For astonishing nature all around you, delightfully friendly people, and quaint villages which look like something from a movie, head to the North of Argentina for a truly unique experience and culture. We escaped the heat and bustle of Buenos Aires and flew into Tucuman for an extended weekend trip. Picking up the rental car and checking into the hotel, we only had time for the ever-popular Argentina “picada” (bar snacks) and local beers before a night’s rest for the long drive ahead.
The next morning we started our trek towards Jujuy province, passing through amazing colorful mountains and rock formations on the way to Purmamarca, home of the “Cerro de los Siete Colores”, hill of seven colors.
Despite a rather gloomy day the hill was beautiful, colored due to varying minerals and weathering in the rock layers. The town below houses markets selling local products, such a llama wool sweaters, scarves, and ponchos, woolly hats, mitts, homemade jams, and local wines.
We drove further north to stay in Tilcara, a tiny pueblo of red earth low-slung buildings, charming restaurants, and dusty roads populated by local friendly dogs. Al Sereno Hotel and Spa was a lovely place, with rustic cabanas and a gorgeous garden and breakfast room. We crossed the road to La Pena de Chuspita for drinks and live music.
The next morning, we headed up the mountains, climbing narrow winding roads to the peak, at 4170 meters above sea level, before descending down to Las Salinas Grandes, the salt flats. Entry onto the flat is only permitted with a guide, so pick one up on your way in. In some areas the salt is thinning to as little at 10 cm and cracking, hence the need to walk around in single file after your guide 🙂
A visit to this massive salt desert is a must-see. It is otherworldly, and somehow a bit eerie to stand in the shimmering heat, with starkly white salt extending as far as the eye can see all around you.
After some playing around, we dropped our guide at the entrance, and heading down the gravel highway to the south, towards Salta and Cafayate. I cannot emphasize the scenery along these roads, each view seemingly more beautiful than the last. The giant cacti famous in the region only contributed to the feeling of being somewhere completely out-of-this-world.
Our original destination was Cafayate, however those aforementioned gravel roads treated us to a flat tire, and therefore delays meant we only made it to Salta for the evening. This was a blessing in disguise, as Salta has climbed quickly to my favorite city in the country. That evening, we sample local Humitas – a dish from pre-Hispanic times, found in North Argentina, Boliva, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. A dough is formed from corn flour, fresh corn, and spices, wrap in corn husks, and boiled. Simple and delicious. We followed this up with local Guisos (stews), equally delicious.
The following morning, we explored the Cathedral, main square, and streets of Salta, very different architecturally and culturally from Buenos Aires and the South regions. We paid a visit to the High Mountain Archeology museum (MAAM), an interesting look into the life and culture of the Incas, including some well-preserved and thoroughly creepy mummies.
As our flight was leaving that evening from Tucuman, we sadly had to leave to drive back and return the rental car. I could have easily spent several days in Salta and will definitely be back.
North Argentina was a great experience – amazing landscapes which changed by the minute, welcoming people, unique cultures and food, and sunshine to boot 🙂