An overland adventure across Northwest Argentina
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Lesser visited and little-known outside mainstream tourism circles, the fantabulous wilderness of northwest Argentina is – just between us – one of South America’s most hidden of jewels. With expansive landscapes of multihued mountains, deep gorges and blissful remoteness, the vast northwest corner of South America’s second-largest country covers several provinces, each one offering distinct travel experiences.
As you wander along the mythical Northern Route 40 down to Patagonia, you’ll be hugging and traversing the southern stretch of the mighty Andes, with snow-capped vertiginous peaks being your most esteemed travelling companions. You’ll retrace the steps of the ancient Incas along their historic camino, you’ll visit some of the continent’s oldest and quaintest towns and you’ll explore the famous gaucho lands of Argentina, the world’s most prized cattle-farming region.
From the spellbinding high-altitude deserts of the Jujui Province to the verdant wine-growing valleys of the Mendoza Province, through the sunburnt gorges of the Salta Province, revered for the kaleidoscope of its mountains’ hues, the Wild West cactus-filled La Rioja Province and rolling hills of San Juan Province, the secrets of northwest Argentina serve up a magnificent array of experiences.
Choose to explore the northwest of Argentina on an overland tour and these are some of the amazing things you’ll do:
1. Soak up the splendours of indigenous and colonial architecture in Humahuaca
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The fusion of Spanish colonial with ancient Inca architecture is inarguably one of the most enticing aspects of a tour of northwest Argentina. In the impossibly charming town of Humahuaca, Beautifully-preserved adobe houses stand beside gorgeous churches along distinctive cobblestone streets and the whole atmosphere of old and older is simply stunning.
What helps Humahuaca’s splendid outlook is, of course, its setting. Framed by a stretch of colourful Andes known as the Quebrada de Humahuaca, the town offers a flurry of delights both in its historic centre and surrounding areas. A characteristic overnight stay is an absolute must.
2. Watch the sunrise over the Hills of Seven Colours in Purmamarca
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It is often said that most people can only detect four of the seven colours of minerals that make up UNESCO-listed Cerro de los Siete Colores but if you put your alarm on just before dawn and hike to one of the best viewing spots, we think you may just be able to see all seven as the sun rises over the horizon and kisses the hill. Breathtaking doesn’t even come close to describing this astonishing sight.
3. Soak up the ethereal sights of the magnificent salt plains at Salar Grande
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Covering an extensive area that borders four provinces in northwest Argentina, Salar Grande is one of the most sensational sights of the entire journey. Blinding white and utterly surreal, these larger-than-life salt plains are bordered by a chain of high Andean peaks and, due to the remoteness, visited by far fewer tour groups when compared to Bolivia’s Salar Uyuni. Yes, this means you can literally pick a corner to have the place all to yourself, indulge some stellar photography and, why not, increase your sodium intake for the day by having a taste. Standing at 3,000m and traversed by the Route 40, Salar Grande are easy to visit and impossible to forget.
4. Feast on local empanadas in Salta
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Because what good would a tour of northwest Argentina be, without a stint of gastronomic feasting? Empanadas are one of Argentina’s favourite snacks and the local Salteña variety is exceptionally delicious and quite different from that found in Buenos Aires and elsewhere in the country. Smaller but fuller, Salta’s famed doughy pockets are filled with beef, potatoes, boiled eggs and onions, served with a side dipping sauce of addictive and spicy aji pepper tomatoes relish and if all that sounds totally delish to you, you wouldn’t be wrong.
FYI, empanada walking tours through Salta are totally a thing.
5. Stock up on the best wine in Mendoza and Cafayate
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Because surely you’ll need something with which to wash down all those delicious empanadas? Wine – alongside beef – is one of Argentina’s very best imports and something for which the country is internationally revered. On a tour of the northwest regions you’ll come across the two largest wine-growing regions in the country: Cafayate and Mendoza. Wine-tasting tours and win-shopping is actually the main reason many tourists head to this region to begin with, only discovering all the other splendours as soon as they arrive. Both regions and towns boast splendid scenery, with both set on fertile valleys carved between rows of startling Andean mountains. The two towns are at the opposing end of the northwest Argentinian region so make for an exceptional start and end of any avid foodie’s tour.
6. Explore the ruins of a formidable ancient pre-Inca city at Tilcara
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There’ so much more to South America’s ancient history than Machu Picchu, as famous and spectacular as the Peruvian site actually is. In northwest Argentina, you can walk among 2,500yo ruins of a pre-Inca city once believed to house thousands of people. The ruins are on a hilltop right outside the town of Tilcara and afford arresting views over the town, the valley and the glorious Rio Grande.
Bring home a newfound love of landscape photography
An overland adventure tour of northwest Argentina is, perhaps above all else, about enjoying some of the most breath-taking landscape scenery in all of South America. The Argentinian outback is something to really behold, with vast horizons of incredible contours and colours offering visual feasts at every turn. It’s a good thing that this region is so remote and not so easy to reach. Plane hopping between the main highlights would be an absolute travesty.
You’d miss out on all of this…
The above highlights are but a mere entrée of all that a northwest Argentinian adventure can offer. Check out our Northern Route 40 Salta to Mendoza overland tour page to learn more about the experiences, sights and tastes you can look forward when you choose to get well off the main tourist trail and discover this special hidden corner of the country. Contact us for more info on start dates, packing lists and flight bookings.
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