Squeezed between the continuous ridge of the Sierra Chica to the east, and the higher peaks of the Sierra Grande to the west, the peaceful Punilla Valley is Argentina’s longest-established inland tourist area, with idyllic mountain scenery and fresh air, family-friendly resorts and numerous top-class outdoor pursuits.
The RN-38 to La Rioja bisects the valley, which stretches northwards for about 100km from horrendously noisy Villa Carlos Paz, the self-styled “Gateway to the Punilla”, some 35km along the RP-34 west of Córdoba. Tens of thousands of Argentines migrate to this brash inland beach resort every summer in an insatiable quest for sun, sand and socializing – the town is renowned for its mega-clubs and crowded bars. Just north and overlooked by a sugar-loaf hill, El Pan de Azúcar, is Cosquín, a slightly calmer place with an annual folk festival. The further north you go, the more tranquil the resorts become: La Falda, La Cumbre and Capilla del Monte have all retained their slightly old-fashioned charm while offering a mixture of high-quality services and a propensity for New Age pursuits. Relatively less crowded, they make for better bases from which to explore the mountains on foot, on horseback or in a vehicle, or to try out some of the adventurous sports on offer. Anyone looking for remote locales to explore should head for the dirt roads between Capilla del Monte and Santa Catalina, where from Ongamira and Ischilín you can discover some of the region’s most remarkable landscapes.