While Northern Argentina is among the least explored areas of the country, it is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding areas to visit. Sitting at the foot of the Andes, it offers spectacular scenery of snow-capped volcanoes, vast salt flats, and otherworldly rock formations. This 15-day trip takes you to the area’s most dramatic sights, giving you a great taster of what the area offers.

Highlights

  • Pose for photographs on the vast plain of Salinas Grandes
  • Soak in the colorful landscapes of the Quebrada de Humahuaca
  • Take in the surreal scenery of the rugged Puna de Atacama
  • Drive through striking Piedra Pomez, characterized by giant white volcanic rocks

Overview

This exhilarating trip takes you to one of the planet’s most remote landscapes, the arid high plateau of the Puna de Atacama. The variety of natural terrain is astounding: you’ll visit dazzling landscapes of giant white volcanic rocks, deep red canyons, and volcanic pyramids — to name a few — while visiting small Andean villages that burst with character.

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Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City Buenos Aires
Day 2 Buenos Aires - Flight to Salta Salta
Day 3 Explore the pre-Inca fortification of El Pucará Tilcara
Day 4 Admire the imposing landscapes of Quebrada de Humahuaca Tilcara
Day 5 Learn how salt is extracted in the vast salt plain of Salinas Grandes San Antonio 
Day 6 Travel through otherworldly desert landscapes in the Puna de Atacama Tolar Grande
Day 7 Wander around the ghost town of Mina Casualidad Tolar Grande
Day 8 Gape at the volcanic pyramid that rises in the middle of Salar de Arizaro Antofalla
Day 9 Soak in the volcanic scenery of Antofagasta de la Sierra El Peñón
Day 10 Drive through the dramatic landscape of the Pumice Stone Field El Peñón
Day 11 Visit the country’s largest pre-Columbian settlement Cafayate
Day 12 Explore the red rock formations of the Quebrada de las Conchas Cafayate
Day 13 Take part in a guided tour of one of Argentina’s most famous wineries Cachi
Day 14 Gaze at giant cacti in Los Cardones National Park Salta
Day 15 Flight to Buenos Aires - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires - Explore the City

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

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 will 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. You’ll also visit 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, you will be able to visit 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.

Day 3: Explore the pre-Inca fortification of El Pucará

The pre-Inca fortification of Pucará de Tilcara

You will travel to the town of Tilcara, located in a striking mountain valley. You will visit the pre-Inca fortification of Pucará de Tilcara, which is located just outside the town. Strategically located on a hill, it provided views of enemies approaching through the narrow mountain valley of Quebrada de Humahuaca.

In the afternoon you will explore Tilcara, its church, and local market.

Day 4: Admire the imposing landscapes of Quebrada de Humahuaca

The Hill of Seven Colors is one of the main sights in the Quebrada de Humahuaca

Today you’ll tour the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow mountain valley famous for its dramatic rock formations, striking multi-colored hills, and traditional Quechuan villages.

You'll continue to travel north to visit traditional agricultural villages, where life has changed little over the last hundred years. The inhabitants raise sheep and plant a variety of crops that to this day are cultivated with plows pulled by animals. You’ll learn more about their farming methods, and will see irrigation ditches built by their ancestors.

You’ll stop off at Uquía, a dusty quiet town that is renowned for its historic church featuring portraits of armed angels (yes, really). In the afternoon you’ll visit Humahuaca to stroll its narrow cobbled street and visit its church. You’ll continue on to Hornocal, an eye-catching range of mountains characterized by colored limestone bands. You’ll return to Tilcara in the late afternoon.

Day 5: Learn how salt is extracted in the vast salt plain of Salinas Grandes

A saltwater pool of Salinas Grandes

Today you’ll visit the gorgeous little town of Purmamarca, lined with algarrobo trees and adobe houses. The town sits at the foot of the multi-hued Cerro de Los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors).

You’ll drive along the Cuesta de Lipan, a spectacular tract of winding mountain road, to Salinas Grandes, a large salt plain that lies high up in the puna. Once a lake, the flat comprises a salt crust that’s half a meter thick. You’ll learn how the salt is extracted while enjoying the panoramic views of the snow-capped Nevado de Chañi.

In the afternoon you will arrive at San Antonio de Los Cobres, where you will overnight.

Day 6: Travel through other-worldly desert landscapes in the Puna de Atacama

The arid rugged plateau of Puna de Atacama

We will leave San Antonio de Los Cobres in the morning, passing bizarre red rock formations before reaching the vast and rugged Puna de Atacama. We will stop at Tolar Grande, a small rural village in a spectacular location in the middle of the Puna.

