You have to love somewhere that is named after an apple tree. Argentina’s favorite liberator and hero, General San Martin, apparently sought shade under an old apple tree here and so the area was dedicated to that servile sapling. Not only does it have apple trees, but this nature reserve is full of history and ripe for adventure activities.
This is the place where San Martin rallied his flagging troops and inspired them to fight the Spanish in a bid for independence. In a cunning plan he told the native Indians that his troops would be attacking through this old trade route. As he suspected, the natives sold out and informed the Spanish of his planned route. So the Spanish duly prepared to fight back on this front, but in fact San Martin used the Manzano Historico for a decoy attack, and actually attacked full force from the Upsallata route. They won the battle and the rest is Argentine independence history.
The ‘ruta sanmartina’ has always remained an important gateway to Chile, with the stunning moon-like landscaped border named ‘El Portillo’ (or the gate). This was a cattle route for hundreds of years and you can still see remnants of the treacherous journey for the land animals with skulls and bones littering the path. Guachos have crossed this part of the Andes for centuries, and they still do…
What to do nowadays
Ruta Sanmartiniana is still a big tourist attraction here and many want to follow in the footsteps of San Martin, and also of Charles Darwin (whose crossing here helped formulate his thoughts on evolution). It can be covered by foot, horseback, dirtbike or 4×4.
There are a dozen or so trekking routes here that can last from a couple hours to camping overnight at the refuges along the way. One of the most popular is next to the Cajon de Arenales where there is a tall waterfall, from snowmelt, which you can walk behind and take a (very) refreshing dip in the pool at the bottom. Bring your passport if you are thinking about heading up to El Portillo – you have to check out with the guards before walking to Chile.
Down in the Manzano Historico you can organize a horseride with some of the local gauchos who will take you up the adventurous dirt path, through the valleys and alongside the snaking river. Horseriding here is a real delight with different terrains to amble along and lots of adventurous river crossings.
Here you will find Arenales – the second most important climbing wall in South America. Attracting lots of international climbers each year, this area has lots of different rock faces to climb of varying intensity – the longest of which is 500m and takes you to an altitude of well over 4000m. Stunning climbs with condors sweeping around you. You can do boldering here too, but the best climbs are with ropes – make sure to get a guide if you don’t know what you are doing.
A gushing river which winds its way through the valley keeps flyfishers happy with brown trout and beautiful scenary to while away some precious rod time. Sit alongside all the picnickers from Tunuyan and see if you can catch the ‘big one’.
For adrenaline junkies, this is the second most popular spot for paragliding in Mendoza (after Cerro Arco). Jumping off of Cerro El Manzano gives you a sweeping view down the valley and over the lush countryside and vineyards of Tunuyan.
Sightseeing: If you want to stay down at normal altitude, visiting the Manzano Historico on a Sunday can be a perfectly pleasant trip in itself. With a large wooden sculpture of Christ set against the mountains, a large monument to San Martin, two museums on local history and an artisan market in the afternoon, this is a nice spot to visit.
By Amanda Barnes
Published in the April/May 2012 edition of Wine Republic