In October 2018 I went to Buenos Aires to volunteer for two weeks at the Youth Olympic Games. After the Games I decided to spend two more weeks traveling around Argentina and I had to make a tough choice which part of the eighth-largest country in the world I should see. Many foreigners who come to Argentina do so for its world known Patagonia region. It was high on my priority list as well, but as I researched online I came to realize that October was not exactly the right season for going there. I continued scrolling through the internet and found some articles about the north of Argentina – the provinces of Salta and Jujuy. I read a lot of amazing reviews many of which said it was even better than Patagonia! Guess what, October (spring for that part of the world) was exactly the right month to enjoy it: warm and sunny, but not too hot. Without giving it too much thought we decided to discover Salta and Jujuy and get to know the northern part of Argentina.
If you want to take the most out of your time in the region you should definitely get a car. You can probably manage to travel around taking organized tours or public transport from Salta, but it will be a much more difficult and restricted adventure. If you can, I highly encourage you to rent a car and ride the northern Argentinian roads on your own. Yes, the roads are a bit crazy and poorly maintained, but it is quite doable and you don’t have to worry too much about it.
We got ourselves a mid-size Toyota Etios for 7 days and made around 1200 km in total. We were quite lucky with the price of the rental car: we managed to get it for 255 EUR for 7 days. Pasha was quite smart to book on the Argentinian Avis website which offered us this great deal. The German version of Avis or Sixt were offering the same car for at least double the price.
Advice #1: Check local Argentinian websites of international car rental companies (for example https://www.avis.com.ar/)
The car itself was less than 3 years old, but it looked and felt very ran down (after riding the roads we understood why). To be honest we were even a bit afraid that at some point the car would just stop and die, but luckily nothing happened and it made it through the week. What you should definitely check when receiving a car is a spare wheel, as you can get a flat tire any time.
We arrived to Salta by plane from Buenos Aires and got our rental car right at the airport. Our first destination was Cachi – a small town in the middle of nowhere. There is no particular reason to visit this town, it is just about the road itself and the nature around that you get to see while driving from Salta. Google Maps showed us that the road would take 3 hours for 151 km. Well, they were wrong.
Advice #2: Double the time you see on Google Maps. If you take a lot of photos and videos (as we do) – triple it.
The beginning of the road from Salta to Cachi was quite fine. Later on it became the typical Argentinian gravel road.
The views were impressive.
The highlight of the day was National park Los Cardones – a natural reserve with giant cacti.
I have not seen such big cacti in my life before, so I was very excited.
We arrived to Cachi very late, at around 10pm. We stayed at Hosteria Villa Cardon and paid 88 USD for one night which was very expensive for Argentinian standards. The place was very nice and I have no complaints, but the price was not adequate. (We have taken it because it was the only available option on booking.com).
As I said before, there was nothing special to see in Cachi, we walked around the main square for one hour and then went back on the road to our next destination Cafayate.
According to Google the road Cachi-Cafayate should take 3,5 hours (157km). It took us 9 (!) hours. We left at 12:30 and arrived at 9:30 pm. Yes, we have been stopping a lot for pictures on the way, but even without stops it would still have taken us at least 6 hours because of the poor road conditions.
This is the road you will be having all day long:
But the views are worth it
The highlight of this day was Quebrada de las Flechas.
This place has blown my mind away. Driving through these landscapes was unforgettable.
Cafayate is famous for its wine, so the next day we went to visit a winery.
I had this dream idea to rent a bike and ride the wineries by bike. As we have done once in France. But well, Argentina is not exactly France. The road conditions were not really suitable for rental ran down bikes. It was again a gravel road, bumpy and rocky, full of dust flying in your face. To make it worse the whole way to the winery was uphill. Many times we just went off our bikes and carried them along while walking. That was not enjoyable at all and I would not recommend repeating it. So instead of visiting wineries, we only managed to visit just one – and even there we came so late that we missed the lunch. We could still try the famous local Torrontes wine and it was very very good (we even bought a bottle and brought it to Germany).
The winery we visited was called Las Nubes.
Advice #3: Think twice before renting a bicycle. I would not recommend it. If I had to do it again I would have definitely arranged a taxi for visiting wineries.
The next day we continued our road trip adventure and headed back to Salta. This time the road was really good, but it was so beautiful that it took us again 9 hours to make 197km.
The highlight of the day was Quebrada de las Conchas – a natural park in the Calchaquí valley. All you have to do is to drive through it following the road and you will see the most amazing show the nature has to offer. You will encounter many viewpoints to see different natural rock formations. All of them have a unique name like Castle, Amphitheatre, Devil’s throat etc. and they are well marked.
The landscapes are out of this world!
Viewpoint Tres Cruces
We spent a night in Salta and the next day we left to explore another province of northern Argentina – Jujuy. We drove 200km to Tilcara (on a good paved road) and apart from that did not do much. We saw some beautiful landscapes on the way.
We walked around the town, tried some local food and went to bed.
Today we went to see Salinas Grandes – the large salt flats. They are located at 3450m above the sea level, but to get there you have to pass Cuesta de Lipán at 4170m, which is very high. I was a bit worried about the altitude sickness and how we might experience it, but in the end I just got a bit of headache on the way back and that was it.
The winding serpentine roads.
Getting closer to the salt flats.
You cannot drive with your own vehicle on the salt flats, but you can buy a tour for just 5 USD. We have not been to Bolivia yet, so we were very impressed with what we saw.
On the way back we saw some wild vicuñas!
And some more winding roads.
Our initial plan was to visit Humahuaca, but we woke up and realized that we had no energy left for additional 3-4 hours of driving and sightseeing. So we decided to visit just Purmamarca and Maymara and then drive back to Salta.
Purmamarca is a tiny village known for its colorful mountain and a big market where you can buy souvenirs. I was desperately searching for a wool sweater, but unfortunately I could not find anything that I would like. Everyone had the same 5 patterns on the sweaters brought from Bolivia. (Yes, I talked to some merchants and they told me that all these souvenirs were not from Argentina but from Bolivia, as it is much cheaper to produce there). I was a bit disappointed and did not buy anything in the end.
Purmamarca’s famous mountain. In my opinion nothing extraordinary compared to all the other beauties around.
And another colorful mountain this time from the neighboring Maymara.
We spent our last day in Salta, walking a bit around the city center. Argentinians call this city “Salta the beautiful” but I was not particularly impressed and in my opinion it can be easily skipped.
I was blown away by the beauty of nature we have seen in Salta and Jujuy. I have not yet been to Patagonia but I can understand why some people say northern Argentina is better. You can find landscapes “similar” to Patagonia in Europe, take the Alps or mountains in Norway. But you cannot find anything like Salta and Jujuy here! I am very happy I decided to choose northern Argentina as my destination.
We were very tired after our road trip. I wish we had more days to take it slowly and to spend more days in Cafayate tasting wine and in Jujuy visiting Humahuaca.
Advice #4: If you can, plan more days for this itinerary to give yourself time to enjoy and relax.
Overall it was a fantastic adventure! Never heard of Salta and Jujuy before my trip to Argentina, but they were the highlight of the whole trip 🙂