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Catamarca: land of tradition and contrasts

June 9, 2008 | in Tourism

The contrasting landscapes of this province located in the Northwestern region of Argentina combine indigenous and cultural traditions with the cultivation of diverse grape varieties such as Torrontés Riojana and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Catamarca province is located in the Norwest of Argentina, between 25º 12′ and 30º 04′ latitudes South and 69º 03′ and 64 º 58′ longitudes West. It borders on Salta province to the North, on Tucumán and Santiago del Estero provinces to the East, on Córdoba and La Rioja provinces to the South and on Chile and the Andes Mountains to the West.

The main productive activities are intensive agriculture and mining. The first takes advantage of inter-mountain spaces, such as valleys.

The word Catamarca means “stronghold on the hillside” in Quichua language, which makes reference to its geographical situation. The city was first founded in 1558. Until 1821, the territories of Tucumán and Catamarca were united but on August 25 of that year, Nicolás Avellaneda y Tula declared Catamarca and its territory free as every town constituted as a province.

Today, the architecture is full of red roof houses of colonial style, with broad thresholds and sunny courtyards that are reminiscent of the foundational era.

Catamarca is a traditional tourist city, which displays an important business activity and an active cultural movement. The pottery, metal and stone pieces displayed at the museums illustrate through art the myths and customs that the ancient inhabitants of this land developed during thousands of years. The combination of the native legacy and the colonial past creates this valuable local heritage.

In Catamarca, the religious tradition is conjugated with the landscape. The pagan rituals to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the Catholic Cult to Virgen del Valle coexist harmoniously. An example of this is “Hospedaje del Pelegrino”, located next to the Cathedral, which offers accommodation for those believers who come to fulfil their life promise to the Virgen Morena (Brown Virgen) during April and December. "La Gruta" is the place where the history of devotion for Nuestra Señora del Valle began. This site is an important touristic attraction, along with San Francisco Temple, the house where Fray Mamerto Esquiú was born, San Isidro Church and Nuestra Señora del Rosario Chapel.

For those interested in ecological tourism, the Biosphere of Laguna Blanca Reserve is a good option. Located North of the town of Belén in the Southwest of Antofagasta de la Sierra, it has 770,000 hectares at an altitude ranging between 3,200 and 5,500 meters asl. The tour includes sightings of flora and fauna, a photographic safari, trout fishing, trekking, horse riding trips and camping opportunities. Laguna Alumbrera and Laguna Blanca are altitude lagoons chosen by many bird species. Amidst the Andes foothills lies Los Seismiles, another prime destination, where more than 20 peaks rise at over 6.000 meters asl along with Pissis Volcano, the tallest inactive volcano in the world and second highest peak in the Americas. Another highlight of this site is Ojos del Salado, the highest active volcano in the world, with a summit crowned by snow, glaciers and fumaroles.

The province of Catamarca is divided into two main areas according to its relief and climate: the Western area and Valle de Catamarca -or Eastern area. The Western area encompasses the viticulture region; it is cooler, with annual rainfalls lower than 200 millimeters, distributed mainly in the summer period. This climate, of great temperature amplitude, determines an ideal place for growing high altitude vineyards.

Beauty and diversity define this stunning mountainous landscape. The steep mountains offer a fierce contrast with the quiet valleys they enclose. These valleys have been transformed into rich oasis by human activity. There, diverse varieties of vines are grown, such as Torrontés Riojana and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Western valleys receive scarce rainfall, while the temperature range is lower than in the rest of this sub region. Most of the wineries are located within this landscape, which also includes 70% of the vineyards. The main productive areas are Tinogasta (located 300 kilometers from the capital city in the valley of Abarcan River and covering more than 70% of the total production), Fiambalá, Belén and Capayán. Overall, the viticulture development of the area encloses 2,000 hectares at altitudes ranging between 1,200 meters and 1,750 meters. The best known vine stocks of this area are: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Torrontés Riojano and Cereza.

For further information, please contact the Catamarca Tourism Department Information Center:
[email protected]

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