Discover all things to do in San Juan Argentina, which offers historical sites and nature in its surroundings.
San Juan is one of the ten largest cities in Argentina and looks modern (as well as quiet) as the current architecture comes from the strong resurgence after the devastating earthquake that struck in 1944.
It is known as the Oasis City and the Land of the Sun. The first is due to the fact that the surrounding landscape is quite arid, even though there are very leafy trees in the streets, the mountain range in the background and several reservoirs and vineyards to visit. The second is because it is very rare that it rains. Almost all year round sunshine!
One of San Juan’s famous heroes is Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who started out as a teacher and journalist, founded his own newspaper, El Zonda, and later became president of the Argentine Republic. He is a historical character who is full of controversy because of his aggressive thinking about the aborigines, the gauchos and the Jews, but very much remembered on the date of his death on September 11thThe event is a tribute to teachers, one of his professions, and he himself is known as the “Father of Argentine Education”.
Take a look at a road trip through Mendoza and San Juan for 1 and 2 weeks.
Map, things to do in San Juan capital in 2 days (minimum)
It is advisable to dedicate at least 2 days to San Juan, one to tour the center of the city and another to visit the beautiful reservoirs on the outskirts.
If you have another day, you can do the trip to the Ischigualasto Provincial Park on the same day. However, keep in mind that it is quite a long trip so it may be convenient to sleep near the park and then visit other places such as the Iglesia Valleys (Rodeo) further north or the Calingasta Valleys (Barreal) further west.
Our visit to San Juan was part of a 3 month trip through central and northern Argentina which is summarized here: Matetrip Argentina.
1. 25 de Mayo Square and Cathedral
The central point of San Juan is the quiet 25 de Mayo square, very clean, tree-lined and with benches to sit and rest. In the middle of the square there is a fountain and a monument to Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the national hero.
In front of the square is the modern Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, which replaced the old church that was destroyed by the earthquake. On the outside, its large tower stands out, although the exterior façade is simple.
📷 Check here the panoramic tour of San Juan Capital and make a reservation. You will visit Sarmiento’s birthplace, the cathedral, the Poets’ Garden and the Ullum Dam.
Inside, its high wooden ceiling and large columns steal the show. There is guided tours that tell the history of the building and are complemented by a visit to the crypt underneath the church, where the remains of Fray Santa María de Oroand the ascent to the bell tower 33 meters high to see the views of the city.
2. Bicentennial Theater
Inaugurated in 2016, the Bicentennial Theater has nothing to envy to any other theater in the world. Due to its technology and acoustics, it is able to receive great musical and artistic shows of world fame and has become one of the best theaters in Latin America, being the first in Argentina to reach international quality standards.
There are two alternatives to get to know the theater from the inside: one is to see a show and the other is through a guided tour, which is free of charge.
We took the guided tour and it is highly recommended. It begins in the large entrance hall, then moves to the side seating area where you can see the entire interior of the theater and the stage, culminating in the rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms and dressing rooms. It is impressive how many rehearsal rooms the theater has.
To take the free guided tour you must book in advance here.
Right in front of the Bicentennial Theater is the Bicentennial Square and the old train station converted into the Estación San Martín Municipal Cultural Center. In the background you can see a group of buildings called the Civic Center, which houses many administrative and government offices.
3. Sarmiento’s Birth House
One of the activities to do in the capital city of San Juan is to visit the birthplace of the former Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.
Built by Sarmiento’s mother, Doña Paula Albarracín, it is a large adobe house with two interior patios. In addition to the interior beauty of the mansion with its white façade, there are exhibition rooms with Sarmiento’s objects, a library and a conference room.
The entire tour of Sarmiento’s birthplace narrates his life, from his hard beginnings in a working class family, through his fundamental role in the Argentine educational system and his time when he was elected president of the country.
In the second courtyard of the mansion there is a bust of Sarmiento and benches and chairs of a school, which represent his educational profile. Next to it, more than five hundred commemorative plaques pay homage to one of the heroes of the Argentine nation.
📌 Admission to Sarmiento’s birthplace is free of charge.
4. Franklin Rawson Museum of Fine Arts
In a modern building ideal for art lovers, the Fine Arts Museum of San Juan is one of the best in the country.
With more than 900 pieces of art, it has six rooms divided between works by local artists, temporary exhibits and the museum’s permanent collection. It also houses a beautiful auditorium.
📌 The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and there are guided tours at 7 pm.
5. San Martin Historical Cell Museum
The Santo Domingo Convent still maintains its colonial charm despite the 1944 earthquake. Although it was mostly destroyed, the well-known cell of San Martin was not affected and the entire original structure and furnishings of the time can be seen during the visit.
Before crossing the Andes to liberate Chile from the Spanish in 1815, General San Martin passed through San Juan and stayed in this cell. There he had important meetings with politicians from San Juan that had a great impact on the subsequent Congress of Tucumán and the Independence of Argentina a year later.
6. La Difunta Correa in Vallecito
Vallecito is located 70 kilometers east of the city of San Juan, famous for housing the Oratorio de la Difunta Correa.
