Northwest Argentina itinerary
So different from its southern cousin, but equally amazing (or more). Here you will find no glaciers, no sea lions or penguins, and no Valdivian forests full of lakes. But no worries guys, because we have deserts and canyons, llamas and condors, and, above all, Andean culture. You can not miss this region, here is where Argentina will conquer your heart. Some amazing places:
Puente del Inca & Aconcagua Provincial Park
Córdoba and surroundings San Miguel de Tucumán
El Mollar & Tafí del Valle Amaicha del Valle
Routes from Cafayate to Salta: Quebrada de las Conchas and Quebrada de las Flechas Salta
Quebrada de Humahuaca: Yala, Purmamarca, Maimará, Tilcara, Humahuaca
Iruya & Yavi
PUENTE DEL INCA AND ACONCAGUA PROVINCIAL PARK
The entrance to Argentina through here, province of Mendoza, is a success. This first part of northwestern Argentina has spectacular places along the way, including natural areas and historic cities. The Andean landscape is incredibly beautiful. To be highlighted two places in the province of Mendoza, in the heart of the Andes.
Puente del Inca. It is a natural geological formation shaped like a bridge that crosses a river of thermal and sulphurous waters, which gives the structure its intense yellow color. It is surrounded by an environment that looks like the Wild West.
Aconcagua Provincial Park. The Aconcagua Provincial Park (just 4 or 5 km away) has many hiking trails... And it is home to the Aconcagua, the highest peak in Argentina and South America (6962 meters). And the entire continent! And of the entire planet apart from the Himalayas. The best news is that its observation is totally feasible, walking a few kilometers from the entrance of the Park. The intrepid mountaineers can also climb it, but it will them take a “few” days. Those interested click here for more information.
The serious seismic episodes that hit the city led to a new architectural plan that included wide avenues and spacious squares. The result was one of the most beautiful cities of the Republic. You cannot miss the center, with tree-lined streets and stately buildings; the fantastic parks; and the Museum of the Foundational Area. In addition, wine lovers have another excuse to come here (especially red wines): Mendoza is among the best vineyards in the country and it is no accident that in this region about 70% of Argentine wine is produced. Long live the wine!
CÓRDOBA AND SURROUNDINGS
Córdoba is beautiful and diverse. The second most populated city in the country breathes majestic colonial architecture, spacious squares, and always offers cultural events (exhibitions, concerts...) and entertainment (university city). In addition, it enjoys a beautiful mountain range with infinite points and interesting communities. Excellent for making friends, making crafts or playing music. Come and enjoy its history, its people and its surroundings.
SAN MIGUEL DE TUCUMÁN
The capital of Tucumán is not the most beautiful city in the world and its inhabitants are popularly known as "choros" (thieves), so it does not sound very attractive to tourists. However, do not let yourself be guided by stereotypes, as the Tucumán people are excellent people and Tucumán should be a mandatory stop for lovers of history. It was here where the declaration of independence of Argentina took place (July 9, 1816). In addition to Casa de la Independencia (House of Independence), there are many historic buildings worth visiting. The surroundings are also amazing, with jungle-like vegetation that one would not expect in that region. The Alisos National Park is a stone's throw away.
EL MOLLAR AND TAFÍ DEL VALLE
These two neighbors separated by a small lake are a gem of the province of Tucumán. They are in a valley between mountains and is ideal to relax a few days, eat delicious local foods (humitas and tamales, for example), take a dip in the lake or stroll and observe the beautiful flowers. They are just over 100 kilometers from the capital and on the route you will cross the limits of the Alisos National Park, leaving behind a spectacular mountainous jungle landscape..
AMAICHA DEL VALLE
Photo taken from amaichadelvalle.com
We could say that from here starts the most northwest section of the country, which best preserves the indigenous roots. This is seen in the features of people, their clothes, food, music... And even in landscapes. This Andean corner is gold, as evidenced by its treasures. Amaicha is an interesting town at 2000 meters high where its indigenous roots (calchaquíes), very present in its inhabitants, and the semidesertic nature of its surroundings stand out. Listen to the locals, visit the Pachamama Museum and explore the ancestral lands of northern Tucumán. To be highlighted: some lagoons, such as the Zazos Dam and the Cardones Dam; the ruins of Quilmes, the last bastion of Calchaquí resistance to the invaders (foto above); Abra del Infiernillo, a mountainous pass between Tafí del Valle and Amaicha, the highest point of Tucumán (3042 masl). On one side it presents green and cloudy landscapes while on the other dominates the deserts of blue skies.
By the way, if you happen to be there in Carnival (February) you are in luck, because the Pachamama Festival is celebrated, in which Mother Earth is thanked and fertility is asked for the cattle and crops.
Traveler gathering place: those who seek to make friends, make money (if you have a gift/art this is a good spot to settle down for a while), try good wine (this region is the number one producer of white wines and the numerous wineries offer free tastings), get to know a different culture (awesome northern dishes and lots of local art), discover amazing landscapes and geology (from colorful hills and rivers to vineyards and deserts with unreal rock formations). Exactly, this little oasis in the province of Salta has it all. Undoubtedly, one of the most incredible places in Argentina.
