Worth a Trip: Ongamira Valley

Healing energy points, sightings of strange lights linked to extraterrestrial activity and ancient tales of indigenous tribes make Ongamira one of Argentina’s most mysterious valleys. Though spiritual seekers from around the world flock to this enchanting spot in the north of Córdoba’s Sierras Chicas, 25km from Capilla del Monte, it remains steeped in secrecy. Lack of cell-phone coverage adds to the otherworldly mystique.

From Capilla del Monte, follow RP 17 and you’ll pass a number of spiritual communities that have set up home here, mostly in and around the Quebrada de la Luna. The spectrum of beliefs and faiths is wide, from Sierra del Cielo by the Uksim group to Centro Mariano del Espíritu Santo and the Community of Light inspired by Brazilian spiritual leader Trigueirinho. Many of these offer retreats, workshops and even brief visits for outside visitors, though it’s always best to call ahead.

Dotted with red sandstone formations and verdant green pastures where horses roam free, the valley – named after chief Onga – was once home to Comechingones, an indigenous tribe who lived here about 200 BC and used grottos carved out of sandstone as homes and ritual sites. Visiting the caves (AR$70) is one of the highlights of Ongamira; check out the mortars and the rock paintings of animals and humans.

When the Spanish invaded these lands in the 16th century, the Comechingones refused to give in and threw themselves to their deaths from the top of Cerro Colchiquí (1575m). Climbing to the top of the mountain makes for a great hike, which takes about three hours up and down. If you’re lucky you’ll catch sight of condors flying overhead; you may see some nests at the top but keep away so as not to disturb the young chicks and their mamas. There’s a small welcome center at the bottom of the mountain, where you pay the AR$50 admission; you can also go up by horse (AR$400). The views are dazzling from the top, taking in the salt flats of Catamarca, the province to the north.

If you want to stay, the boutique estancia (ranch) of Dos Lunas in Alto Ongamira is a top choice. Don’t miss a meal at A Orillas del Río, a riverside teahouse smack out of a fairy tale, just off RP 17 en route to Ongamira.