In the precise center of Los Andes ’s colonial core, an area seven blocks square that constitutes a zona típica national monument, the shady Plaza de Armas remains the focus of urban life. On the plaza’s north side, the neoclassical Gobernación Provincial (1888–1891) was the provincial governor’s residence until 1964; today government offices cluster around its central patio, but the arched portal beneath its facade is a popular gathering place. Half a block east of the plaza, Nobel Prize–winning poet Gabriela Mistral taught at the erstwhile Colegio de Niñas (Girls’ School, Esmeralda 246) for several years in the early 20th century.
Emphasizing local cultures, the Museo Arqueológico de Los Andes (Av. Santa Teresa 398, tel. 034/420115, museo_losandes [at] hotmail [dot] com) displays collections of funerary items, stone tools, pottery, and petroglyphs from Molle times (around A.D. 1–800) through the Aconcagua culture (about A.D. 800–1500) and the brief Inka presence (A.D. 1450 to the Spanish takeover). Horse gear and household goods date from more recent times, and there are some Mapuche items. The English translations are far better than in most small provincial museums. Advertised hours are 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily except Monday, but the real schedule can be erratic; admission costs US$1.50.
Across the avenue, the 19th-century Museo Antiguo Monasterio del Espíritu Santo (Av. Santa Teresa 389, tel. 034/421765) was once the Convento Carmelitas Descalzas del Espíritu Santo de los Andes, a cloister for Carmelite nuns. The Chilean Santa Teresa de los Andes, beatified in 1993, lived at this national monument, rebuilt in the 1920s, and many of the faithful undertake pilgrimages here. The museum also honors Laura Vicuña, a Santiago-born girl whose widowed mother took an Argentine lover, to keep the family together after they fled across the Andes to avoid political persecution; according to legend, Laura’s deteriorating health was an attempt to persuade her mother to change her ways. Hours are 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and 3–6:30 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. weekends.
At the north end of Avenida Santa Teresa, the waiting room of the former Estación Ferrocarril Transandino, the rail line that ran erratically to the Argentine city of Mendoza between 1910 and 1984, now holds judicial offices; ask permission to visit Gregorio de la Fuente’s mural A la Hermandad Chileno-Argentina (To Chilean-Argentine Brotherhood). Railroad historian Ian Thomson referred to the line, frequently damaged by avalanches and rockslides, “as a marvel to engineers, a disaster to accountants.”