Road Mendoza-Santiago
Journey across the Cordilleras

Journey from Mendoza to Santiago takes you on the "odyssey trip" across high Argentinean Cordilleras, following the Mendoza River along the Uspallata Valley up to the tunnel overlooked by the statue of the Cristo Redentor de los Andes.

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Scroll down to the bottom of this page to see the gallery of pictures.

Mendoza: Direction- Uspallata Valley

       Since the “beginning of the human time” the Uspallata Valley provided the much needed Trans-Andean connection between vast Argentinean plains and the Pacific coast of the continent.

Shaped by violent forces of nature and endless erosion helped by streams of glacial water converging to what is known as Rio Mendoza, today the valley provides a vital link between Mendoza and Santiago de Chile.

Already in times of the Inca Empire, the Uspallata Valley was part of the famous 6,000 km (3750 miles) long Inca Road.

Starting in today’s Columbia the Inca Road (Camino del Inca or “Qhapaq Ñan” – “Royal Road” in Quechua) traversed the continent from the north to the south.

Passing by the Inca’s capital Cusco (Peru), then territory of Bolivia and farther south along the foothills of Cordilleras, the Camino del Inca was entering Argentina near

Inka Trail South America

      Today’s Salta taking direction towards Mendoza and then crossing Andes through the Uspallata Valley. It was ending its long run in the area of Santiago de Chile.

The extensive network of "roads" with its 6,000 km "spinal cord" called Inca Trail (Camino del Inca) connected all corners of the biggest Empire in both Americas....

Source: newspaper Clarin

    To make it clear – this vital communication link (with “branches” totaling the length of about 23,000km) played the role of the “spinal cord” of the Inca Empire allowing for successful political and economical control of the territory.

Frankly it was a great “engineering” achievement at those times given the fact that the Inca Road was mostly crossing unfriendly mountainous areas.

Few visible segments of this road identified as “archeological sites” are protected by the combined effort of South-American Governments.

Currently there is an ongoing process to include these sites under UNESCO’s protection plan as part of the World Heritage.

Mendoza-Uspallata Valey -Santiago advanture

High Cordilleras Adventure from Mendoza along the Uspallata Valley to the statue of Christ the Redeemer at the border with Chile.

     In the late 1970’s the old Trans-Andean road was completely rebuilt becoming a modern, paved 2-lanes wide highway connecting Mendoza with Santiago de Chile and Valparaiso.

The new 3,080m (10,100 ft) long tunnel opened in 1980 cuts through the mountains at an elevation of 3,175 m (10,417 ft).

Unfortunately its high elevation exposes both sides of the highway to harsh weather conditions and often leads to temporary closures during the local winter (June-August). That in turn leads to a road havoc because the tunnel Cristo Redentor (called also Paso Internacional Los Libertadores) carries heavy commercial traffic.

Thanks to the “hospitality” of the Uspallata Valley, on the Argentinean side of the pass the RN-7 climbs gently towards the tunnel. However once emerged on the Chilean side of the Cordilleras, the road faces far steeper slopes descending down in a long series of picturesque switch-backs usually freezing blood in the veins of faint-hearted passengers.

Well, for us tourists the most important aspect of the Road from Mendoza to Santiago is its fascinating scenery. Stunning vistas of Cordilleran ridges, towering peaks with the highest one “outside of Himalayas” – Aconcagua, glacial lakes and valleys carved by rivers along a desert-like landscape – that is only the short introduction to the fairy-tale trans-Andean voyage.

All that colored by paint-brush strokes in full spectrum of reddishness and all shades of orange, purple, pink mixed with greenery of vegetation and bluishness of sky…..

Starting from the capital of the province, RN-7 leads along the “mostly dry” river-bed of the Mendoza River arriving to the first point of interest – Potrerillos. This small village located at about 60 km from Mendoza in the lower Andes was “re-born” to the outside world since the construction of the large dam on the Rio Mendoza.

Thanks to the huge artificial lake (about 12 km long and 3 km wide) the settlement gained attention and started to offer hiking, rafting, paragliding and water-sports activities for tourists as well as city-dwellers from the nearby capital.

The dam also explains the mystery of the “dry-river” down the stream. Turns out that most of Mendoza province and certainly its famous wineries heavily depend on the water carried by Rio Mendoza. During dry seasons (seems that recently we have more of them) the water flow out of the lake is carefully controlled creating the effect of the “Ghost River”.

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

full size: 4.24MB 2.83MB 5.98MB

Potrerillos located at the entry into Uspallata Valley offers a first taste of the Andean Adventure: water, blue sky and mountain's landscape at its best....

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

full size: 5.49MB 3.96MB 4.83MB

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

full size: 4.45MB 4.29MB 5.72MB

Artificial lake created by the dam on the Mendoza River.

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

full size: 4.30MB 6.05MB 5.95MB

Upper Rio Mendoza cutting through the Uspallata Valley. Now seems to be a "nice behaving" river, but pictures clearly show that sometimes it may go "wild".....

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

Mendoza Santiago Cordillera Road

full size: 6.83MB 4.20MB 5.58MB

Center - Route Nacionale (RN-7) "gently" climbs toward the the tunnel under the central part of Cordilleras.

     Our next stop will be in the center of the Uspallata Valley - an oasis of vibrant life in the middle of "nowhere" or may be more accurately, in the middle of Andes.

Indeed, it is difficult to "ignore" mountain ridges looming over the valley. Despite their apparent lifelessness they charm with fabulous shapes and vibrant colors.

And the best is still in front of us along the next 120 kilometers (75 miles) of RN-7.

Historical monuments from the Independence Wars, natural marvels like Puente del Inca, Queen of the western world - Acconcagua or the monumental statue of the Cristo Redentor to name only few places we will be visiting.

But equally if not more remarkable is simply the raw, little touched by human hands nature of Cordilleras.

So vamos par arriba!

To continue this Cordillera's Odyssey please select the following link:
Cordilleras Aconcagua Road Adventure (next)

If you enjoyed this visit, then please share your experience with friends :-)

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