From the multicolored gorges of Cafayate to the Yunga cloud forest, and on to the salt flats of Jujuy, northern Argentina is an immensely diverse destination. This off-the-beaten-path region is great for hikers and bikers to get out and explore easygoing villages and gorgeous natural wonders while taking in some gaucho culture and enjoying superb local wines.

Fast Facts

  • The climate is extremely varied throughout the region. Pack layers of clothing for different conditions. 
  • Altitude also varies greatly throughout the provinces. Hydration is the best way to combat altitude sickness.
  • Rental cars are the most popular and convenient option for travel between cities. Guided tours are also possible. 
  • There are two, primarily domestic airports with direct flights from Buenos Aires. These include Salta Airport: Martín Miguel de Güemes International (SLA), and Jujuy Airport: Gobernador Horacio Guzmán International (JUJ).

Overview

This 11-day itinerary takes you to Salta and Jujuy provinces of Argentina, a remote area where the highlights are the dramatic scenery of colorful cliffs, local hospitality, well-preserved colonial-era towns and visits to farms. Tour the area by car and do some activities along the way, including hiking, biking and horse riding. 

Due to its remote location and relatively few European immigrants, the indigenous cultures and traditions of Salta and Jujuy have maintained a prominent influence in the local culture. The locals of the region are known for their eagerness to share their hospitality and traditions. Whether you speak Spanish or not, they’re likely to strike up a conversation and tell you why the area they call home is the very best in all of Argentina. The area is also known for its excellent dry wines and perfectly prepared empanadas. Note that this itinerary passes through some high altitude country so take it easy when doing the activities mentioned below. 

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City

Stroll along Puerto Madero before dinner
Stroll along Puerto Madero before dinner

Welcome to Argentina! Renowned as the "Paris of South America," and the "Queen of El Plata," the capital city of Buenos Aires is defined by passion. This is exemplified in the rich tango heritage and its citizens' limitless enthusiasm for fútbol (soccer), which is far and away the country's most popular sport. 

When you arrive at the airport, your driver will be waiting to take you in a private car to your hotel where you can relax after a long flight. But make no mistake: the city will beckon you. So after a quick recharge, be sure to venture out into the welcoming arms of Buenos Aires and explore. The best starting point would be the city center.

Suggested activities include:

  • Visit the Obelisco, which might be the most famous icon of the city. This obelisk (which even Argentines admit is a little too reminiscent of the Washington Monument) is worth a visit for its location alone. It sits right in the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio, which boasts a whopping 16 lanes, making it the widest city street in the world.

  • Stop by the Teatro Colon, one of South America's premier opera houses. The horseshoe-shaped gallery features 2,487 seats and incredible acoustics. Even if you plan on taking a tour or catching a show here on another day, it's always breathtaking to pass by its exterior. The Colon's neoclassical facade has been the face of one of the most handsome buildings in Buenos Aires since its opening in 1908.

  • Stroll Puerto Madero, an upscale waterfront neighborhood adjacent to downtown. Puerto Madero may be the "new money" finance center of Buenos Aires, but it's also one of the most pleasant pedestrian areas in a city famous for its paths. A romantic stroll involves walking over the canal on the Puente de Mujer ("Woman's Bridge") at sunset. 

  • Dine at an Argentine steakhouse or parilla. When night falls and dinnertime arrives, do like the locals and enjoy a thick, juicy steak (Argentina has some of the best beef in the world) drizzled with the nation's famous chimichurri (a garlic, herb, and vinegar sauce). Know that Buenos Aires is a culture that thrives after dark, and it's not uncommon for locals to have dinner well past nine in the evening, especially on weekends. 

Day 2: Buenos Aires - Flight to Salta 

The ornate exterior of the Cathedral of Salta
The ornate exterior of the Cathedral of Salta

After breakfast in Buenos Aires, transfer to the airport to board your flight to Salta, one of Argentina's most impressive Spanish colonial cities. Upon arrival, you'll be greeted at the airport and transferred to your hotel. 

Take the rest of the day to get settled in and enjoy the town. Easy to explore on foot, the city's compact colonial center is lined with gorgeous Neo-classical buildings, lively cafes, and bars teeming with a young and trendy crowd. In the afternoon, you can take the cable car up Cerro San Bernardo to enjoy the spectacular panoramic views of the city and beyond.

