Northwest Argentina: The Best Reasons, Seasons, Ways & Stays
Guest written by Garvey McDevitt
Northwest Argentina is an area rich in history and culture from the Incas to the Spanish domain. Local inhabitants have preserved their ancient customs and traditions: colorful clothing, expressive artwork and handicrafts, music, markets and street fairs and delicious cuisine. Since this area was originally colonized by the Spaniards, this region holds the most ancient traces of Spanish heritage: typical colonial architecture, adobe churches, old traditional fincas (ranches). You will see unique geology on spectacular drives.
Flights arrive into the city of Salta, the gateway to the northwest. But Salta is not just a jumping-off point but worthy of a day and night at one of the city’s wide selection of hotels and a stroll through this historic city. Salta is one of the oldest cities in Argentina founded in 1582 and full of history.
Reasons to visit the Northwest:
- It’s off-season from Patagonia - During North American summers when Patagonia is cold and dark, Northwest Argentina is a perfect alternative. The best time to visit northwest Argentina is from March through November with clear, sunny and dry days, average daytime temperatures in the 70's and rather cold evenings. September is the most colorful month with peak blooming flora.
- It’s off-the-beaten-path - With tourists flocking to Patagonia, fewer have discovered the northwest corner of the country.
- Diversity – The northwest offers something for everyone: culture, history, geology, car touring, luxury wine lodges, rustic family-owned lodges. Active adventures include day hikes, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, multi-day treks and horseback treks.
- Easy logistics - Flights between Buenos Aires and Salta are only 2 hours, 20 minutes, non-stop and operate throughout the day from early-morning to late-evening. There are also several direct flights a week between Salta and Iguazu and Mendoza making it easy to combine the northwest with the falls and the wine region. Think: Buenos Aires-Mendoza-Northwest Argentina-Iguazu Falls.
- Great road trip - Without a doubt the ultimate way to exit the Northwest is the spectacular overland journey over the Andes to the Atacama Desert in Chile, referred to as one of the World’s Great Overland Journeys. Route: Salta to San Pedro de Atacama with an overnight stay in Purmamarca
Ways to see the Northwest
- Calchaqui Valley Circuit: spectacular scenery as you pass through the towns of Cachi, Molinos, San Carlos and Cafayate. The road from Salta to Cachi climbs through the Quebrada de Escoipe to the imposing Cuesta del Obispo, a former Indian trail. This winding road climbs dramatically to the heights of Piedra del Molino, passing Los Cardones National Park and along the Recta de Tin Tin, an old Inca highway, to the sleepy village of Cachi, framed by the imposing snow-capped mountain. Cachi is a beautiful town with white buildings, adobe houses, stone-paved streets and impressive architectural and cultural constructions. The road between Cachi and Cafayate is along legendary Ruta 40 - La Cuarenta - and the Calchaqui River Valley. You will pass through the impressive Quebrada de las Flechas (Arrows Gorge), with its extraordinary geological formations. Cafayate has become the most important site in the Calchaquí Valleys. well-known because of its famous Torrontes wine, the only true native varietal Argentine wine. Cafayate is a superb place to spend the night at one of the several upscale winery lodges. The winding road from Cafayate to Salta follows the Las Conchas River and passes the amazing Garganta del Diablo and the Anfiteatro, huge open cracks in the earth.
- Salta – ‘Road to the Clouds’ – Humahuaca Canyon circuit: Follow the route of the "Train of the Clouds" to San Antonio de los Cobres in the high Puna desert plateau - through breathtaking canyons of the northern Andes, visiting Santa Rosa de Tastil, once the largest pre-Inca city in the country. The road continues to Salinas Grandes (a huge salt deposit) then down the famous winding “Cuesta de Lipán" to the colonial village of Purmamarca, a perfect place to spend the night. The following day you enter the multicolored landscape of the Humahuaca Canyon. Humahuaca, Uquia, Tilcara, Maimara are some of the fascinating stops you can make during the day. Humahuaca is a colonial city with narrow stone-paved streets and adobe houses that made it one of the most important trade centers of Alto Perú until the end of the 19thcentury. The gorge once served as a route for the Incas, was a required passage for expedition parties and settlers, and an important commercial route. Today, these small towns conserve their religious beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, art, music and agricultural techniques. For this reason, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
- ‘Trekking the Silent Valleys’ of Iruya – A 4-day remote mountain trek that features high altitude (around 12,000 feet), small villages in hidden valleys, friendly locals and excellent local guides. The trek begins in Iruya, a small village at the top of the mountains and overlooking the valleys. You will hike along the Sierra El Astillero, up mountain slopes, beside cliffs, crossing rivers and streams, through transversal valleys. During the hike, you will have the chance to see the vestiges of ancient native civilizations and meet local people who use this path as part of their everyday life. Accommodations are in comfortable mountain refuges. On the final day you return to Salta via the Puna or High Andean Plateau along Ruta 40 to Salinas Grandes and down to Purmamarca along the Lipan Slope.
- The overnight Vallecitos Trek - This two-day trek takes place in the north of the "Calchaquies Valleys". You will cross mountains and rivers and visit shelters hidden in rocks and marvel at the magnificent beauty of Calchaqui valleys and its snow covered peaks of over 6000 meters above sea level.
- Tucuman to Tafi del Valle – a 4-day trek from Siambon to Tafi del Valle via Anfama, Posada Las Queñuas and La Cienaga.
Horseback riding treks:
- ‘The Great Journey' – a 4-day horseback riding trek along the same route as the Tucuman to Tafi del Valle trek
- The Las Quenuas Reserve ride – a shorter 3-day version of The Great Journey.
- The 5-day 'Gauchos Ride'
Best lodging of the Northwest:
- Legado Mitico Salta
- Vinas de Cafayate Wine Resort
- Patios de Cafayate Wine Hotel
- Grace Cafayate
- Colores de Purmamarca
- Marques de Tojo (Purmamarca)
- Hotel La Comarca (Purmamarca)
- El Manantial del Silencio (Purmamarca)
- La Merced del Alto (Cachi)
Legado Mitico Salta
Get in touch with one of our consultants to begin customizing the perfect Northwest Argentina vacation!