An estimated five thousand years ago an asteroid shattered on impact with the earth’s upper atmosphere, sending huge chips of matter plummeting earthwards, where they fell on a 15km band of the Chaco. This cataclysmic spectacle and the subsequent fires that would have been triggered must have terrified the locals. When the Spanish arrived in South America, the Komlek called the area Pigüen Nonraltá – or Field of the Heavens – Campo del Cielo in Spanish. They venerated the “stones from the sky”, whose surface, when polished, reflected the sun. Mysterious legends reached Spanish ears, arousing an insatiable curiosity for anything that smacked of precious metal, and even sparking illusions of the fabled City of the Caesars, a variant of the El Dorado myth. In 1576, Hernán Mexía de Miraval struggled out here hoping to find gold but, instead, he found iron. The biggest expedition of all came in 1783, when the Spanish geologist and scientist Miguel Rubín de Celis led an expedition of two hundred men to find out if the Mesón de Fierro – a 3.5m-long curiosity and the most famous of the meteors – was in fact just the tip of a vast mountain of pure iron. When they dug below, they found only dusty earth. The latitude was recorded, but since there was no way of determining its coordinate of longitude, the Mesón de Fierro was subsequently lost – it’s probable that the indigenous inhabitants reburied their “sunstone”.

The largest of the meteorites you can see today, “El Chaco”, has been reliably estimated to weigh 33,700kg, a strong contender for the second-biggest in the world (the biggest, almost twice the size, is in Namibia). El Chaco and the Campo del Cielo (wcampodelcielo.com.ar) both lie in the southwestern corner of Chaco Province, 15km south of the town of Gancedo, in the Reserva Natural Pigüen N’onaxá.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Argentina features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Beyond steak: how to order like a local in Buenos Aires

Beyond steak: how to order like a local in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is often associated with steaks, but they are far from the most common cut served up in the parrillas (meat restaurants) of Argentina's capital. …

20 Apr 2016 • Daniel Neilson insert_drive_file Article
15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a…

02 Mar 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
Why Córdoba is Argentina’s most underrated region

Why Córdoba is Argentina’s most underrated region

Although long popular with Argentine tourists, Córdoba Province receives few foreign visitors, despite being one of the most diverse parts of the country. This…

24 Feb 2016 • Shafik Meghji insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month