Province of La Rioja

In mid-west La Rioja province, covering an area of 215,000 ha, this park contains an interesting sample of the Monte biome and harbours wonderful scenery and cultural resources .
A provincial park was created here in 1975 to protect the paleontological and archaeological remains there present.
Given the importance of these resources and the potential for visitation it was thought convenient to promote it to the status of national park; in 1997 it was included in the system of the National Parks Administration. In 2000 UNESCO declared it and neighbouring Ischigualasto in San Juan province a World Heritage Site.

Talampaya is in the low sierras of western La Rioja and contains important geological formations such as the canyon with vertical red sandstone walls some 150m high, formed by the Talampaya river. There are also areas virtually devoid of vegetation where these "huayquerias" as they are called, support nothing but sparse and small fleshy-leaved plants. The whims of erosive forces have sculpted strange formations in the sandstone such as in the locality called "Ciudad Perdida".
The dominant vegetation is thin, scrubby bush; a species somewhat like broom, virtually leafless and with green stems for photosynthesis, creosote bushes with their resinous, shiny foliage; brea, a green-barked small tree which flowers abundantly in spring, a brilliant yellow spectacle, and a "chilca" endemic to the provinces of La Rioja, San Juan and San Luis, found growing on the slopes. Cactuses also abound in the area, such as "puquis" and candelabra species. In the temporary water-courses grow pockets of woods with majestic specimens of Prosopis, and some Lithraea molleoides, the molle de beber.
Grey foxes, the black-legged seriema and the patagonian mockingbird are seen at the entrance point. The high walls of the canyon are the perching place for several raptors such as the andean condor, the black-chested buzzard-eagle and the peregrine falcon, and the habitat for the mountain viscacha.
Amongst the vertebrates one must mention species endemic to Argentina such as the sandy gallito, the white throated cacholote and the creamy-breasted canastero, the fairy armadillo of underground habits, all typical of the Monte, itself an endemic biome. There are also endemic plants.
Talampaya and Ischigualasto are both known for their abundant fossil beds, this being the place where the whole Triassic record is to be found, just as dinosaurs appeared.
One of the important finds was Lagosuchus talampayensis, 250 million years old. from the beginning of that period, one of the very first of the dinosaurs. Another important find is the remains of early turtles such as Paloecheris talampayensis, from 210 million years ago.

There is an important archaeological record in Talampaya with evidence dating its occupation between the years 120 and 1180 AD where the caves and shelters were habitations, burial sites and storage deposits. In open sites on the rocks and cliffs, a great number of figures and zoomorph engravings as well as various geometrical motifs are found. They express a union between nature and culture and are one of the most relevant rock art sites in the country.
Visitors can wonder at these remains at two sites: the Puerta de Talampaya at the entrance to the canyon, and Los Pizarrones (the blackboards) further up the canyon.

Route 26 joins the localities of Villa Union and Baldecitos, this last on the border with San Juan province, and traverses the park. A 14 km entrance road leads to the visitor reception area for information and orientation.

Because of its recent creation this park has but limited facilities. At the jumping-off point where information is to be had there is a bar and bathrooms. It is from here that tours start up the canyon to see the sights and sites. At the end of the tour one reaches the narrow upper end of the canyon, the Cajones.
Some 60 km away from this area is the Ciudad Perdida where the strange erosive features lend magic to the imposing landscape. For this tour one must obtain permission from the ranger.

The Triassic Basin of Ischigualasto or “the Valley of the Moon”, as it is called by geologists and paleontologists-is a vast depression characterized by the proliferation of a series of ancient sediments, belonging to the Triassic geological period, which lasted some 45 million years before the beginning of the Mesozoic era.
The land, which until then was only inhabited by plants and insects, began to be invaded by reptiles, which flourished and reproduced freely, without any competition.
The climate of this region then was a wet, tropical one where vegetation must have been extremely lush and abundant. Neither the Andes Mountains nor the Famatina Mountain range, which can be seen from various points in the valley, had been formed.
Instead, there were lagoons and swamps, whose vegetation transformed into carbon deposits, which can be seen in the South of the valley, where the oldest of the three series of sediments, known as “Los Rastros” formation lies, with its distinctively greenish, brownish, and blackish rocks.
“The Submarine” and “the Worm” are peculiar rock formations, sculpted by the constant action of wind erosion over these sedimentary rocks. Slowly, so very slowly, over a period of millions of years, the climate and the landscape mutated. Rainfall diminished, draining the region. Wind eroded the rocks and deposited new sediments over previous formations.
The flora and fauna likewise underwent mutations. The first seed-plants appeared as well as a wide variety of medium-sized reptiles, like the Cynodonts or Dicynodonts, two types of herbivores, and the Saurosuchus, one of the carnivores.


The Ischigualasto Formation, which forms the central part of the valley, belongs to this period. Some of these grey-green rocks were eroded into strange formations, which today are known as “Alladin’s Lamp”, “the Parrot “, “the Mushroom”, and “the Painted Valley”.
The meteorological alterations continued. By the conclusion of the Triassic Period, this rift valley was a windswept desert inhabited by even larger, more advanced reptiles, than those which had previously lived there.
Los Colorados Formation, the imposing red cliffs of the ‘Moon Valley’, extending into Talmpaya, La Rioja province, is the culmination of this last period.
Finally much later, perhaps some ninety million years ago, the movements geologically known as ‘orogenesis andina’, or mountain formation, actually began. These movements in turn, produced balancing movements, fractures, folds, landslides, and the ascension and descension of ancient crystal blocks, forming the hills that today surround the region and the most recent layers of sediments. Since the large reptiles had already disappeared in the Holocene era, some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, the valley was populated by pumas, guanacos, Creole hares, and a new type of animal--the birds. Descendants of the dinosaurs-the most spectacular birds of this valley are the condors and the South American ostrich. On the contrary, of the ‘true reptiles’, only the small lizards and some poisonous snakes (the coral and yarara) remain.
Man arrived here only a few million years ago and decorated the zone with his rock-paintings or petroglyphs and scattered his arrowheads in the area. Bear in mind that the first scientists only appeared in the valley in the second half of the last century whereas, approximately one decade ago, the recording of the last mutation of fauna coincided with the arrival of the first tourists, who came to see this mysterious ‘Valley of the Moon’
The existing infrastructure consists of nothing more than a small house for the park rangers and an onsite museum. Travelers may, and it is strongly suggested they bring their own provisions, beverages, sunblock, etc. or whatever they feel necessary.. The tour around the park (40 km). Visitors are accompanied by a park ranger in their own vehicle, in a caravan with other cars, taking about four hours. Travelers can find lodgings in the charming village of San Agustin of Valle´ Fertil, or Pataquia, and Villa Union

Thanks to APN - Administración de Parques Nacionales

See programs to visit the area...

DAY 1 - Arrival to La Rioja Airport and transfer to hotel. 03 nts of accommodation with breakfast

DAY 2 - City Tour

DAY 3 - Excursion to Talampaya National Park and Ischigualasto Park (Moon Valley or Valle de la Luna)

DAY 4 - Transfer to airport

This is a basic program to visit Talampaya and Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) Area. Please visit our tour list to see more tours combining this area and others place in Argentina and Chile

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