Argentina Driving Circuits, Part 3: Northern Argentina, Salta to Cafayate

March 12th, 2010 Posted in culture, travel

For the third installment of great travel loops of Argentina we will be traveling to the northwest corner of the country.

The trip begins in Salta, a land of folklore, gaucho enchantment and the nation’s best empanadas. You will then venture through two distinct geographical zones and visit Quilmes, a village of ruins from 1000 AD. The trip continues on passing through Cafayate, the Palm Springs of the southern hemisphere.

The voyage’s main hub, Salta, is a town worthy of at least an overnight visit. Located in the northwest corner of Argentina, near the Bolivian border, Salta is framed by twenty thousand foot peaks and forested mountains. Salta is a literal oasis within a high desert landscape. It is considered to be one of the jewels of Argentina. A metropolitan city with a population nearing a half a million, it is a congenial mixture of native customs and European culture. She is an enchanting city decorated with intricately detailed 18th century architecture.

The town is sprinkled with parks and outdoor art and craft fairs. And the locals appreciate their heritage and show it off to visitors with tasty restaurants and musical shows. Their appreciation for the past extends to the Museum of High Altitude Archaelogy (MAAM) where the mummified bodies of three children, found on the summits of the towering local mountains, are protected.

Once you have had your fill of Salta it is time to start the tour. Enjoy the scenery and take your time. There is hidden treasure in the amazing natural landscape if one takes the time to explore.

Day 1: Depart Salta and head south on Route 68. Just pass Alemania, 100 km south of Salta you enter the Quebrada de Cafayate, a canyon filled with sculpted rock.

Some of the most popular formations are Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), El Anfiteatro (The Amphitheater) and Los Castillos (The Castles). Rain water has carved these natural statues through a rainbow of sediment layers.

Just past the canyon you will arrive in Cafayate. This is a great place to stay the night, maybe visit a winery or two and get ready for an early start.

Day 2: Head south from Cafayate on legendary Ruta 40. Ruta 40 is a famous Argentine highway that spans the length of the country. Along the way you will come to the ancient site of the village of Quilmes. A congregation of over 5000 people, Quilmes was a functioning city located on 30 hectares (75 acres). Today the pathways are still navigational and the walls of the buildings give shape to the township. There is a museum and gift shop as well as a family of llamas for entertainment.

Getting back to Ruta 40 you will continue south. At Amaichá del Valle, head south east on Ruta 307. Eighty kilometers further you will arrive at Tafi de Valle and Parque de los Menhires. Tafi de Valle is a narrow gorge formed by the raging Rio de los Sosas. The valley is surrounded by the massive, towering mountains of the Sierra Aconouija. Reaching over 5000 meters (17,000 feet), the peaks are home to large numbers of Condors. The mountain range is laced with hiking trails and there are places to stay overnight if so desired.

When you decide to continue on the next stop is another three hours down the road in Tucuman via Ruta 307 to Ruta 38. Tucuman is a lively city with a lovely main plaza area rimmed with European architecture. There is also a large pedestrian mall filled with clothing, jewelry and shoe stores.

Day 3: Leave Tucuman and head north on ruta 9 returning to Salta, approximately a four and a half hour trip. This is a well-maintained road allowing for easy travel.

This three day excursion is a fantastic loop for seeing amazing natural carvings, the open landscape of the north and getting to know true Argentine folklore. Not to mention some of the best wine that Argentina has to offer. It’s a combination that is worthy of the trip.

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