Day 7: Wander around the ghost town of Mina Casualidad

The barren landscape leading towards Mina Casualidad

In the morning you will cross Salar de Arizaro, a vast salt flat bordering Chile that is one of the world’s largest. You will drive to the ghost town of Mina Casualidad, whose economy was based on extracting sulfur at over 16,404 ft / 5000 m. The mine was closed in 1978, and the town abandoned. You will visit its derelict buildings and understand more about its past, and then return to Tolar Grande.

Day 8: Gape at the volcanic pyramid that rises in the middle of Salar de Arizaro

The otherworldly landscape near Salar de Antofalla

Early in the morning you will drive through Salar de Arizaro and gaze at Cono de Arita, a volcanic pyramid that rises from the middle of the plain.

We will drive through Campo Amarillo, and reach the Salar de Antofalla, a large salt flat that lies at 11,483 ft / 3500 m and sits at the foot of the namesake volcano. Only 40 people live in the isolated town of Antofalla, where you will overnight with a local family.

Day 9: Soak in the volcanic scenery of Antofagasta de la Sierra

A remote highland village in the Puna

Today our destination is El Peñon, a small highland village surrounded by incredible scenery. You’ll visit Antofagasta de la Sierra (11,286 ft  / 3440 m), a green oasis nestled among the arid plain of the Puna that is surrounded by black volcanoes. From here you will drive on to El Peñón (11,155 ft / 3400 m), where you’ll spend the night.

Day 10: Drive through the dramatic landscape of the Pumice Stone Field

The sun bathes Piedra Pomez in red hues

Today you will explore Piedra Pomez, or the Pumice Stone Field, a dazzling landscape of giant white volcanic rocks. Then we’ll visit the Carachi Pampa, a young volcano of an intense black color that was produced by basalt spilling. We’ll take a look at the lagoon where pink flamingos are often found. In the afternoon you’ll return to El Peñón to spend your last night in the Puna.

Day 11: Visit the country’s largest pre-Columbian settlement

The spectacular landscapes of the Puna

You'll leave the magical Puna and drive through a series of awe-inspiring landscapes of snowy peaks, volcanoes, salt flats, and giant sand dunes. You’ll drive through Cuesta de Randolfo, a high mountain pass, heading down towards sea level. A new landscape will soon emerge, with rugged mountains, cacti, and goats. The road leads to the Ruinas de Quilmes, the largest pre-Columbian settlement in Argentina. In the afternoon you’ll continue to the city of Cafayate, renowned for its torrontés grape that produces a refreshing white wine.

Day 12: Explore the outlandish red rock formations of the Quebrada de las Conchas

Red canyons in the Quebrada de las Conchas

Today you’ll have the chance to visit a number of the area’s wineries, such as El Porvenir, El Esteco or San Pedro de Yacochuya, where you will enjoy a wine tasting session.

In the afternoon you’ll drive through the Quebrada de las Conchas, a deep valley of red canyons characterized by intense colors and spectacular geological formations. You’ll stop off at the Amphitheater rock formation, nicknamed as such for its outstanding natural acoustics.

Day 13: Take part in a guided tour of one of Argentina’s most famous wineries

The area around Cafayate is home to excellent wineries

You’ll leave Cafayate driving along Road 40 through the Quebrada de las Flechas, a gorge characterized by protruding arrow-like formations. We will pass through small villages before arriving in Colomé, one of Argentina’s most famous wineries that is home to the world’s highest vineyards located between 7545 ft / 2300 m and 10,206 ft / 3111 m.

You’ll enjoy a guided tour of the winery and vineyards, learning all about Colomé’s sustainability principles and the ins and outs of producing wines at such high altitude. You’ll also be able to visit their newly opened museum that displays contemporary works by American artist James Turrell.

In the afternoon you’ll continue on to Cachi, a small town known for its adobe houses and colonial buildings backed by the snow-capped Nevado de Cachi (20,931 ft / 6380 m). You’ll wander the town’s narrow cobbled streets, and visit its church as well as its archaeological museum.

Day 14: Gaze at giant cacti in Los Cardones National Park

Towering cacti in Los Cardones National Park

You’ll leave Cachi and drive through Los Cardones National Park, famous for its giant cactus plants that grow abundantly at this altitude. You’ll drive along the Cuesta del Obispo, where the road climbs and snakes up a scenic mountain slope carpeted with lush vegetation. You’ll likely spot plenty of wildlife, including vicuñas, mountain cats, and falcons. You’ll also stop off at Valle Encantado where you’ll be able to enjoy a short hike (weather permitting), taking in the area’s natural beauty.

You’ll then drive on to the city of Salta, where you began your trip.

Day 15: Flight to Buenos Aires - Departure

Take 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 The Best of Northern Argentina - 15 Days
Map of The Best of Northern Argentina - 15 Days