National Park El Leoncito & CASLEO (Space Observatory Complex El Leoncito)
March 2009 –
El Leoncito National Park is located in the province of San Juan, in the district called Calingasta, about 40 km South of Barreal (a beautiful village where you have to sleep if you intend to visit this park).
The reserve covers an area from the valley of Calingasta (to the West) to the mountains Del Tontal (to the East).
This protected area was created to avoid erosion and pollution, to offer the perfect atmospheric conditions for astronomy observation.
The trekking we did in this park was of low grade difficulty, but the last part was a bit steep as we had to climb the Leoncito hill from where we got an amazing panoramic view.
Duration of the walk: 3 hours (roundtrip)
Our suggestion: always carry water, sun protection and a hut with you.
First we registered at the office of the forest ranger. They also indicated us where the walk started, as the map we had was very basic. It turned out that the trail was marked with yellow arrows. The first part of the trail was surrounded by lined up trees. But after a short while we turned South and the landscape became more like a dessert, leading us through rocky ground that changed colors like red, brown, orange, grey and violet. Vegetation consisted mainly of lots of cactus and small dry bushes that are used by small nice animals (mouse-like) to hide. Here in Argentina we call this animal “cuiz austral”.
During the walk we also saw many hares running away from us looking for shelter. If they do not run you cannot see them as they get camouflaged with the ground.
After a 30 minute walk we passed by a seismograph station (property of the National University of Cuyo) as small earthquakes are usual in this region (although we had none during our stay in San Juan).
During most part of the walk we could always see both astronomy stations that are located in this Park. So it was easy for us to orient.
We started to ascend the Leoncito hill from South to North. On its hillside there were lots of loose and sharp slabs, so we had to walk very carefully. On top of this hill we found a white cross indicating its summit. From there we had a wonderful panoramic view on the Andes mountains where we also could see the Mercedario mountain (6770 meters high).
It took us 2 hours to reach the summit of the Leoncito hill. And 1 hour to get back down.
This is a very pleasant walk, where you can enjoy an amazing landscape. As it is not crowded at all, it´s perfect for those who try to escape from the noisy and screaming tourists!