Nestled in the heart of Mendoza Province 147 miles (236 kms) south of the provincial capital of Mendoza, San Rafael, founded in 1805, is a bustling town of about 107,000 people. Although the surrounding Pampa plains are generally dry and flat, the Diamante and Atuel rivers make San Rafael a fertile oasis of rich agriculture and the local center for tourism. The Andes, pristine lakes, valleys, and beautiful white waters create a dramatic backdrop for the city. Visitors take advantage of the numerous sports offered, such as fishing, biking, rafting, horseback riding, diving and kayaking.
San Rafael has mild winters and warm summers. Humidity is usually low and winds are moderate, and there is sun nearly every day. A network of freshwater canals cools the months of June, July and August, while the remaining months are warmer.
Like Mendoza, San Rafael also rests in scenic wine country and is home to a number of traditional wine and champagne cellars and vineyards, most of which visitors are encouraged to explore. There are also traditional shops and boutiques along San Rafael's quaint, tree-lined streets, as well as skiing and guided excursions in the nearby mountains. The Valle Grande Area, The Canon del Atuel, and the Nihuil Dam are all spectacular attractions in close proximity to San Rafael.
Locals are true to their traditions and enjoy numerous festivals. The Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia, the National Grape Harvest Festival, held throughout the province during the first Saturday of March, is the biggest event in San Rafael. The town lights up for an especially grand celebration of the wine harvest, and activities include religious ceremonies to bless the grapes, sports events, and a crowning of the Queen of the Vintage. Parades, old cars, musicians and actors abound, and plenty of wine and entertainment ensure maximum merriment during this festival.
Vendimia Festival Further Information - (External Link)
San Rafael also hosts the Argentine Pentathlon every year. This event takes place in the first two weeks of February. Athletes compete in five different events in a circuit around the Atuel River Canyon.
Sights in and Around San Rafael
Plaza San Martin (San Martin Square)
Visits to Plaza San Martin, which covers a surface of more than 400 acres and is home to 700 species of animals and 50,000 trees, are very popular. Near the river, the Gruta del Indio (the Indian's cave) is home to an archeological hot spot full of archaic remains; paintings from ancient cultures have been found dating to the 16th century, as well as prehistoric animal remains.
Cerro de La Gloria - Glory Hill
Near the center of town is the Cerro de La Gloria (Glory Hill), where a zoo and a monument to General San Martin are located.
San Rafael's Arcangeles Cathedral, a modern building of neo-romantic architecture, is the spiritual heart of San Rafael.
Valle Grande Dam
The damming of the Valle Grande formed an enormous mirror of greenish emerald waters, now used for water sports from swimming and diving to water skiing, windsurf and boating. There are also handicraft shops, small hotels, restaurants and fully equipped camping trails for backpackers. There is also rafting, kayaking and great scenery for those who love fishing. Cycling, horseback riding and trekking are popular land-based activities.
Canon del Atuel
Upwards from the Valle Grande dam, the Atuel Canon is one of South America's true natural wonders. Wind and rain have eroded the rock, sculpting deep cavities into the canyon. Two artificial lakes, Aisol and Tierras Blancas, as well as the waterfall of the Atuel River also contribute to the beauty of the canyon.
Further Information - (External Link)
El Nihuil Dam
As with the Valle Grande Dam, water sports including windsurfing and waterskiing are available at El Nihuil Dam, which is also well known for good fishing.
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