Laguna de la Niña Encantada

Useful Information

Location: Provincial Route No. 222, 7 km east of Los Molles.
(-35.159938, -69.869927)
Open: All year daily.
Fee: Adults ARS 400, Children (5-12) ARS 300.
Classification: KarstVauclusian Spring
Light: n/a
Dimension: L=60 m, W=40 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Valeria Sofía Cortez Taillant, Agustín Arroqui Langer (2021):
Recognition and evaluation of possibles geosites associated to dolinas in Malargüe department Mendoza Province, Argentina
Tecnura [online]. 2021, vol.25, n.68, pp.84-104. Epub Aug 16, 2021. ISSN 0123-921X. online DOI pdf
Address: Laguna de la Niña Encantada.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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The Laguna de la Niña Encantada (Lagoon of the Enchanted Girl) is a huge karst spring with a size of 60 m long and 40 m wide. It is a Vauclusian spring, but the cave system below is not accessible, it is blocked by huge block of volcanic rock. The spring was named after a legend.

Elcha was the daughter of the chief of a peaceful Cacique tribe, her birth brought much prosperity to the tribe. As a child she played with a boy of the tribe, when they grew up they became lovers. One day they were invaded by the Pehuenches, a very aggressive tribe. The sorceress of the Pehuenches was envious of the love of the young couple, so she suggested that the girl should be married to the son of the Pehuenche chief. With the intention to avoid conflicts, the chiefs of both towns agreed that Elcha would marry on the next new moon. When the girl found out she went to tell her lover. They were not willing to be separated, so they decided to escape at night. But in that night a great storm was raging, and they were fiercely persecuted by the warriors of the Pehuenches. When they finally came to the spring, they were cornered and in despair, they jumped from the cliff into the reflecting pool and died in the cold waters of the lagoon. The witch of the tribe observed everything from above, and as punishment for trying to separate them, lightning struck her, leaving her petrified on top of the mountain next to the lagoon. Since that day, on nights with a full moon Elcha's face is reflected in the water.

But there is also a second version of the legend, which is more like Romeo and Juliet.

Elcha was the daughter of the chief of a local tribe, who fell in love with the son of the chief of another tribe. But the two chieftains were enemies, and when they found out about the love between their children, they separated them. The young woman cried inconsolably at this place, her tears formed the lagoon while she was turned into stone, the massive block at the far end of the lagoon.

Argentina does not have much karst and so spectacular karst springs are quite the exception, so this huge spring is unique. Also, the Andes are composed of volcanic rocks, and so the spring is surrounded by volcanic rocks, not limestone. They were deposited by very young, Holocene, volcanism from craters and fissures to the north. Nevertheless, it is a karst spring, as there is a layer of gypsum below ground which is karstified. If formed the huge dolines of the Pozo de las Ánimas (Well of Souls) only 12 km to the west. The water flows underground through caves in gypsum, which is covered by the volcanic rocks. Here the water emerges through blocks of volcanic rocks, of a similar collapse doline with steep walls. It forms a turquoise lake, the colour is a result of the gypsum content which filters the sunlight. It's possible to visit an outcrop of gypsum above the spring, follow the outflow on the left side then the trail uphill. The outcrop is about 200 northwest of the spring and much higher up the slope.

The microclimate around the spring is exceptional, it allowed a great variety of vegetation and is home to multiple species of birds. As a result it was traditionally the epicenter of indigenous rites and the scene of various myths and legends.

The site is reached on a short gravel road from Provincial Route No. 222. There is a parking lot and a bridge called Puente de Elcha across Rio Salado. The water from the spring forms a tributary of Rio Salado, which meets the river after only 600 m.