargue. Head south on ruta 40 and after about 15 minutes turn left - the road is signed to Llancanelo and La Payunia. After a couple of kilometers, the road becomes unpaved. At the first crossroad, go left (not to Volcan Malacara, which you should visit on other day, it is interesting on its own), at the next one, you have a choice - you may take a short stop at Llancanelo (but remember, the journey is long.) using the left road, or take the right one skipping the Laguna entirely. After passing by Llancanelo, both roads join ways again and shortly after the way passes by a hill with a prominent rocky outcrop. Look out for a small junction posted "Pampa negra" and turn right (south). After about 30 km you enter the land of the Llama (you are bound to see at least on herd of these funny animals) and much later also the land of the oil. Try to avoid the oilfield by driving to the right of it, the oifield is a maze of roads where you can spend three hours trying to get out. Behind the oilfield, turn left (there are new signs "Circuito turistico") and head south for the volcanoes that you now see clearly in front of you. When you reach the base of the lava flow, the road gets much worse, but with care it is still passable in Chevrolet Corsa (the basic rental car). Be careful with the underside of the car and try to keep wheels outside the lowest parts of the road. When you ascent the hill, you have reached Pampa Negra and you will understand the name! Continue about 15 km south to the base of Volcan Payun, where there is a small parking below a lava flow and the road ceases to be passable. On the way back, you can use the same road, or turn left after the oilfield and go over a hill to the valley of Rio Grande. After reaching the valley, try to keep left, the only bridge over the river is on ruta 40, to the southwest from you. If you reach this place, you won't regret the detour as you will see the mighty Rio Grande squeezed into a 5 meter ravine. Continue north on ruta 40 and if you have time, you can visit the petrified forest (Bosque Petrificado) just before Bardas Blancas.
To reach Valle Hermoso, by car, you will need to be there between roughly the end of November and March, to avoid snow on the high mountain pass behind Las Leňas. Observe the same precautions as mentioned earlier, with the addition of an extra layer of clothes as you are going over 3000 meters above the sea level this time! Follow ruta 40 north from Malargue and turn left after 30 km to Las Leňas. If you started early, you will have time to visit Pozos de las Animas and Laguna Niña Encantada on the way to Las Leňas as both sights are directly on the road, which is paved, albeit a little too holey. Pass through Las Leňas and reach the end of the paved road in a few minutes. Now be extremely cautious about a couple of streams crossing the road - they change all the time and may have edges a little too steep for your wheels! If you manage to cross them, an seemingly endless ascent starts, to about 3200 meters a.s.l. If you reach the altitude (that is, no snow-field is there to stop you), you will see a small junction with a road to the left that is probably still closed. You can leave you car here and walk along the road for about a kilometer to reach a beautiful lagoon that may be still frozen in November. Go back to your car and continue on the road, descending shortly to Valle Hermoso proper. Enjoy the colorful rocks, the lagoon and try to look for petroglyphs near the road. If you do not have a 4x4 and lots of offroad experience, do not under any circumstances attempt to cross the river about 1 kilometer after the lagoon. It is deep enough to reliably destroy any standard (non off-road) car by flooding the engine with water. Return using the same path.
Another interesting trip may be Termas de Sosneado. Arriving from Malargue, turn left at El Sosneado just after the checkpoint (at the petrol station) and turn left again at the next chance, following "Termas de Azurfe" sign, if it is still up. Continue a rough road to the beautiful Laguna Sosneado just below the slopes of Cerro Sosneado, the world's southernmost five-thousander! The place where Cerro Sosneado touches the river is the most dangerous part of the road, be considerate about your ability to return, before you descend from the highest point of the road! After another 20 km, you arrive at a group of fallen stone buildings and there you find a wonderful, natural and completely free thermal bath, almost 2500 meters above the sea level. Remember that Argentina is a very religious country and do not attempt to bath naked (it is actually a good idea to have a more decent swimsuit than you would wear to the beaches in the Caribic)! Follow the same road back.
Finally the longest, but for many the most rewarding, northbound trip takes you to Caňon del Atuel an amazing, almost a hundred kilometer long canyon, which is unfortunately almost dry at the bottom due to an extensive hydro-energetic use of the river. To enter the canyon from above you need to go almost 200 km from Malargue in the direction of San Rafael, turning left to El Nihuil at the only reasonable junction you will see on the way. From El Nihuil, descent directly to the canyon and continue to be amazed by the views for next 2 to 3 hours. You can return through San Rafael, or using the same road.
After many years of struggle between the tourists and the small kiosks where you have to ask for the right item in spanish, Malaruge has a supermarket. SuperVea is located some 5 blocks west from the clock tower and is opened daily from 9 to 21 with a siesta around 13:30 to 17. It is by far the most convenient place tu buy food, alcohol and even small items from different other areas, within 200 kilometers. VISA cards are accepted (others sometimes as well, but reluctantly), but an ID is required on every purchase. Be prepared to wait at least 15 minutes in the line during rush hours, as the clerks are notoriously slow.
There are many restaurants and cafes in Malargue. Most of the big hotels have attached restaurants. Steaks are good value, seen on the menu as bife de lomo or bife de chorizo. Also available are chicken and goat. Vegetarians may have few choices, some of the pasta dishes can be had without meat.
Outside of town to the south is a trout hatchery called Cuyam-co which has an attached restaurant. They serve trout cooked in foil with vegetables which is quite good, but you must call in advance to make a reservation (otherwise there will be no fish ready for you!) - call (02627) 15661917.
In most of the restaurants, you can get food from the grill (la parilla) only on friday and Saturday nights - except maybe in the upscale (in Malargue terms) El quincho de María, Av. San Martín 440, (02627) 472525, which specializes on parilla and where you can also try some quite unusual parts of animal). Another good choices in this range are La Cima and Rio Grande, directly across the street from each other, next to the Esso station at the northern entrance to the city.
If you aim for a little lower prices and a very local environment, you may try La Posta, Av. Roca (Este) 174, (02627) 471306, two blocks east from the clock tower - if you don't like the wait (which can extend to one hour), they also deliver within Malargue without a surcharge.
Most all the restaurants will serve alcohol. The local beer is Andes, with Quilmes and Heineken also available. A drink that is popular throughout Argentina is Fernet Branca and Coca cola.
There are between 10 and 20 hotels in Malargüe, as well as a large number of cabins. There is an eco-hostel by Hostelling International, which is out of town. Popular hotels are Microtel (***), Rio Grande (***), El Cisne (**) and Turismo (**).