Besides the town, very nice in front of the mountains, there is a super recommended hike: the one to the Cascadas (waterfalls) del Rio Colorado. This route runs through a spectacular canyon following a river (you need to cross it on several occasions) in which you can swim along the way in pools and waterfalls. The setting is stunning, desert type, with cactus and dry plants dominating the landscape. There are also some cave paintings nearby.
ROUTES FROM CAFAYATE TO SALTA: QUEBRADA DE LAS CONCHAS AND QUEBRADA DE LAS FLECHAS
(Note: quebrada means canyon/gorge)
To go to Salta capital you have two alternatives, both as different as they are amazing. I recommend doing both, no matter if this implies going back to Cafayate and losing some time:
Quebrada de Cafayate (or Quebrada de las Conchas). Area of great scenic beauty with striking rock formations with reddish colorations. In this tour you can see landscapes of varied colors and geoforms of great variety among which are La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Gorge), The Amphitheater, El Fraile (The Friar), El Sapo (The Toad), Las Ventanas (The Windows) or Los Castillos (The Castles).
Quebrada de las Flechas. It consists of pointed inclined sand-colored rocky formations forming narrow gorges with walls 20 meters high. This route includes other amazing attractions, such as the Cuesta del Obispo, the town of Cachi, or the Los Cardones National Park (the cardón is a species of cactus).
The capital of the province, in the Lerma Valley, is beautiful and dynamic. The colonial architecture of the city attracts many visitors, who walk its main streets enthralled with what their eyes see: squares, historic buildings, churches and cathedrals, parks... In addition to walking downtown, some other places worth visiting are: Cerro San Bernardo (San Bernardo Hill), from which you can get a fantastic view of the city; the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM), a museum where history and culture of the area converge, with special emphasis on the Inca people. The star attraction is the Mummies of the Children of Llullaillaco, Inca children who were offered as sacrifice (found at more than 6700 meters in the Llullaillaco volcano) and whose state of conservation is such that they were declared "National Historic Goods".
From Salta also departs the Train to the Clouds, a majestic tour in the Andes which crosses the Lerma Valley entering the Quebrada del Toro and reaching the Puna de Atacama (430 km round trip). The bad news is that it is not suitable for the backpacker's pocket (1400 Argentine pesos for foreigners, 1200 for nationals).
QUEBRADA DE HUMAHUACA
There is so much to see and do in the Quebrada de Humahuaca... It is not a World Heritage Site by chance. This gorge in the province of Jujuy runs for 200 kilometers between two spectacular mountain ranges (the further north you go the higher the mountains are). Going through it is a gift in itself, but it is worth stopping in some places and towns to soak up that unique culture. The more days you stay in this area the better. Some places you can visit are:
Lagoons of Yala (Potrero de Yala Provincial Park). There are six small lakes (only some can be visited) located in the limits between the montane forest and the misty pastures (ecoregion of Yungas). They are ideal for observation of avifauna: some one hundred and forty species have been identified, among them the Andean condor, the southern flamingo, the brown swift (species are in danger), the mountain turkey and the Rufous-throated Dipper (species geographically circumscribed to the Jungle of the Yungas). So, this is your chance ornithologists of the world, come here!!
Purmamarca. Small town in the foothills of the mountain range whose main attraction is a multi-colored mountain called Cerro de los Siete Colores (The Hill of Seven Colors). Actually, all the mountains in the area have different tonalities. It is enough to go up to some viewpoints of the town or, better yet, walk the loop "Paseo de los Colorados", a one-hour hike through the beauty of the mountains around Purmamarca..
Maimará. Another beautiful village sandwiched between mountains. You can climb the mountain, swim in the river, chat with the locals, observe/buy local crafts, eat traditional food…
Tilcara. Charming town in which the local and traditional mixes with the modern and international. The surroundings are wonderful, standing out above the El Pucará: the ruins of a fortress built by the tilcaras on top of a hill (beautiful views of the valley). Amid that arid landscape full of cactus, there are several neighborhoods of houses, animal corrals, a necropolis and a place for sacred ceremonies. It is also highly recommended to visit the Garganta del Diablo, a walk near the town that crosses amazing landscapes and ends in this impressive waterfall.
Humahuaca. Another magical town that gives name to the Quebrada. Narrow cobbled streets, worth around on foot, and with its low adobe houses. Let's sing the "Carnavalito": “Fiesta de la Quebrada Humahuaqueña para bailar…!”
IRUYA AND YAVI
Iruya. Outside the Quebrada, this community is, literally, "hanging on the mountain" (24 km north of Humahuaca, and another 4 km east, up the mountain). Its elevated (2780 meters) and isolated location gives it a mystical air that captivates the traveler. Apart from walking along its steep streets and chatting with locals and travelers, one of the great attractions remains a short distance away, in the small town of San Isidro, only accessible on foot. It is a beautiful eight-kilometers hike, following a river that goes zigzagging through a canyon (bring your spare shoes, because you need to cross it several times). You can camp under the stars anywhere.
Yavi. Also outside the Quebrada, more than 3,500 meters above sea level, lies this small town, whose main distinction is not only its beauty and Andean authenticity but also its history. Come and discover the only place that was a Marquesado in Argentine territory and its great Chapel of San Francisco. A few km from the town of Yavi, on the hill "Los Siete Hermanos"(The Seven Siblings), there is the "Laguna Colorada", around which there are petroglyphs of human figures, llamas, spirals, etc.