West of San Rafael , the isolated massifs of 5,189-meter El Sosneado, 4,589-meter Cerro Paraguay, and other summits soar above the plains west of RN 40. At the foot of the Andes, the town of Malargüe is a winter sports destination that depends on tourism, especially to the upscale ski resort of Las Leñas .
Otherwise, it’s a truly out-of-the-way place despite volcanic badlands at Payunia, waterfowl-rich Laguna Llancanelo, caves at Caverna de las Brujas and Pozo de las Ánimas, archaeological and paleontological sites, and access to an adventurous summer route across the Andes to Talca, Chile. Visitors to Payunia, in particular, should try to book excursions ahead of time to avoid delays. Patagonia-bound travelers on RN 40 still need to return to San Rafael unless they are, by bicycle or motorized transport, self-propelled, but there may soon be bus service south to Neuquén Province.
Every town needs a festival, and Malargüe’s is the Fiesta Nacional del Chivo (National Goat Festival), a fixture fiesta since 1986. For a week in early January, hotels fill and major folkloric figures like Antonio Tarragó Ros and Suna Rocha perform before substantial crowds.
November 16’s Día de Malargüe is a local holiday honoring the town’s foundation in 1950. The following Saturday, runners from around the region compete in the Maratón Nocturno (nighttime marathon).
In colonial times, Malargüe and its surroundings were Pehuenche territory, and it takes its name from a Mapudungun (Mapuche) word meaning “Place of Rocky Mesas.” Today, the Pehuenche are largely a memory, and the regional economy lives by ranching and mining in addition to tourism.
Malargüe (pop. 17,710) is 186 kilometers southwest of San Rafael  via RN 144 and RN 40. At 1,402 meters above sea level, it’s 151 kilometers from the Chilean border at the 2,553-meter Paso Pehuenche via paved RN 40 and gravel RP 224; on the Chilean side, the excitingly narrow Ruta 115 (currently being paved) continues another 180 kilometers to Talca.
In ski season, Aerolíneas Argentinas sometimes flies charters between Buenos Aires’s Aeroparque and nearby Aeródromo Malargüe (tel. 02627/47-1600), with tickets available from travel agencies.
Malargüe’s improved Terminal de Ómnibus (Avenida General Roca and Aldao) has frequent service to San Rafael  (3 hours, US$9), where it’s usually but not always necessary to transfer for Mendoza  (6 hours, US$15). Transporte Viento Sur (tel. 02727/47-0455) has direct services to Mendoza, while Andesmar goes directly to Buenos Aires .
In ski season, travel agencies shuttle skiers to Las Leñas .