San Juan de la Frontera dates from 1562, but its modern aspect stems from repeated earthquakes. The event with the greatest impact—and not just seismically—was the 1944 temblor that brought Juan Domingo Perón, then a minor political figure, to prominence for his disaster-relief efforts. Perón used this role as a springboard to found the controversial political movement known formally as Justicialism but more commonly as Peronism.
Though smaller, poorer, drier, and hotter than Mendoza, San Juan has much in common with the larger city: wide tree-shaded avenues, sidewalk cafés, a wine industry that’s lifting the local economy, and a work schedule that starts early but shuts down for several hours in the smothering summer heat. It has been less successful in diversifying its economy, which is largely administrative and agricultural.
San Juan was the birthplace and home of statesman, educator, and author Domingo F. Sarmiento, who wrote the famous polemic Civilization and Barbarism about the excesses of provincial caudillos.
San Juan (pop. 115,556, elev. 650 meters) is 168 kilometers north of Mendoza via RN 40, and 1,138 kilometers northwest of Buenos Aires; the Avenida Circunvalación ring road keeps through traffic out of the city center. Its relatively small population is misleading as, like Mendoza, it’s the center of a larger metropolitan area (which exceeds 400,000).
Getting to San Juan
Aerolíneas Argentinas (Avenida San Martín 215 Oeste, tel. 0264/422-5049) flies daily to Buenos Aires’s Aeroparque. LAN has begun flights here from Aeroparque on a trial basis.
San Juan’s Terminal de Ómnibus (Estados Unidos 492 Sur, tel. 0264/422-1604) has provincial, long-distance, and international services (though it’s usually necessary to change in Mendoza for Santiago or Viña del Mar/Valparaíso).
Sample destinations, times, and fares include Mendoza (2 hours, US$6), San Agustín del Valle Fértil (3.5 hours, US$10), Córdoba (8 hours, US$22), Santiago (Chile) or Valparaíso/Viña (9 hours, US$22), Tucumán (13 hours, US$39–45), Buenos Aires (16 hours, US$40–65), and Salta (17 hours, US$50–65).
A cab or remise to Aeropuerto Domingo F. Sarmiento (tel. 0264/425-0487), about 13 kilometers southeast of town via RN 20, costs about US$5–7.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition