Ischigualasto Nature Park, Argentina

The Ischigualasto Nature Park is located in the province of San Juan in northwestern Argentina and is a real treasure chest for geologists and paleontologists. The rock layers and fossils in the nature park are up to 200 million years old and tell the story of the ancestors of dinosaurs and mammals.

The Ischigualasto Nature Park is located in the province of San Juan in northwestern Argentina and bears the name of an Indian chief. Together with the Talampaya National Park in the neighboring province of La Rioja, it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. The two scenic beauties are also on our list of the top 10 sights of Argentina.

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Due to the harsh conditions caused by the constant drought, the incessant wind and the extreme temperature fluctuations from -10 to 45°C, the flora and fauna in the Ischigualasto Nature Reserve is rather sparse.

PICTURES: Ischigualasto Nature Park

Photo gallery: Ischigualasto Nature Park

The past of mankind as an open book

The rock layers and fossils in Ischigualasto Nature Park in Argentina are up to 200 million years old and tell the story of the ancestors of dinosaurs and mammals - © sunsinger / Shutterstock
© sunsinger / Shutterstock

The main attraction of Ischigualasto lies in its past, or rather in the past of all mankind. The desert landscape in northwestern Argentina is a paradise on earth for paleontologists.

Some of the world's most significant fossil discoveries have been made in an area of 25×10 square kilometers. Fossilized bones and plant remains have been dated to an incredible 180 million years old, well before the dinosaurs. Remains of vertebrates about the size of rats have been classified as those of the direct ancestors of mammals.

Speaking of dinosaurs, the prehistoric giant lizards have also left their clear traces of millions of years in the Ischigualasto, from fossilized footprints to giant bones.

Fossil ferns and grasses and petrified forests are proof that desert-like conditions did not always prevail in the area, however. Millions of years ago, the region around Ischigualasto Nature Park was volcanically active and dominated by rivers and heavy rains.

Archaeological rock paintings indicate that the nature park was also inhabited by people in the past.

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Fantastic rock formations

Breathtaking landscape in Ischigualasto Nature Park, Argentina - © Hotte / Fotolia
© Hotte / Fotolia

In today's semi-desert of the Valle de la Luna, "Valley of the Moon" as the nature reserve is also called due to its constant dryness, the rock layers can be traced back to the age of the Triassic. For experts it became so clear that the mighty mountains of the Andes rose from the earth's crust about 60 million years ago.

This resulted in the most bizarre rock formations, which seem to be scattered randomly in the desert landscape between low bushes and cacti. The bizarre stone pillars and columns were given significant names such as "The Submarine", "The Mushroom" or "The Bocce Ball". The landmark of Ischigualasto, "The Magic Lamp of Aladdin", unfortunately collapsed in 1989.

Visit to Ischigualasto Nature Park

Sandstone formation in Ischigualasto National Park, Argentina - © Eduardo Rivero / Fotolia
© Eduardo Rivero / Fotolia

The landscape of Ischigualasto is as breathtaking as its hidden treasures. Only about a quarter of the total area of the national park, 150 square kilometers, is accessible to visitors.

The nature reserve can be explored on a guided tour or on your own by car. The entrance to the park is located in the village of Los Baldecitos, which, however, offers little infrastructure.

The best way to get started in this spectacular world is to visit the museum at the entrance to the nature park, where you can marvel at a model of the entire rocky landscape. Fed with first valuable information about the history of our earth, you then go on an approximately 40km long round trip through the primeval world of the dinosaurs.

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