South America

Ultimate Overland Tour: Patagonia’s Northern Route 40

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  30 May 2018

 The ultimate overland tour: Patagonia’s Northern Route 40 packs a phenomenal punch of adventure, discovery and awe-inspiring beauty through some of South America’s most mesmerizing backcountry. For road-trip warriors, discerning travellers and anyone who wishes to explore Patagonia way off the beaten path, there’s isn’t a route that can compete. From Salta to Mendoza, from arid desert-like terrain up high-altitude plateaus and down to luscious wine-growing valleys: the array of landscapes, cultures, culinary delights and experiences are awe-inspiring.

This…is the overland tour of a lifetime.

Highlights of Patagonia's Northern Route 40

Northern Route 40


 

The highlights along the stretch of road from Salta to Mendoza are as legendary as the road itself yet some of the most breath-taking memories will surely come from simply driving along the highway, conquering high mountain passes, enjoying endless switchbacks and soaking up the drop-dead gorgeous scenery.

Here are just some of the best highlights you can look forward to, on Patagonia’s Northern Route 40

Salar Grande 

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Argentina’s spellbinding Salt Flat may be much smaller than Bolivia’s but the fact that they are framed by dramatic peak mountains can the scenery even more arresting. Salar Grande still covers an impressive 8300 square kilometres so it is by no means small. With its mountains of salt and clear pools still feeding the seemingly endless supply, Salar Grande is an ethereal spectacle, made better by the absolute lack of other tour groups.

The Northern Route 40 literally cuts right through the Salt Flats, making the experience even more surreal. Here, you can simply park on the side of the road and have the whole place to yourself. On a clear sunny day, the sight is blindingly beautiful.

The astonishing Salar Grande

Purmamarca

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Made famous by the imposing Hill of Seven Colours (Cierro de los Siete Colores) under which it sits, the small and charming village of Purmamarca is, in itself, a glorious place to explore.

Small streets limed with abode homes as if straight out of Wild West movie, Purmamarca is the epitome outback Argy town. This quaint little gem has been standing here since the 1600s, when it was a stop on the ancient Camino Inca. Nowadays, it mostly acts as a tourist base for visits to the Siete Colores mountain and host a daily central market where local handicrafts are sold. Yet cute as the town may be, the setting – under a wall of multihued peaks –  is what makes it spectacular.

The Hill of Seven Colours is arguably the poster-child for this remote region of Argentina. A mountain created by the residual sediments of seven different types of minerals. It is often said that the most resplendent sight of the hill is during the first hour after sunrise, so stay in Purmamarca overnight to soak up the early morning view.

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Humahuaca

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If visiting in February, time your trip to coincide with the yearly folkloric festival, a visual feast all its own.

Standing at 3000m in altitude, several hundred metres higher than Purmamarca, Humahuaca is one of the oldest colonial towns in all of Argentina, with this area being the first explored by the Spanish. This is the highest and most populated of the quaint villages along the dramatic Quebrada de Humahuaca Valley of northwest Argentina. It is also one of the best preserved, with gorgeous colonial homes lining cobblestone streets and an elevated viewpoint, right at the Monumento de la Independencia, that grants all-encompassing views over the town.

The gorgeous Humahuaca Valley

Salta

Experience the unique life of Salta during one of our trips to Patagonia

This region of northern Argentina is revered for its unique gastronomic specialties and Salta is the best place to try them

The region’s capital is not unlike a desert oasis. It boasts tree-lined streets, grand architecture, beautiful plazas and a heavy smattering of cool cafés and restaurants. Somehow, in the heart of this arid yet spellbinding mountainous landscape, this mini-Buenos Aires seems like a mirage. With its imposing basilica and interesting museums, you’ll find plenty of options to while away a lazy afternoon, just make sure to leave your evening free – and your belly empty – for a night of gastronomic feasting.

The vibrant city of Salta

Cafayate

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Spend a day sampling the best drops in what can only be described as some of the most picturesque vineyards in the world.

