Route to Chile via Parque Provincial Aconcagua

This dramatic road, which runs past the foothills of Aconcagua, is one of Mendoza's most memorable sights and not to be missed. From Uspallata, a good paved road to Chile crosses a broad plain, with maroon and chalk-white rocks stick up from the rolling land. The road winds alongside a ravine with a thread of turquoise water below, before climbing up into a mountain pass with amazing terracotta rock formations and a heart- stopping glimpse of Volcán Tupungato - one of the giants of the Andes, rising to 6600 m. The first tiny village you come to, Punta de Vacas, has a large gendarmería (police station) but no accommodation. The road continues, climbing quickly beyond the snowline in winter, to the charming small ski resort of  Los Penitentes (2580 m)  www.penitentes.com.Named after the majestic mass of pinnacled rocks on its mountainside, which you might think looks vaguely like a group of cowled monks climbing upwards, this is a low-key family ski resort right by the road, though it's surprisingly quiet. There is good skiing on the 28 pistes (total length of 25 km, with 10 lifts); most of them are graded difficult but there are a couple of long descents of medium difficulty and three beginners' slopes.

Another low-key ski resort in the area is Los Puquios www.lospuquios.com.ar. It's small, ideal for beginners and cheap. It's also used as a base camp for climbers for acclimatization to the high altitudes, and as a departure point for mule caravans to higher base camps closer to Aconcagua. On the southern side of Route 7, opposite, you'll find a cemetery for climbers who have died on Aconcagua's slopes; a reminder that this summit is not to be undertaken lightly.

Puente del Inca

Puente del Inca (2718 m), is set among breathtaking mountains and is a great base for exploring the peaks on foot or on horseback, with access to the Parque Provincial Aconcagua. The naturally formed bridge, after which the village is named, is said to be one of the Great Wonders of South America. Crossing Río Mendoza at a height of 19 m, the natural bridge is 21-m long and 27-m wide and seems to have been formed by sulphur-bearing hot springs below which have stained the whole ravine an incredible ochre yellow, and left the bridge an eerie orange colour. Underneath the bridge are the ruins of a 1940s spa hotel, destroyed by a snow avalanche and now mostly washed away by the river, but a torrent of hot sulphurous water still gushing from its walls.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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