A November 2007 trip
to Cordoba by Robert Raymond Ingledew
Quote: Shame on me! I passed on the bus dozens of times half a block away from here and had never heard about this beautiful place (Santa María campgrounds and bathing resort). Today I discovered it. All in one: Campground, bathing resort, cafeteria, and even live music...
La Toma is one of the most beautiful resorts in the valley of Punilla. River Cosquin borders the city to the North, and there are a number of nice bathing places on the river. Although beaches on the river are small, there is a lot of shade and a number of cafeterias and restaurants near to the river. In this part of the river, however, there are no campfires, but you can buy hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue at reasonable prices, and even enjoy an ice cream by the riverside. But more important, the scenery is beautiful. Along and behind the river you have a charming panoramic view of the Pan de Azúcar (Sugar Loaf) mount, that is the largest in this area, about some 5,000 feet high. In the foreground, you can see the solid and pretty high railway bridge constructed a century ago by the British railways, now called the Train to the Hills (Tren a las Sierras), that connected all the tourist destinations of the valley of Punilla: La Calera, Villa Carlos Paz, Bialet Masse, Santa María, Cosquin, Valler Hermoso, La Falda, Huerta Grande, Villa Giardino, La Cumbre and all the way up to Capilla del Monte, including some tunnels next to the San Roque lake.
Although this railway is closed today, it seems that soon it will be reopened. It offers a fascinating tour through the mountainous areas from Cordoba city all the way up to Capilla del Monte, and even further. Cosquin is renown as the capital of folklore in Argentina, and has the main folklore event in all Argentina, although it should be recognized that the Vintage Festival in Mendoza gathers far more people, due to the limited capacity of the Prospero Molina stadium in Cosquin. Thanks to its excellent climate, Cosquin is the preferred place in all Argentina for treating respiratory illnesses. And Atahualpa Yupanqui, a pioneer in Argentina folklore, decided to change the image of the city. It was many years ago when, first in the open air, and then in an organized stadium, Cosquin became the capital of Argentina folk music. Other cities followed the example later, as Jesus María, with its festival of horse breaking-in and folklore, but Cosquin is still the classic from where new folklore musicians start their way up to fame. There are a number of small dams on the river, but La Toma is the most important – and nicest – one.
Further up the stream, there is a very nice hotel on the river banks. Cosquin has a fair variety of hotels from 1 to 3 stars. I have just checked the hotel list, there are only two 3-star hotels, and about a dozen of one-star hotels. Most of them are not bad. There are no four-star hotels in this city, that has probably some 15,000 inhabitants. There are eight campgrounds in this city. I will refer to hotels in this area in a separate report. The full day tour from Villa Carlos Paz to Capilla del Monte spends a couple of hours at La Toma for bathing during the summer season. The half-day tour simply ignores this beautiful spot. You will certainly enjoy spending the day in this paradise, that is only 14 miles north of Villa Carlos Paz. Of course, if you are fond of night-life, you’d better stay at Carlos Paz, and take any of the frequent bus services from Villa Carlos Paz to Cosquín offered by Sarmiento, Ciudad de Córdoba and Lumasa, amongst other bus companies. Welcome to the Valley of Punilla.
There are a number of places that deserve a visit in Tanti, a small 3,500 inhabitant village located some 5 miles to the west of Highway 38 that connects Córdoba and Villa Carlos Paz with La Falda, La Cumbre, Capilla del Monte, and Cruz del Eje. Although it is a small village, it has a 4-star hotel, resort and SPA, but the main attraction here is El Diquecito, a small bathing resort under a very nice waterfall. Admission is free, but there are no campfires here and very little shade. Near here there are some campgrounds where you can spend the day. But the whole environment is very pleasant, and next to the dam there is a cafeteria with reasonable prices. Sans Souci is the second place I would recommend, here there is a small budget hotel and cafeteria by the river side. There is a lot of volcanic rock over here and there is quite a bit of shade.