You can also visit the city’s pink Cathedral of Salta, consecrated in 1878, as well as the striking mauve and yellow Church of San Francisco. Other sites include the Baroque Town Hall building, and MAAM, the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, which sheds light on important archaeological discoveries in the Andes.

If time allows, stop at the Historical Museum of the North, which displays items on indigenous culture as well as pieces dating back from the colonial period.

Not to be missed is a stroll around the craft market, where you can buy traditional products, from rugs to pottery.

Days 3 & 4: Hiking and Mountain Biking near Purmamarca

Ruta 52 from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes
Ruta 52 from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes

Get an early start and travel to Purmamarca by car (2 hours 45 minutes). Head into town to see the local craftsmen’s market and then venture out to hike El Cerro De Siete Colores (The Hill of Seven Colors) before settling into your accommodation for the night. 

Use Day 3 to go mountain biking in Quebrada de Humahuaca (1-hour drive), or to explore the Salinas Grandes Salt Flats (2-hour drive).

Pro-Tip: Altitude sickness is common for visitors in this area, take your hikes and bikes rides at an easier-than-usual pace.   

Day 5: Experience gaucho life near Chicoana

Gaucho near Salta
Gaucho near Salta

Drive back towards Salta and continue past the city another 45 mins south to Chicoana. Here you can spend the night at a traditional finca (ranch). You’ll learn about the modern family life of gauchos while exploring the roads and trails used by the gauchos on horseback. Sleep at the finca, or do an overnight horseback riding and camping excursion in the surrounding mountains. Whichever you choose, you’re sure to be treated to a traditional asada (steak) feast at least once during your stay!

Days 6 & 7: Visit Historic Cachi

Quebrada De Las Flechas on Route 40
Quebrada De Las Flechas seen from Ruta 40

From Chicoana drive two hours west to Cachi. Use the day to explore the cobblestone streets lined with white adobe houses. If traveling between April and May, take a “Pepper Tour” to see the rows of vibrant red peppers being harvested for paprika. 

Use the next day to visit with a potter in San Carlos and learn about their craft, or hike and picnic through the Acsibi caves, or Quebrada de las Flechas for dramatic scenery truly unique to the area.

Days 8 & 9: Taste Torrontes Wine and Visit the Quilmes Ruins 

Bodega El Esteco Winery in Cafayate

The multicolored mountains and canyons of Cafayate lie 3 1/2 hours south of Cachi. However, the famous route 40 will do more than keep you entertained during your drive. Along the way seize the numerous opportunities to stretch your legs and take in the scenery.

After arriving in the city, take a stroll and do some souvenir shopping on the square, or head straight to a winery for empanadas and Torrontes wine. The dry climate that has created such spectacular scenery is also ideal for growing some of the best and most unique wine in the country. Torrontes is a rare white wine cultivated in the Valles Calchaquíe and made in a dry style.

Use Day 8 to head south and tour the Quilmes Ruins in Tucuman, or opt for hiking/biking in Quebrada de las Conchas (Canyon of Shells), a national park along Route 68. The Garganta Del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), The Amphitheater, and The Obelisk are just a few of the breathtaking canyons and rock formations to be seen along the way. 

Day 10: Museums and market visits in Salta

The main square of Salta
The main square of Salta

Heading North on Route 68, make your way back to Salta. Use your last day to check out the Archaeological Museum or the Artisanal Market for last minute poncho and maté souvenirs. Be sure to have one more empanada feast, and maybe catch a taxi up to Cerro San Bernardo to watch the sunset alongside the locals. 

Day 11: Flight to Buenos Aires - Departure

One last look at Buenos Aires from the air
One last look at Buenos Aires from the air

After breakfast, bid farewell to the city of Salta and transfer to the airport for your flight to Buenos Aires. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, transfer to the international terminal for your return flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Explore Northern Argentina - 11 Days
Map of Explore Northern Argentina - 11 Days

Recent Trip Reviews

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Yanire

Explore northern argentina - 9 days, Argentina - Jul 10 - Jul 16, 2018

Traveler: Yanire N. - Local specialist: Silvia Monico

This trip was a good experience. I'm glad we chose the northwest of Argentina because it has many beautiful things. I would have preferred to be told how long it was to get to the Parque del Rey. It was about 4 hrs just together and once there even more time in the truck to go to different places where we actually did not see the animals that are typical of the area. Few birds and a type of Dorado fish. Just that for such a long trip back and forth. I would not recommend it to anybody. The best parts of the trip were Salta, Purmamarca, Humahuaca, salinas grandes.