About San Juan
Think of San Juan as the younger brother to Mendoza – Argentina's well-visited wine country. This colonial city moves at a slower pace and you'll find it to be the ideal place to base your explorations. To the west are the red foothills of the Andes – where you can trek to the Colca Canyon, while in all directions you'll find vineyards tempting visitors. However, San Juan is still Argentina's secret, the wineries here are relaxed and life is more leisurely than in the bustling cities further south.
Pick a San Juan hostel with an outdoor pool or try your hand at hostel-run tango lessons. You can stay in a cheerfully painted dorm close to the park or a timber cabin at the heart of a 17-hectare farm. Most San Juan hostels have free breakfast and free Wi-Fi, plus you and your dorm mates can socialise in the common rooms and cook together in the guest kitchens.
The centre of San Juan is compact with Plaza 25 de Mayo at its heart. At night, have drinks and dinner in the bars around the square or pick a bench to watch life around the fountain. Parque de Mayo, where families come to picnic, is eight blocks west of the plaza and most museums and cultural sights are in these streets. On the western edge of town, the Quebrada de Ullúm Dam is the reservoir where locals go for weekends of fishing and boating.
Most visitors use San Juan as a base to explore Ischigualasto Provincial Park and Leoncito National Park. Ischigualasto has otherworldly rock formations known as the Valley of the Moon and Leoncito for its dried out, ancient lake. Between December and March you can drive over Agua Negra Pass – where a glacier comes right down to the road. Another option is to visit the shrine of Difunta Correa, the wife of a conscripted soldier whose infant miraculously survived in the hills here. The site is so popular a small village has popped up around it.
To get to San Juan fly to Domingo Faustino Sarmiento Airport from Buenos Aires or Santiago (Chile). The airport is a 20-minute drive from the city. A short walk east of the centre is the bus terminal and from here you can travel to cities across Chile and Argentina, although you'll need to change in Mendoza. To get around San Juan you can use taxis, but to reach the national parks you'll need to hire a car or join a tour.