Flor Serrana is the third option. Here also there is a small waterfall on the river, a nicer small hotel, and swimming pools for the tourists. Finally, some ten miles beyond Tanti there is a naturist campground, where I have never been, since taking your clothes off is not optional. Tanti is a very quiet village, in spite of which there are bus services to Villa Carlos Paz and Cordoba every 20 minutes. The ticket to Villa Carlos Paz costs two pesos (65 cents of a dollar) and travel takes half an hour, while travel to Córdoba costs nearly two dollars and takes an hour and a half. Both Transporte Carlos Paz and Fonobus cover this service. Half way between Villa Carlos Paz and Tanti is Pekos, the most important attractions park in the Province of Córdoba, that has many mechanical games for teenagers, including waterslides and a sea lion show. Next to it is Mundo Fantástico (Fantastic World) and some other attractions. And from here you can board the recently inaugurated bus line (Perilago of Lumasa) that goes around lake San Roque, giving you the opportunity to admire the beauty of this artificial lake and dam, while returning to Villa Carlos Paz. This service does not go all the way to Tanti, but you can board it on the crossroad of Highway 38 (Villa Carlos Paz / La Falda) in front of Pekos. You will certainly want to get off at the Dique San Roque, and walk through one of the longest tunnels of what used to form part of the Train to the Hills railway (Tren a las Sierras), and also observe the sluiceway where the water gives a beautiful view when water level in the lake is higher than the spillway, as it is just now. This is the only time of the year when you have this chance, because it is the rainy season (December to February).
Then the lake will gradually shrink down until the next rainy season. Lake San Roque provides potable water and power generation to the city of Cordoba, the second largest city in Argentina. You can also take a bus from this lake down to the city of Cordoba. It is a one hour drive on La Calera. The whole area that borders lake San Roque has beautiful residential constructions and a very nice marina or boating club. There is good "tararira" (a sort of large mouth bass) and carp fishing in the lake, as well as smaller species like silverside and catfish. All this area deserves a visit. Give it a try. Just have a look at the photos and you will agree with me that it is an interesting option for spending the day. There is a road through Tanti to Mina Clavero that covers a number of beautiful places like Durazno, the Sierra Grande (large mountains) and the Pampa de Pocho, with its extinguished volcanoes. It passes near Los Túneles, a condor watching area, but as far as I know, it does not pass through this breathtaking area. It does go through Taninga, and during this travel you will see dwarf palm tree forests. However, this trip takes probably 6 hours to Mina Clavero, while the regular bus services from Villa Carlos Paz over the mountain range take a couple of hours. But if you want to enjoy natural sceneries along a different road, it is a good option. This bus service runs once or twice a day. Enjoy your stay in Cordoba. I know you will.
This road was far more fascinating when it was an earth road (133 swift turns, some of which were straightened out when the road was paved). In any case it is a very nice scenic road and an enjoyable experience. Until a month ago, the only alternative was to take a taxi that in any case was affordable (maybe some 8 to 10 dollars), or take the tour on a catamaran, at a cost of some 8 dollars. While navigating lake San Roque is very nice, I enjoy more traveling along the side of the lake. You hardly see Villa Carlos Paz from the Catamaran, because the city goes up and down the hills, and both the hills and the vegetation hide a large party of the city. If you prefer to go along the road, as I do, now there is a regular bus service every half hour at a cost of about half a dollar, served by Lumasa, that departs from the Villa Carlos Paz bus station.
The original San Roque dam was constructed in 1886 and was at that time the largest dam in the whole world, holding 250 million cubic meters (8,834 million cubic feet) of water. 3200 workers participated in its construction. It was made of graded material and clay, constructed by an Argentine engineer, Bialet Massé, and later was replaced by a concrete dam constructed by a British firm. They tried to dynamite the first dam, but were unable to do so. In the meantime, those who had constructed the dam were accused of putting at risk the safety of Cordoba city, since the river that leaves the dam is only 25 miles upstream from this city, the second of Argentina (population 1,300,000) and a collapse of the dam (133 feet high) would have wiped out the city. However, evidence is that the dam would have resisted an earthquake probably better than a concrete dam, since it is still there. They were unable to destroy it.
There are a number of attractions along the coast of the lake. Country clubs with very nice residences, a marina or boating club, the tunnel of the train to the hills, and a number of trade union resorts and clubs, including a fishing club, are some of the attractions you will find. Going round the lake on the other side you will come to the village of Bialet Massé, named in honor of the engineer that constructed the first dam, where the Cosquin river enters the San Roque lake, a very good place for fishing large carps. You will pass in front of Pekos and Mundo Fantástico, two classical teenager attractions, including many mechanical games and even a sea lion show. Getting nearer to Villa Carlos Paz you will have beautiful views from the area known as Puente Negro (Black bridge). If you are driving a car, turn left at the Puente Negro, and after two miles you will arrive at Bahía Los Mimbres, a Caribbean-style bathing resort on lake San Roque. But drive slowly, because the road is not in optimal condition. Upstream from this bridge on the same river (Río de los Chorrillos) with beautiful residences, there is a bathing resort, also called El Diquecito. After this, you will have beautiful panoramic views of Villa Carlos Paz from the area known as Villa del Lago, next to the Portobello building. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of beautiful places near Villa Carlos Paz. Come and discover them.
Robert Raymond Ingledew
Villa Carlos Paz (Cordoba), Argentina