WHEN TO GO: February to May
TRAVEL BY: Rental car
TIMING: 2 weeks
ITINERARY: Salta | Quebrada de las Conchas | Cafayate | Cachi | Estancia | Purmamarca | Salinas Grandes | Quebrada de Humahuaca
DON’T MISS OUT ON: Wine ice-cream (!) & riding with the Gauchos
Northern Argentina means dusty desert towns, vivid landscapes and colonial cities. Vast vineyards, Argentinian cowboy’s and that special sense of freedom of a real road trip.
Both provinces, Salta and Jujuy have a very different vibe compared to the rest of Argentina. Colorful crafts inspired by the surrounding nature and a strong presence of indigenous traditions influenced by the neighboring countries of Peru and Bolivia are characteristic for the region and at times make us feel like we have landed in another era. With most people visiting Argentina to see Buenos Aires, Tierra del Fuego and Iguazu Falls to go home thinking they have seen it all, there are plenty of empty roads all year round. Rent a car to discover the area on the iconic Road 40 (Road 66’s little brother) and reserve about two weeks to (slow) travel the area. Because Northern Argentina is here to remind us, that nature still is our single biggest source of inspiration.
From Buenos Aires it’s a short flight to Salta, the region’s capital and a beautiful colonial town boasting neo-classical buildings in as many beautiful colors as the surrounding landscapes. The pastel pink cathedral, the magenta and yellow Iglesia San Franscisco, one of the main symbols of Salta, artisanal markets, folkloric dance and nights spent at a local peña, clapping, stomping and shouting to folk music will make you understand why Salta deserves its nickname: ‘Salta la linda’ – ‘Salta the beautiful’.
Come back later for our full guide on Salta city!
Quebrada de las Conchas
The drive between Salta and Cafayate is a highlight on its own. The Quebrada de las Conchas along the 68 highway is an incredibly beautiful area of dusty, vivid landscapes, rock formations and deep valleys of canyons in all shades of terracotta, red and deep burgundy.
Stop to listen to the natural acoustics of the ‘Amphitheater’ rock formations and the ‘Gargata del Diablo’ – the Devil’s Throat, a gorge gracefully carved by a dried-up waterfall.
Some of the best wines in Argentina from some of the highest vineyards in the world. Cafayate, with its slower pace and peaceful atmosphere, seems a world away from the well-known and at times frantically touristic Mendoza.
The region is famed for its Torrontes grape as well as wine ice-cream. Yes, I mean wine ice-cream and yes, there’s alcohol in it! If you want the original, you need to be at Helados Miranda.
Bike from winery to winery and do not miss out on a stop at our favorite: Finca Las Nubes. A small, organic winery at the foot of the El Cajón Hill.
Cafayate easily deserves a couple of days of tasting, eating, drinking & biking. Our full Guide to Cafayate tells you exactly what to do and where to stay!
Before heading further north (or alternatively on the way back to Salta), there is one more thing you do not want to miss: riding with the gauchos! The gaucho is a legendary and honorary figure in Argentina: The South America equivalent of the cowboy, herders, farmers, the gatekeepers of history and tradition, the quintessential country man, the men of freedom.
Estancia El Bordo de las Lanzas is about an hour drive from Salta and is one of the oldest estancias in Argentina. Entering means being transported back into the 19th century. A pure experience joining the gauchos in their daily farm work while staying at an utterly unique family home, crammed full of antiques, glimmering silverware, high wooden ceilings, crisp white linens and beautiful gardens. Riding horses with Juan, making empanadas with Sofia & Rosa by the stone oven or listening to Augostino telling anecdotes of the history of the estate. Staying here is like spending a week with your Argentinian family.
A small town backed by the snow-capped mountains of Nevado de Cachi and known for its adobe houses. Stroll under the pine trees at 9 de Julio Square, try local cheese at Queso Norteno or have lunch at Ashpamanta. If you prefer to stay the night, you will have a quiet night of sleep at El Cortijo Boutique Hotel.
Nearing Purmamarca the landscape slowly changes from green hills to red, rocky landscapes with a desert feeling. This small sandy town, meaning desert town in Aymara language, lies at the foot of the Cerro de los Siete Colores: The Hill of Seven Colors. Many day visitors stop to visit the artisanal market on the day square along with The Hill of Seven Colors, making the first impression of this little town rather touristy. If you want to step back in time, stay for the night and get up early to see the locals running their errands in the algarrobo lined streets while the sun comes up behind the hills.
Reached via Route 40 are the remains of an ancient dried up salt-lake. The flat of geometric-shaped cracked salt comprises a salt crust of ½ meter thick and gives an impression of the vast expanses of this area. Most tourists head towards the well-known Bolivian salt flats, making this the quieter option.
Quebrada de Humahuaca
The Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a gorge stretching about 150 km through jagged mountains, vibrant scenery and desert villages where life hasn’t changed much over the last hundred years. Humahuaca, the most northern point of the Quebrada is known for its long, colorful streets lined with vendors.
About 25km from Humahuaca lies Serranía de Hornocal, or short El Hornocal, a range of multicolored hills. The 14 different ‘rainbow’ earth-tone colors are caused by a higher concentration of different minerals in layered geological strata. With an altitude of more than 4500 meters above sea level, an altitude headache is almost unavoidable. El Hornocal has only gained popularity in the last 10 years. It is said that the local community had kept it a secret for generations!
Interview: In pursuit of truly slow life at The Kip in Sri Lanka
Cabiner: A cabin in the woods in The Netherlands
Estancia El Bordo de las Lanzas