The area around Salta represents the 10% of Argentina but encompasses half of the history of the country. From the Incas, and other local cultures - which are characterized by the excellent adaptation to the highlands-; to the Spanish domain (this region holds the most ancient traces of Spanish heritage) and Independence days - which had a strong imprint on the culture and lifestyle of the people living in the area.
One of the most fascinating aspects of a visit to the Northwest area is the chance to mingle with the native population, some of the friendliest people on Earth. Since the rigorous climate up the mountains has discouraged permanent settlements, the local inhabitants preserve practically intact their ancient customs and traditions. Their polychromatic dresses, their expressive artwork and handicrafts, their music, their colorful markets and street fairs and delicious gastronomy are eloquent expressions of the soul of these people and their love for PACHAMAMA (Mother Earth). Some of the most spectacular geological formations on Earth are to be found in the impressive landscapes, which encompass the northwestern Argentine provinces. Not only we include this gorgeous formations but also most of the most amazing deserts and high altitude lakes (comparable - and sometimes superior to some extent- to Atacama and Uyuni).
Here are some sample itineraries to entice you, though we can customize something to suit your interests:
Salta Area With Group Day Tours
Here is a sample itinerary, using group day tours. We can make it shorter if you don't want to do all of the tours. If you want private tours, we can overnight in some of the small towns so you don't have to go back to Salta each night.
DAY 01. SALTA
Arrival in Salta. Meet and greet at the airport and transfer to the hotel.
Optional afternoon group walking tour at extra cost of US$34 per person, with minimum of 2 people
DAY 02 - Full Day CACHI 285 km
Southwest drive through the spectacular Cuesta del Obispo, climbing to more than 3000 m. and the Recta del Tin Tin, with the unforgettable landscape of giant cardon cacti and the snow-capped Andes. Visit the ancient town of Cachi, with its old chapel and archaeology museum - one of the best of its kind in Argentina.
We head south from Salta city skirting the rust-colored tobacco fields at the city's edge before heading west on RP 33 the gravel road that journeys through the parched Quebrada de Escoipe (Escoipe canyon). At the canyon's end the landscape changes abruptly as the Cuesta del Obispo (Obispo Pas) and the Valle Encantado (Enchanted valley) both huge, verdantly green valleys come into view. As the road climbs the mountains that overlook the valleys, condors can be easily seen gliding overhead.
Doubling back and forth as it ascends, the road eventually climbs to about 12,000 feet. The terrain is stark. The mountainsides are mostly a dry baked brown. Cattle, sheep and llama graze for what little vegetation they can find on the lower and middle slopes. Eagles and condors soar above the peaks.
At 3620 m (11874 ft) above sea level, the trail levels off at La Piedra del Molino, and we find the access to the beautiful PN Los Cardones, a national park populated by thousands of huge cardon cacti. The park is also crisscrossed by myriad stone trails constructed by colonizing Inca forces in the 15th century.
The small village of Cachi (2300m / 7544 ft) is located within a short distance form the park western border and is the area's main attraction. It is tiny, but a good place to rest. Cachi's restored colonial church is a national historic monument. The museum of local archeology has a collection of native artifacts of the Andean region.
DAY 03 - Full Day CAFAYATE 368 km Home of the Wines in Salta
Full day expedition to Cafayate, home to the only true native varietal Argentine wine - the Torrontes - of fruity and sweet flavor. Visit to the wineries with opportunities to sample the exquisite and unique local wines. The drive to Cafayate passes by some impressive geological formations produced by erosion on the colorful sedimentation of sandstone over the past 60 million years.
The first 30 miles or so go along a tree-lined two-lane road, passing through tranquil villages with buildings of deep red earth. Then the trees start to be scarce and the mountains can be seen in the distance.
In the Quebrada de Cafayate (Cafayate Ravine), the cliffs and crags come in every color: brick red, pale orange, yellow, white, green, slate blue and rich purple.
Cafayate is the most important city in the Calchaqui valleys, but it is also a tiny paradise for wine lovers looking for a tranquil hideaway. It is also home to some of the world's highest vineyards (1750m / 5740 ft) featuring grape varieties such as Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon and the local's specialty - The Torrontes. This Spanish grape, white wine of fruity but dry and distinctive flavor, has found its perfect terroir which makes this wine absolutely unique.
The first Torrontes wines were planted in 1850 on the La Florida vineyard which was owned by the Etchart Bodega. Nowadays it has passed into the hands of Pernod Ricard, the famous wine and Spirit Company.
Another wineries to be visited are El Esteco, host of the amazing Patios de Cafayate Hotel and the winery Finca Las Nubes, home to the Jose Luis Munier wines. This is an idyllic hillside spot 5 km from Cafayate. The winery is framed by a backdrop of steep, rising mountains covered in cacti that stand like sentinels on the hillside.
DAY 04 - Full Day HUMAHUACA CANYON 380 km
Full day expedition enjoying the multicolored landscape of the Humahuaca canyon, the peaceful villages, old chapels, native markets, small museums, and the remains of an ancient pre-Inca fortified town. Humahuaca, Uquia, Tilcara, Maimara and Purmamarca will be some of the fascinating stops during our day. The Quebrada de Humahuaca, an Andean gorge of rust-colored mountains and ancient settlements is one of Argentina's most distinctively South American Natural experiences. Purmamarca, is the base town from where to explore the amazing Cerro de los Siete Colores. This polychromatic mountain (considered an artist's palette of colors) is best seen from a hill on the edge of the village, and is a backdrop of this enchanted village where you will be able to enjoy the most interesting purchases in the local market.
The red streets and easy access makes Tilcara the favorite of all visitors. Within walking distance (a short trek outside town) is the Pucará, a restored pre-Columbian fort which offers spectacular views. The access fee (to be paid locally) includes the access to the Museo Arqueologico which houses an excellent and diverse collection of artifacts as well as offering insight into native cultural beliefs.
Humahuaca with its narrow shaded streets of adobe houses is a picturesque village worth of visiting. Visits to the local church and the Town Hall famous for its clock tower where a mechanical San Francisco Solano gives a daily blessing at noon.
A visit to the Museo Arqueologico should not be missed. Guided by Don Sixto or his son, the Museo pictures the lives of the "coyas", the local inhabitants, their traditions and celebrations, their everyday life, their houses, in a simple yet interesting way. (Entrance fee to be paid locally).
DAY 05. SALTA - depart
Transfer to the airport to fly to next destination
Price per person in US$ through April 2017: (with group tours)
Note: If only 1 person is on a group tour, price will be higher.
Price per person in US$ through April 2017: (with private tours)
Calchaqui Valley Self-drive Tour
The itinerary offers the possibility to drive into some of the little villages lost in time in the Northwest. Our recomended itinerary will include:
DAY 01: TUCUMAN - TAFI. Arrival in Tucuman, called "El Jardin de la Republica". Arrival, meet at the airport and pick up a car (Category D - Fiat Tipo or similar) with free millage, air conditioning and insurance included.
Tucuman is one of the oldest cities in Argentina, as its territory was colonized by the Spaniards coming from the North, (Peru). Tucuman still shows many signs of the old colonial times, mainly through its architecture: churches, government houses, mansions and the house where the Argentine Independence was declared in 1816.
After visiting the city, we suggest driving to Tafi del Valle. This drive will be amazing since the landscape slowly changes from a lush subtropical or montane forest covered with bromeliads and ferns to rolling hills. Arrive in Tafi del Valle, with its old Jesuit chapel and local production of fruits and cheeses, some of the latter seasoned with red peppers. Tafi del Valle is a small village located in the heart of the Aconquija range at an altitude of 2000 m above sea level and is considered the sacred valley of the Diaguitas natives.
Accommodation at LUNAHUANA Hotel or MIRADOR del TAFI.
DAY 02: TAFI - QUILMES. Morning visit of the little village where one of the great pre-inca cultures flourished. They were known as Tafi. One of their most distinctive features was the construction of menhirs or megaliths (standing large stones). Close to Tafi del Valle you will be able to appreciate some of them brought from different sites into what is called El Parque de los Menhires. From Tafi, follow a dusty gravel road, which winds up to EL INFIERNILLO (little hell) at 3000 m (9,000 ft) above sea level to get into the Calchaqui Valleys. The weather and the landscape change dramatically once again from rollling grass-covered mountain to desert highlands. Afternoon arrival in QUILMES, site of the spectacular fortifications and town built by the natives of the same name. Accommodation at PARADOR RUINAS de QUILMES. Before getting to Quilmes, we suggest a small detour at AMAICHA del VALLE, hometown of Artesano Cruz, worldwide known for his tapestries and the owner of the Hosteria in Quilmes. In his former house he built a Cultural Center, which deserves a visit.
DAY 03: QUILMES - MOLINOS. We suggest a morning hike of the monumental fortress of Quilmes. Drive the Calchaqui valley, which runs parallel to the river of the same name. Stop en route to visit CAFAYATE, a small city home of the true argentine varietal -the Torrontes wine and its crafts market. We suggest lunch at Bodega La Rosa (La Rosa winery) to try exquisite local food and taste the peculiar wine.
Arrival in the little village of Molinos and accommodation at HOSTAL PROVINCIAL de MOLINOS.
DAY 04: MOLINOS - SALTA. Molinos -with its massive adobe church, colonial streets, is a quiet place worth a stop. Across the river, is a recently formed artist cooperative housed in a beautiful renoved colonial house, complete with a large patio, arches and an inner courtyard. The local craftspeople sell only handmade goods including sweaters, rugs and tapestries. Along the Valley, each one of the many romantic small villages derserves at least a short sightseeing walk, as La Paya and Cachi, a small village which has an archaeological Museum regarded to be best museum of its kind in Argentina.
After a visit of this interesting village, drive to Salta. The road will lead to the Enchanted Valley, and climb over a high plateau called TIN-TIN, the native terrain of the sleek, giant cardon. Because of its being an endemic species, the CARDONES NP has been created in this location. Climb the impressive CUESTA del OBISPO (Obispo Pass) where condors, eagles and guanacos will be a frecuent sight. Late afternoon arrival in Salta. Accommodation at SELVA MONTANA Hotel -in San Lorenzo - for 3 nights. San Lorenzo is located 15 km out of Salta in the Quebrada of the same name.
DAY 05: SALTA. Rest day in Salta to visit the city, its impressive Cathedral, the churches of San Francisco and San Bernardo built in colonial times and the Crafts market. If this day coincides with a Saturday, we suggest a ride on the famous TRAIN TO THE CLOUDS, the highest railroad in South America. This railroad built in the 1930s links Salta city with the native town of San Antonio de los Cobres, traversing the most impressive heights and valleys of the Andean range, climbing to reach 4000 m above sea level on its way.
DAY 06: FD HUMAHUACA. Full day visit of the colorful Humahuaca canyon, driving through the picturesque Quebrada (canyon) and visiting numerous indigenous villages on the way such as Purmamarca and Tilcara with its impressive pre-hispanic fortress: the Pucara and finally reaching Humahuaca (9000ft - 3000m above sea level).
Return to Salta.
DAY 07: SALTA. Last day to enjoy the city; visit its surrounding villages such as San Lorenzo, Tres Cerritos, Lerma. Afternoon drop off the car at the airport in Salta.
The rate includes:
*Accommodation with breakfast and local taxes included throughout the itinerary.
*Car rental: CATEGORY D (Fiat Palio or similar) Includes air conditioning, insurance, taxes and free millage.
*Area map with instructions and pre-departure information to be provided.