Hiking

Even if you're not here to summit – and most visitors aren't – you can experience the majestic scenery on short hikes in the park. Highly recommended is the 16km roundtrip to Confluencia (3400m), the first base camp for climbers on the Northwest Route. It's best to budget four to six hours – obviously, you can stop at any time to shorten the distance (at only 2km oneway, the small glacier lake, Laguna Horcones is a good turnaround point). It's at high altitude and involves 400m of elevation gain, so the nonacclimatized should expect some aerobic challenges. The trail begins at the parking lot 1km past the ticket office of the park's Laguna Horcones entrance. Permits are AR$200 (to Laguna Horcones AR$20) and you'll need your passport. Some tour and climbing companies in Mendoza offer this trip as well.

Trekking companies also offer three-day trips to Plaza Francia (4200m), at the South Face, the next base camp after Confluencia.

Worth a Trip: Climbing Cerro Aconcagua

Often called the ‘roof of the Americas,’ the volcanic summit of Aconcagua covers a base of uplifted marine sediments of relatively young age, in geologic terms. In fact, the mountains are growing around 1cm a year. The origin of the name is unclear; one possibility is the Quechua term Ackon-Cahuac, meaning ‘stone sentinel,’ while another is the Mapuche phrase Acon-Hue, signifying ‘that which comes from the other side.’

Italian-Swiss climber Matthias Zurbriggen made the first recorded ascent in 1897. Since then, the peak has become a favorite destination for climbers from around the world, even though it is technically less challenging than other nearby peaks. In 1985 the Club Andinista Mendoza’s discovery of an Incan mummy at 5300m on the mountain’s southwest face proved that the high peaks were a pre-Columbian funerary site.

Reaching the summit requires a commitment of at least 13 to 15 days, including acclimatization time. Most climbers take the Northwest Route (also called the 'Normal route'), but some prefer the longer but more scenic, less crowded and more technical Polish Glacier Route.

Technical climbing skills aren't at a premium, except on the Polish Glacier Route, whereas aerobic endurance and overall fitness and strength are. The climbing season is from mid-November to the end of March.

The cost of renting cargo mules, which can carry about 60kg each, has gone through the roof. If you’re going up on an organized tour, mules are, of course, included in the overall cost of the trip.

Potential climbers should acquire RJ Secor’s climbing guide Aconcagua (1999).

Permits

From December to March permits are obligatory for both trekking and climbing in Parque Provincial Aconcagua; park rangers at Laguna Los Horcones will not permit visitors to proceed up the Quebrada de los Horcones without one. Fees vary according to the complex park-use seasons: a high-season ascent with assistance via Horcones/Vacas costs US$944/1133; a low-season trek of seven days via either route with assistance costs US$261. Check www.aconcagua.mendoza.gob.ar for the latest information.

Organized tours rarely, if ever, include the park entrance fee. Fees should be paid in Argentine pesos but can be paid in US dollars, and you must bring your original passport with you when you pay the fee. The permit begins from when you enter the park.

All permits are available only in Mendoza at the Ministerio de Turismo.

Routes

There are three main routes up Cerro Aconcagua. The most popular one, approached by a 40km trail from Los Horcones, is the Northwest Route (Ruta Noroeste, also called the 'Normal Route') from Plaza de Mulas, 4230m above sea level. The South Face (Pared Sur), approached from the base camp at Plaza Francia via a 36km trail from Los Horcones, is a demanding technical climb.

From Punta de Vacas, 15km southeast of Puente del Inca, the longer but more scenic Polish Glacier Route (Ruta Glaciar de los Polacos) first ascends the Río de las Vacas to the base camp at Plaza Argentina, a distance of 76km. Climbers on this route must carry ropes, screws and ice axes, in addition to the usual tent, warm sleeping bag and clothing, and plastic boots. This route is more expensive because it requires the use of mules for a longer period.