The story goes that at the beginning of the 19th century a woman named Deolinda Correa came to the rescue of her beloved who was in poor health and had been recruited to fight with Quiroga’s army.
The woman had just given birth to her baby a few days before and while searching for her loved one, Deolinda Correa died after falling down a ravine with her baby due to exhaustion and lack of water.
When her body was found, legend has it that Doña Deolinda’s son was still alive and nursing from his mother, which gave rise to the name Difunta Correa.
Today he is a nationally revered figure. The faithful bring a bottle of water to him as a sign of gratitude or to make prayers. The oratory is located in Vallecito, next to hotels and restaurants.
7. Interlagos Route (reservoirs)
Leaving San Juan capital city by route 12 heading west and on the way to the city of Zonda, you reach the Interlagos route. This is a beautiful panoramic circuit that runs through Los Caracoles, Punta Negra and Ullum reservoirs.
📷 Check here the excursion through the dams and streams and make a reservation. A visit to the Ullum, Punta Negra and Los Caracoles dams.
At some point in the journey while traversing the Zonda GorgeThere is a phrase on the side of the road that is striking but has been forgotten. “On Ne Tue Ponit Les Idees” o “Ideas Are Not Killed“The author is said to have been the Count of Volney, Constantin-François Chassebœuf de La Giraudais (a defender of liberal ideas), but it has remained immortalized in our country at the hands of Sarmiento.
Legend has it that Sarmiento wrote that phrase on a wall while he was in exile in Chile due to political problems in the midst of a dispute between Unitarians and Federals in Argentina. In addition, the newspaper he founded in the province, El Zonda, had been censored and closed. Currently this historic place is abandoned and vandalized, so I will share the photo that Flor took during her visit in 2003 since it looked better cared for that year. Because regardless of whether or not you are in favor of Sarmiento and what he represents, the phrase is very powerful.
Continuing along route 12, you will begin to observe the artificial lakes that were created as a result of the dams on the San Juan River. The water coming down the San Juan River is really transparent and turquoise in color.
Within the Interlagos circuit, the first stop is the lake of the Punta Negra dam where there is a port with boats to navigate the calm waters and observe the landscape from the water and several rest areas to drink mate at the edge of the lake. In addition, we saw a lot of people doing physical activity, both running and cycling.
📸 Check here the excursion through the Zonda mountain range and make a reservation. Includes transportation in 4×4 and a hiking route through El Infiernillo.
The next stop could be the Los Caracoles Hydroelectric Power Plant, but route 12 that continues to there was closed at the time of our visit. So you have to cross the Punta Negra Dam and continue along Route 60 that surrounds the entire Ullum Dam.
Being the closest reservoir to San Juan, it is one of the most popular and where San Juan locals come to practice water sports and adventure sports such as trekking in the surrounding hills or cycling. There is also the Loma de las Tapias Natural Protected Area.
📸 Check here the trekking excursion in the hills of San Juan and make a reservation. Includes transportation from San Juan capital city to the Punta Negra dam and the hiking route through the hills with a guide.
8. Wine route in San Juan Argentina
One of the most important fruits of San Juan is the grapevine; in fact, it is the second largest wine-producing province in the country. The surrounding environment, the valleys, the arid zone, the altitude, the dry and cold climate, etc. favor its development. In addition, the high quality of its wines is recognized nationally and internationally.
Therefore, a Wine Route through the province covering 5 valleys and 21 wineries could not be missing. So if you’re a fan of this elixir, you’re in luck. Most of them are concentrated in the Tulum Valley (north and east of the capital of San Juan), but you can also visit those in Valle Fértil, Calingasta, Pedernal and Ullum-Zonda.
9. National Festival of the Sun
At the end of February this festival in honor of the sunone of the most important resources of the province, both for the vineyards and for the reservoirs (since it melts the snows of the mountain range and turns it into rivers that are used as water reservoirs). source of water for the province) and as a source of solar energy.
If you happen to coincide with this multi-day event, you will be able to see carriage parades, the election of the national ambassadors of the sun and shows with local, national and international artists.
10. Other places to visit in the province of San Juan, Argentina
Needless to say, the province of San Juan offers many places to visit that you cannot miss:
- Valle de la Luna (and a trip to Talampaya as well).
- Calingasta Valley: Calingasta, Barreal and El Leoncito Park.
📸 Check here the 3 day excursion to the Moon Valley and El Leoncito Park from San Juan capital and make a reservation. Includes: transfers and guide.
📷 Check here the excursion to Calingasta Valley from San Juan and book. You will visit Barreal, El Leoncito National Park and the Astronomical Observatory.
Where to stay in San Juan Argentina
We stayed in an apartment on the outskirts of downtown, in a quiet neighborhood close to a supermarket.
Other options for lodging in the capital city of San Juan that offer good value for money are:
- Gran Hotel Provincial: located downtown, it offers buffet breakfast and an outdoor swimming pool. Spacious and modern rooms.
- Cívico Art Hotel: fine and elegant decoration. It is located across the street from the Civic Center and 100 meters from the Bicentennial Theater.
🏨 Do you want to look for other options? Find here the best hotels in San Juan Argentina.
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