Salta the Beautiful and its Surroundings
The next stop on my trip, very much anticipated because I read a lot of great things about it, was Salta. They call it "Salta la Linda", which means Salta the beautiful, and it surely deserves this title. The city lies in midst of green hills in the pre-Andes, somewhat 1.600 kilometers away from Buenos Aires and is probably one of the most beautiful cities in Argentina. I spent in total about four days there.
As you know, the first impression is the most important one. I arrived after a long overnight bus trip from Corrientes (11 hours away). Because Corrientes had about 34°C the day I left, I was dressed in shorts and T-shirt. The last overnight bus was perfectly temperated, so I guessed that all buses in the North of Argentina are well climatized. Well, that wasn't the smartest guess I had on this trip, the temperature in that bus was freezing, and so was I. So my mood, when I arrived at 7:30 am in the morning in Salta, was quite bad. But after I stored my backpack at the hostel I started fresh into the day. The sun was shining and suddenly the long bus drive was forgotten.
Salta is quite compact and very touristy. I was able to cover the main spots within a few hours, this includes the Iglesia San Francisco and Iglesia Catedral as well as the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM), which I can highly recommend, it features the Niños de Llullaillaco, mummies of three Inca children which were discovered conserved by the cold in 5.700 meters height by a Harvard excursion in 1999 at Mount Llullaillaco. A further must do is the visit of Salta's landmark mountain, the Cerro San Bernado (1.458 meters).
Having done all these sights in record time I could turn to more interesting things, e.g. testing the beer which is brewed in Salta, and to which the city also lends its name, reading my book, visiting local fiestas on the central plaza and meeting people in the hostel.
The remaining time I was doing a lot of planning, because I decided to rent a car in order to discover the surroundings of Salta. This meant comparing prices, working out a route and identifying possible travel companions (which turned out to be really complicated because the hostels weren't that full). After all that was completed, I started on a three day round-trip from Salta to the Quebrada de Humahuaca and the Valles Calchaquíes, here is the quick rundown.
This salt desert is located 100 kilometers North of Salta at approximately 170 meters above sea level. The drive from Salta (1.187 meters) via the Cuesta de Lipan (4.100 meters) on Ruta Nacional 52 is breathtaking and the scenery at the salt desert itself is stunning.
This village at the beginning of the Quebrada de Humahuaca is widely known for its colored mountains nearby, especially the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colours). It also features a big handicraft market at the central plaza.
Tilcara is another village in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. So expect to see even more colored mountains and another big handicraft market.
Cachi is a town in the Valles Calchaquíes, a 300 kilometer long chain of valleys at the east flank of the Andes. It is quite remote and for Argentinian standards very tidy. The drive up to Cachi via Ruta Provincial 33 (which is to 70% unpaved) is probably one of the most amazing drives one could ever imagine. The road starts in El Carril, leads through the Yungas before it winds up to the Piedra del Molino (3.457 meters) to continue on the Altiplano and then finally reaches Payogosta.
This town in the Valles Calchaquíes is known for its viniculture (try the Torrontés grape, amazing). It is a quite and neat little place with a beautiful plaza. It can be reached via the legendary Ruta Nacional 40 (almost completely unpaved from Cachi) or the Ruta Nacional 68, which features stunning rock formations (they even have names, e.g. Garganta del Diablo, Las Ventanas, ...) along the Quebrada de Cafayate, from Salta.
All in all I covered a little more than 1.000 kilometers, saw incredible nature, got the rental car really dirty and met young Argentinian hitchhikers.