As you traverse the arid high landscapes you’ll notice a most defining change in landscapes. As you get closer to Argentina’s second-largest wine-producing region, the splashes of verdant green, contrasting the terracotta reds, are out of this world.  Cafayate is one of the most modern stops on this stretch of the Route 40 and, as such, offers a great choice of restaurants, hotels and shopping. Yet visitors mostly hone in on the one aspect of Cafayate that has made it world-famous: its wines.

Enjoy a wine-tasting in Cafayate

 

Ruines of Quilmes

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The largest pre-Columbian settlement ever discovered in Argentina, the Quilmes ruins date back over 2,500 years and are believed to have once been home to more than 5000 Calchaqui natives. It is after them that the valley is named.

The Calchaqui built a glorious stone fortress and were found to be avid farmers, growing quinoa and raising cattle in what may seem to be inhospitable terrain. A small museum does a fine job of educating visitors as to the history of the place but nothing beats visiting with a knowledgeable guide who can bring the place to life. Pack plenty of water and slap on loads of sunscreen for the scramble up to the top. The views are well worth the effort.

The historic ruins of Quilmes

Parque Nacional Talampaya & Ichiliguastu

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This two-for-one UNESCO-listed nature reserve holds some of the oldest paleontological discoveries in the world, with finds dating back over 250,000 million years ago.The adjoining parks can be jointly visited in one day and the sheer concentration of distinct landscapes, stone formations and deeply carved canyons offer perhaps the biggest chance for outstanding photography of the entire Northern Route 40 tour. The inaccessibility and remoteness of the park means that although you’ll see some fellow tour groups, the place never feels overcrowded.

Explore the amazing parque Nacional Talampaya & Ichiliguastu

Barreal

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The most pivotal reason why Patagonia’s Northern Route 40 tours are mostly run from Salta to Mendoza, is so that the majestic landscapes of Barreal are left until the end. Just as you think you couldn’t possibly be WOWed any more…here comes this gem.

This teeny tiny town is absolutely dwarfed by a curtain of 50000m Andean mountains, making this the undisputed alternative mountaineering destination to much more famous Mendoza. Barreal is way off the beaten path and oozes a kind of authenticity that’s hard to find nowadays.

The Cordillera de Ansilta mountain range attracts discerning climbers and hikers who prefer to stick to lower-profile peaks which are just as arresting as their next-door neighbours. Luckily, there are plenty of softer and shorter hiking trails for those who want to experience the splendours of these mountains without having to commit to a multi-day adventure. Little known fact: this is where Brad Pitt’s film, Seven Years in Tibet, was filmed

Barreal is waiting for you

Mendoza

Spectacular views and amazing experiences will accompany you during our trips to Patagonia.

Argentina’s prime wine-making region and, fame and popularity notwithstanding, one of the most enjoyable cities in the country, Mendoza is a fabulous place to cap off a Northern Route 40 adventure tour.

Stay a day, a week or even a month, and we guarantee you’ll never run out of this to do, see and savour. Laid-back and oh-so-trendy, Mendoza has a captivating energy that’s hard to resist, with its cosmopolitan gastronomic scene and vibrant nightlife that seems to kidnap visitors for more days than they ever anticipated.

Mendoza is the Argentina everyone wants to move to and for very good reasons. Wine-tasting, BBQ feasting, shopping, tango dancing and more day trips in the surrounding countryside than you could ever take in just a single trip, Mendoza is one of the most enjoyable cities in all of South America, so stretch your overland tour a little longer and include a few nights here to really make the most of your visit.

 

Discover the spirit of Argentina in Mendoza

Our Northern Route 40 – Salta to Mendoza overland tour combines the best highlights of this sensational stretch of highway and unveils a wealth of natural, cultural and historical secrets. Explore Argentina off the beaten tourist trail and you’ll discover a mesmerizing destination, one we bet you’ll want to come back and visit, time and again. Contact us for more info on this spectacular tour.

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