by Gabriela Brizuela
Travel Specialist in Trips SouthAmerica
Self Driving in the North of Argentina
I love Argentina and always it’s a pleasure take the road and enjoy the beautiful landscapes that it offers. My last self-drive trip was in September. My husband and I decided to visit the north of our country…
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Early in the morning wecaught our car and started the adventure. We took the route 38 to San Juan. The first place to visit was the Provincial Park Ischigualasto, well known as “Valle de la Luna” due to the similitude of the landscape with the moon.
We arrived there after 6 hours driving and as soon as we get there we booked the tickets for the tour into the park. You have to do the tour on your own vehicle, following the car where the guide is. During the way, the guide makes some stops explaining the history and geography of the park and of course he gives you some time to take pictures. Each of the stations encloses a landscape as particular as it is captivating, which can be appreciated in a journey of approximately three hours through a 40 km route.
When we finalized the tour, we went to Talampaya, a national park located in La Rioja. Talampaya is one hour away from Ischigualasto.
We arrived there too late to take the visit to the park and it was already closed, but we had decided to camp there. At the entrance of the park there is a place for tents and that place has bathrooms and tables for tourists. We loved to camp there and we really enjoyed spending the night away from the city with a sky full of stars only for us.
My Trip Tip:
If you like outdoor life, it will be a nice experience (have in mind that you need to have your own equipment to camp)
The next morning we got up very early to take the first tour to Talampaya’s Canyon and to be able to continue the trip at midday. This tour was very different than the Ischigualasto one. On this park is not allowed to get in with your car. It is mandatory to go on a guided tour with special vehicles provided by the park. The tour that we took lasted 4 hours approximately and it was on a 4×4 truck. It was great, I really recommend it! My suggestion is to book the tour online before travel to secure the seat. There are scheduled excursions and if you didn’t book it you take the risk to not have space for the better ones.
Once again we took the route to go ahead with our itinerary. The next destination was Tafidel Valle in Tucuman. We drove through the route 40 during 9 hours approximately, a lot! But the way and the landscapes were so beautiful that I lost track of the time. The night came slowly when we were still driving and we arrived at the hotel just to sleep.
We stayed only one night in Tafidel Valle, and it was enough time to visit that city. The following morning we visited the picturesque city by car and walked through the artisans markets.
After have lunch we went to an archaeological site in the Calchaqui Valleys, the Quilmes ruins. The Quilmes was an indigenous village that achieved a huge social and economic development. In the XVII century, it had 3000 inhabitants in the urban area and 10000 in the outskirts. That tour was good to immerse in the history and culture of the tribes that lived herea time ago.
When the sun started setting was time to go to the next destination: Cafayate (Salta).
Cafayate is a city surrounded by mountains characterized for its wines and landscapes. We spent there two nights.I really liked it!
To explore Cafayate, we rented bikes on the main square of the city. Once we had the bikes we visited some wineries and made wine tastings. You can also get to the wineries by car, but we wanted to do some exercise after all the kilometres travelled!
Our favourite one was Piatelli, the building of the winery is nice and it has a restaurant with view to the vineyards and mountains that I loved it. The food and wines were also very good!
After the wonderful time in Cafayate, we went to Salta. We took the route 68 where we could appreciate the Quebrada de las Conchas.The wind was in charge of give shapes to the mountains, and made this magnificent landscape.
In order to travel this beautiful road, it is advisable not to speed over 60 kilometres per hour during the next 50km. This is the best way to get to see all the attractions as we travel along the road. You have to open your eyes and pay attention to all the nature monuments of the Quebrada.
We did our first stop on “the medanos”. Just few kilometres away from the city of Cafayate you can find sand dunes on the right side of the road. You can’t see them from the route;it is necessary to walk some meters to find them.
Once again in the route, we could see different nature figures on the way to Salta: “The Windows”, “The Friar”, “The Toad” and “The Obelisk”.
Some kilometres later “The Amphitheatre” appears. A beautiful place where the wind has also managed to go through the stone and give shape to a unique site where it is possible to watch the magic of nature from the first row. On that place is usual to see people playing music because it is a place characterized by the good acoustic.
“The Devil’s Throat” is other of the tourist attractions on the road. This is a real hole in the mountain wall which lets us behold a kind of roofless cavern.
After the stop at the Devil’s Throat we continued our way to Salta.
Salta is a city with a nice style, keeping a lot of colonial buildings dated from century 18th, 19th and 20th.
On the main square of the city you can find the neoclassical Cathedral, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Cabildo (in former times, the city’s town hall, nowadays a historical museum) and the neoclassical Museum of High Mountain Archaeology, which houses artefacts from the Inca civilization, including the mummies of three Inca children.
The other place to be visited is the Cerro San Bernardo where you have a panoramic view of the city. To get there you can take the cablecar or you can go by car.
Our favourite thing during our time in Salta, was the “peñas”. There are a lot of restaurants that offers typical food combined with folkloric music and dance. We had a lot of fun there. It is a must on your visit to the north!
The most famous peña in the city is “La ViejaEstacion” located on BalcarceStreet, where all nights offers a show of typical dance.
Other restaurant that we liked a lot was “La Casona del Molino”. It is a restaurant where some people go with their own instruments and play folkloric music with their friends or family while they are waiting the food. That place has a cozy atmosphere and the food was excellent. My recommendations are the empanadas, locro and the goat casserole.
After two nights in the city of Salta we went toHumahuaca in Jujuy! But firstly we made astop at the Salinas Grandes. We had to deviate a little bit to make that visit. We took the route 9 to Purmarmarca, and once there we had to turn to the left and take the route 52 and travel along the Lipan slope until we reached the Salinas at 4170 meters above sea level. It is the second largest salt flat in South America with an area greater than 12,000 hectares. Please take care with the altitude! We didn’t have problem, but some people recommend to take a coca tea to avoid feel ill due to highness.
After take some photos on the salt flats, we went directly toHumahuacaand we visited the town on the following day.
The most beautiful thing that we saw there was the “Hornocal”, which is known as the 14 colours hill. It is amazing. You also have to take care with the altitude here, it is 4350 above sea level. Don’t forget to take a coat because it’s cold up there!
When we were in Humahuaca we decided to spend a night in a little town immerse into the mountains called Iruya. We bought bus tickets to go there, because people advised us that the road was not good for the car and it has a lot of curves on the way. We prefer to go quite and leave our car in Humahuaca.
To visit Iruya you have to walk as the buses and cars stop at the entrance of the town. It has narrow streets and the accommodation in general is provided by local people that open their houses to rent a room for tourist. There is only one hotel.
The most beautiful view of the town is on the Condor viewpoint. We walked through the mountain during 1:40 hours approximately to reach the top and it worth it! The view was great and we could also see condors flying around us.
On the following morning we came back to Humahuca to spend the night there and the next day start the way back home!
On the last day we visited the town of Tilcara and Purmamarca. Both are lovely. You will love their colorful streets and their crafts markets.
Purmamarca is also characterized by its 7 colours hill. Wonderful!
Our journey came to an end. It was time to go back home after amazing days spent in the north of our country.
You could live a trip with all the emotions, landscapes and colors like the I lived. I would love to help you do it!
Travel Specialist, Trips SouthAmerica.