From San Juan , paved RN 40 leads 156 kilometers north to the vineyards and olive orchards of San José de Jáchal (pop. 10,901), a town renowned for its gaucho customs and its handmade blankets and ponchos.
Mid-November’s weekend Fiesta de la Tradición highlights this reputation, while its most notable sight is the Iglesia San José (1878), a national historical monument blemished by a new and incongruous freestanding bell tower. Also notable is the church’s Cristo Negro (Black Christ) or Señor de la Agonía (Lord of Agony), a grisly 18th-century image imported from Bolivia.
East of Jáchal, the scenic graveled RP 491 links up with RN 40 to the village of Huaco, the birthplace and gravesite of poet and musician Buenaventura Luna (a lacquered cement guitar lies atop his adobe tomb). Huaco is also home to the Viejo Molino, a magnificently restored late-colonial flour mill.
To the west, narrow RN 150 leads through madly folded landforms over the pass known as the Cuesta del Viento to the town of Rodeo, where Rafting San Juan (Paoli s/n, tel. 0264/427-6143, 0264/433-2352, or 0264/15-436-6439) descends the Class III Río Jáchal, a good starter river with one exciting slot canyon.
Jáchal has numerous campgrounds. A block-plus north of the plaza, Hotel San Martín (Echegaray 367, tel. 02647/42-0431, www.jachalhotelsanmartin.com , US$20 s, US$27 d) has commodious rooms with amenities such as air-conditioning, cable TV, and private baths; it has made an impressive effort to improve common areas as well.
Half a block east of the plaza, moribund Hotel Plaza (San Juan 546, tel. 02647/42-0256, US$10–12 s, US$15–20 d) has rooms with either shared or private baths. For dining, try Nicco y Pascual (San Martín and Echegaray), at the southwest corner of the plaza.
On the plaza’s north side, the obliging Casa de la Cultura y Turismo (tel. 02647/42-0003, ext. 311, www.jachal.gov.ar ) is open 24-7 (the night watchman does his best in the early hours).
Jáchal’s Terminal de Ómnibus (Presidente Perón and Laprida) is six blocks east and three blocks south of the plaza. From San Juan , the main carriers are Clasur (tel. 0264/421-4108) and TAC (also tel. 0264/421-4108).