8 days devoted to Salta and Jujuy to getting to know the most emblematic places of these two beautiful provinces.
In mid-November my husband Mariano and I took a flight from Buenos Aires to the capital city of Salta, where we rented a car with extra full insurance, considering the gravel stones from the road often play tricks on the windshield. We went straight to Portezuelo Nuevo Hotel (www.portezuelohotel.com) located next to Cerro San Bernardo with beautiful views of the city. Once there we had a relaxing lunch by the pool. Then we walked along the hill, where the cable car passes through, and visited the High Mountain Archeology Museum (www.maam.gob.ar) and the Casa Güemes Museum (museoguemes.gob.ar), both very good experiences. We dined on some exquisite empanadas in the peñas area on Balcarce Street, the first of many we were going to eat on this trip.
We set off for Cafayate by Provincial Route 68, passing through the Cabra Corral Dam and continuing along the Quebrada de las Conchas, an unmissable journey with its amazing rock formations. We arrived in Cafayate at 3.30 pm, had lunch in front of the plaza and visited the El Esteco winery (www.elesteco.com). We stopped to enjoy some delicious cake and coffee in the Posta de las Cabras, a perfect break before returning to the city of Salta. We arrived at night and we stayed in San Lorenzo, in the city outskirts, in the Posada de los Poetas Boutique Hotel (www.posadadelospoetas.com.ar). The hotel service was truly the best. The place transmits a unique sense of peace, and it even has a living room with a library for you to enjoy a good book.
We started our trip along route 51 towards San Antonio de Los Cobres to catch the Train to the Clouds (trenalasnubes.com.ar). Before getting there we made a stop in the area of Tastil so we could acclimatize to the altitude. On this spot we offered a ride to a hitchhiking nurse who was visiting a 90-year-old patient living alone in a nearby adobe house. The route is almost 100% asphalted and the views are incredible; there are some stretches and bridges along the way of what used to be the train’s route back when it completed its full circuit (a journey that took about 12 hours through some amazing landscapes).
At 12 o’clock we boarded the Tren de las Nubes. So spectacular! The feeling on arriving at La Polvorilla viaduct stop (at 4,200 meters above sea level) is unspeakable, the altitude can be felt alright, but the experience is so rewarding that you can only think about enjoying and marvelling at the landscape. You’ll find a bilingual guide on each train car. The return to San Antonio de Los Cobres started at 3:00 p.m. Mariano got altitude sickness when returning , and feeling dizzy and fatigued he ended up buying a bunch of identical key chains from every single person selling them at the train station. All street vendors approach you with respect, an aspect true of every town in the region.
From there we took route 38 (a fully gravel road) towards Salinas Grandes in Jujuy, which seemed neverending even though it took less than 2 hours on account of our accumulated tiredness and the intense emotions of the day. The extensive salt mines popped out of nowhere; when you stand in that kind of white field they seem to have no end. It’s a landscape different from everything you’ve ever seen.
We continued along route 52 to the picturesque Purmamarca, had an early dinner in La Diabla and arrived at 9:00 pm to the hotel we had booked for two nights in Tilcara: Posada Boutique Las Terrazas (www.posadalasterrazas.com).
After breakfast, we walked through the city market and then travelled to Humahuaca to start the cornice climbing up Cerro Hornocal which takes an hour along the gravel road. We were in awe glancing at this natural beauty. To be able to see the hill up close, we went down a path that allows you to appreciate it better; it truly feels like being in front of a magical painting. This place causes a one of a kind magnetism; you do not want to leave ever. In fact, we spent almost an hour in complete silence in the middle of such pure air, one that you’ll want to keep in your lungs forever. We then went back the road to return to Humahuaca, we explored the town, ate empanadas for a change! And we listened to some songs performed by a beautiful little boy. We returned to the hotel in Tilcara and at night we walked along the plaza, bought regional products at El Molle and had dinner at El Patio, an excellent restaurant.
We went to the Garganta del Diablo, climbing an 8km gravel road by car – many people take this up on foot along a shorter 4km path. Once up there, we took a half hour walk to the natural waterfalls and we wondered at the canyon’s impressive view. This area is where the original Aylu Mama Qolla community live. We descended to Tilcara and visited the Pucará, the reconstruction of a historical fortress, unique in the place.
As we still had time and it was a nice day we went back to Purmamarca, because we had only stopped there for dinner. We visited El Porito viewpoint, enjoyed the Cerro de Los Siete Colores and went shopping at the artisan fair. This town is constantly growing and it is surprising how it manages to maintain that typical calm so valued by those coming from big cities. At 17.30 we left for Salta along route 9. On the Jujuy side, the route is a jungle, with yungas, dams and small lakes -an incredible change of scenery in such short travel span. This part of the route is very narrow and too close to the cornice, but super picturesque. We arrived at the Plaza Hotel and dined on some delicious burgers at a brewery in front of the hotel.
We took route 33 towards El Carril with Cachi as our final destination. It took us 4 hours to arrive because we stopped at various places along the way to observe and take pictures. Another amazing road, just like every single one we had traveled on this trip. We passed through the Quebrada del Escoipe, the Cuesta del Obispo -the highest point of this part of the route- the Los Cardones National Park and the Tin Tin straight. We also crossed Payogasta, a very small town where paprika is produced. Cerro Tin Tin reminded us of the Hornocal. It is worth stopping at and walking 150 meters to observe it from a viewpoint. We arrived at the ACA Inn at around 14 hs and had some incredible spinach and cheese ravioli. We walked around the town, we had coffee in Viracocha and rested on a bench in the main square until dusk enjoying the tranquility, while a group of children played in the surroundings, never once missing the typical hysteria and hectic atmosphere of Buenos Aires. A total enjoyment!
We appreciated the view of the Nevado de Cachi, which has a height of 6380 meters above sea level with its snow-capped peaks. We toured the surroundings, bought pieces of dried cacti, visited wineries, the archaeological museum, a very interesting photography exhibition and stopped at La Merced to visit a flower fair. We had lunch in Viracocha. Back in Salta Capital, we had excellent regional food in Doña Salta, who no doubt serves the best bife de chorizo, and we bought some ice cream on the way back to the hotel.
We went to the airport early in the morning. It was the first and only rainy day of the entire trip. The feeling of restfulness we had returning from this region with its friendly people, its valleys, hills and magical villages gave us the illusion we had been on a long vacation, and left us with a desire to return and to continue discovering many more of this place.
Andrea Zilberstein is a graphic designer and Mariano Wierzbinsky is an accountant and auditor. They live in the City of Buenos Aires, they have 4 children, but this time they took a week to travel on their own.