Since RN 7’s southerly realignment, it’s longer (in distance) but shorter (in time) to Potrerillos, the upper Río Mendoza’s white-water rafting, kayaking, and river-boarding center. Now 53 kilometers from Mendoza—about eight kilometers farther than it used to be—Potrerillos (pop. about 300, elev. 1,351 meters) is growing because the Embalse de Potrerillos, a hydroelectric project, has relocated displaced people in sharp new houses with fine views and finer conveniences than they’ve ever had before.
Whether once-isolated rural people will prosper in their new village environment on an international highway is another issue entirely.
Windsurfing is gaining popularity on the reservoir, but water sports are not the only recreational option. Winding RP 89, which leads south to the wine country of Tupungato, is a scenically spectacular and little-traveled mountain bike route—though this stiff climb would be easier from the other side. It’s also close to the modest ski area of Vallecitos.
Raging with runoff from the snowmelt of the high Andes, the Class III-plus Río Mendoza reaches its peak of about 2,000 cubic meters per second in the late spring and summer months of December and January. At this volume, the water is high enough that there aren’t many rapids, but it’s fast enough and the waves large enough to provide an enthralling rafting or kayaking experience.
About 80 kilometers from Mendoza and 15 kilometers west of Potrerillos, Vallecitos is a modest 100-hectare ski area at a base of 2,900 meters, ranging up to 3,350 meters. Most visitors are day-trippers from Mendoza, who pay US$19 per day for lift access; the resort provides its own transport from the capital for US$11 round-trip.
Shoestring travelers can share dorm space at the Refugio Ski y Montaña for US$13 pp with breakfast (but without sheets); at the Refugio Hostería Valle Nevado, quadruples cost US$80 (US$20 pp), also with breakfast. Half board and full board packages are also available.
The season runs from July to early October, but accommodations remain open the entire year; for more details, contact Valles del Plata (Perú 1523, Mendoza, tel. 0261/429-7338, cell 0261/15-415-0751, www.skivallecitos.com).
There are now three main Potrerillos-based operators: Argentina Rafting Expediciones (Perilago s/n, tel./fax 02624/48-2037; Primitivo de la Reta 992, Local 4, Mendoza, tel. 0261/429-6325, www.argentinarafting.com), directly on the old highway; Mendoza Rafting (RN 7 Km 555, www.mendozarafting.com.ar); and nearby Ríos Andinos (RN 7 Km 55, tel. 0261/429-5030 in Mendoza, www.riosandinos.com.ar). Ríos Andinos has a bar-restaurant and may add accommodations in the future.
Rafting excursions come in various lengths, ranging from one-hour trips (US$18–23) starting nearby to three-hour descents (US$55–65) from Cerro Negro and even overnighters from Uspallata. Companies also arrange hiking, horseback riding, and other activities.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition