Adventures in Northern Argentina

My trip to Northern Argentina was unlike any trip I’ve ever taken. Why? In the past, I’ve always taken public transportation, namely buses. However, for this trip, we rented a car and it made all the difference. We didn’t do much on our trip, but we saw a lot of things, namely because we weren’t limited by going where inter-city buses go. Granted our car (pictured below) wasn’t an SUV, so we did have some problems on some terrain, but we were still able to see a lot of amazing things. I’m going to recap the trip day by day through the photos that I took. And yes, we fit five people and five hiking backpacks into that car. Amazing, right?

Our trusty VW Gol
Day One

I arrived to the Salta Airport in the morning, and my friend and her three Peace Corps friends picked me up from the airport. They had been in the area for two days already and were just returning from Cafayate, which is an up and coming wine producing area, known for the white wine Torrontés. As soon as I got in the car, we headed north to the Provincia de Jujuy (pronounced hoo-hooey). I had gotten very little sleep the night before (spent in the Aeroparque in Buenos Aires) so I tried to sleep, but due to the curvy road through a weird looking forest (no pictures, sorry) it was quite difficult. We stopped for lunch in San Salvador de Jujuy, which was really not worth exploring, so we quickly moved on. The landscape north of San Salvador looked like this:

We finally reached our destination, Pumamarca, in the late afternoon. After parking our car and finding a hostel, we went for a short walk around the back part of the village.

We saw many views like this. Pumamarca is the home of the Seven-Colored Rock. I didn’t get a really great picture of that particular rock, but as you can see, the rocks are pretty, even if these are only tri-colored.

I really love cemeteries, so I couldn’t resist getting a few shots of this one.

Day Two

The next morning we woke up fairly early and headed out to Salinas Grandes, which is a salt flat about 40km from Pumamarca on the road to Chile. This was the view heading down into the salt flats. (The white upside down triangle in the distance are the salt flats).

I’ve never been to Salar de Uyuni (in Bolivia) but have seen pictures, and although these salt flats were cool to see, they didn’t really compare with the pictures I had seen of Uyuni. It was worth the drive, though, because the scenery was beautiful and we saw guanacos, which are a small camelid, related to the llama and alpaca, but who live in the wild.

This was the road we went up and down on the way to Salinas Grandes. Impressive, right?

After the salt flats, we headed north to Humahuaca. This is a statue in the town paying tribute to the heroes of Argentina’s Independence. I’m kind of confused as to why it features the indigenous population. I guess I need to brush up on my Argentine history.

These are my friend M’s fellow Peace Corps volunteers, taking in the scenery of Humahuaca.

The scenery of Humahuaca was gorgeous.

That afternoon, after eating lunch, we headed out in search of some ruins that the lady at the tourist office had told us existed. We drove on dirt roads past Humahuaca for about 10 km in search of these ruins. The only thing we found was a small village (which the boys named Rock Village) with some goat herders. Then we headed a bit north (on the main highway, which was paved, thank God!) in search of some other ruins, but the only thing we found were cacti.

Day Three

The morning of Day Three we left the dry desert behind and headed to Calilengua National Park. To get there, we had to return to San Salvador de Jujuy, and then head North again on another road. We passed through some towns that are really not worth mentioning and finally reached the park. It is supposedly a rain forest, but since we were there in the dry season, there was absolutely nothing rainy about it. After reaching the park entrance, and going on a hike that was supposed to take one hour but took 15 minutes, we decided to drive through the park to a village called San Francisco, where we heard that there were hot springs. The only problem was that we needed to drive 45 km on a road that looked something like this:

That’s right, 45 km of dirt switchbacks. We almost died at least once when a motorcycle came racing around a corner and we had to slam on the breaks not to hit them. After that, I spent the rest of the ride with my eyes closed and trying not to look out the window. I probably made everyone really nervous because I kept telling my friend (who was driving) to honk before she went around the corners.

But, the treacherous drive was worth it as we arrived to San Francisco, a village of 50 families on top of a mountain. We stayed at Hostal Esquinas, whose owner, Italo, was a very helpful and kind man who taught us about the history of the village and surrounding area. There are two villages “near” San Francisco which can only be accessed by foot or on horseback. These villages are over 500 years old, and the indigenous that live there still maintain their traditional way of life. He also mentioned that there was a village of “gringos” which had me imagining a settlement of American and British people, but when I asked for clarification, he explained that he meant people of Spanish origin.

We went to the almacén and bought some vegetables and eggs and went back to the hostel and made dinner, because there are no restaurants in San Francisco.

Day Four

The plan for this day was to hike down to some hot springs. Italo warned us that it would be a difficult hike, but we were game so we headed out bright and early. We walked for an hour and a half down through a forest. It was a quite pleasant walk going down because it wasn’t too steep and it was still quite cool.

We finally reached the river, but couldn’t find the hot springs. N. and J., two of the boys, headed out to explore to see if they could find them, leaving me, my friend and D. behind. We waited for them for awhile, but then got nervous, so went off looking for them. They had since discovered a different path down to the hot springs. So the three of us headed down. Except “path” is not exactly the word I would use to describe what we were going down, more like a cliff. I am afriad of heights so I had a small panic attack that caused us to reevaluate the situation. D. went on ahead and then decided that the trail was too steep for him, so the three of us headed back up. The worst part was that I could see the beautiful hot springs from the side of the cliff, but I was so scared and freaking out that I couldn’t make it down. Bummer.

Then we headed back up the trail, and it was HARD. By this time, it was around noon so the sun was beating down and the trail was ALL uphill. We had forgotten to fill up our water bottles in the river, so we didn’t have much water, which made me kind of panicky. But anyway, we made it back up and then drove back down the 45km of dirt switchbacks and all the way back to Salta, arriving there around 7:00pm. That night, we went to a parrillada (Argentine steakhouse) and I had the most delicious bife chorizo (sirloin strip steak) I’ve ever had in my life (no picture, I ate it too fast). Then we went and had some beers in the plaza and I took this picture of the cathedral all lit up.

Day Five
Day five was spent exploring Salta. There is a really interesting Archeological museum that has two mummies on display. These mummies were found buried near the top of a nearby Volcano, and they are royal Incan children. It was interesting to learn their story, but kind of creepy to see the mummies. It makes me wonder that if these children were sacrificed for a religious purpose, shouldn’t they be left where they were buried?

After the museum, we went and ate some traditional empanadas salteñas (which are small, yet delicious) and then went up Salta’s gondola (similar to Santiago’s teleferico). I should mention that throughout the trip, we always drank terere, which is a Paraguayan drink. It is basically ice cold yerba mate. It sounds disgusting, but it is delicious and refreshing, especially with mint leaves in the water. In this picture, J. is holding the terere cup.

At the top of the gondola was a beautiful park with a water fall. I have to say, the park in Salta might be nicer than San Cristobal in Santiago.

At the end of the day, my friends and traveling companions left to go back to Paraguay. I stayed another day, but didn’t take any pictures. I mostly spent it buying souvenirs and books and reading said books in the various plazas throughout Salta. That night my flight left for Buenos Aires, and then after five hours of trying to sleep in Aeroparque again, my flight to Santiago left and I arrived home.


4 thoughts on “Adventures in Northern Argentina

  1. Pingback: My 7 Links « Abby's Line

  2. Northwest Argentina is so different from the region of the country where I live. In fact, it almost seems like another country! It sounds like you had an amazing time, and your photos are lovely. I’m glad I discovered this post through your 7 Links!

  3. Pingback: A Day in the Life « Abby's Line

  4. Pingback: Final Update: Things I Never Did and Want to Do While in Chile « Abby's Line

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