Things to Do in Northwest Argentina
Considered one of Argentina’s most postcard-worthy towns, Purmamarca lies in the province of Jujuy just north of Salta, beneath the shadows of the spectacular Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors). The area's collection of adobe houses and 17th-century Spanish colonial church are pretty in their own right, but the backdrop of jagged hills displaying layers of red, purple, yellow and orange makes for a particularly vivid sight in the early hours when the rising sun illuminates the natural tapestry.
Within the town itself sits one of Argentina’s oldest and prettiest churches, the centuries-old Iglesia de Santa Rosa de Lima, constructed from adobe and thistle wood and dating back to 1648. The sleepy pueblo serves as a favored base from which to explore some of the region's other natural attractions, including the equally spectacular Salinas Grandes and Quebrada.
The first 30 miles (50 km) of the road from Cafayate to Salta in northwestern Argentina has become a tourist destination in its own right, in large part due to the spectacular scenery of Quebrada de Las Conchas (Canyon of the Shells). The site comprises a series of red rock formations eroded into various shapes that have earned each their own nickname. The most famous of the formations include Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), El Anfiteatro (the Ampitheater) and Los Castillos (the Castles), but many of the other fancifully named formations are just as photo-worthy.
Following the Rio Grande Valley through northern Argentina and all the way to Bolivia is the beautiful Quebrada de Humahuaca, a colorful, craggy gorge with walls striped in shades of pink, red, lavender and gray. The multi-hued landscape is so unique that it earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but its natural beauty isn't the only reason to visit.
This river valley cutting through an otherwise arid landscape has likely been used as a major trade route for some 10,000 years. Remnants of various area inhabitants can be seen in the hundreds of archaeological sites dotting the valley, alongside a series of tiny, dusty pueblos with old adobe churches at their centers. Unlike some of the more developed tourist centers, like Salta and Purmamarca, these picturesque villages offer a more authentic glimpse of a typical Andean town, complete with local restaurants serving locro and llama.
Located in northwestern Argentina, the Calchaquí Valley is famous for its wineries, waterfalls and myriad red rock formations. One of the most famous sits just west of Tilcara and is known as the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo). This red rock gorge has walls 160 feet (49 meters) high with waterfalls trickling down depending on the season. Devil’s Throat and the nearby Amphitheater formation are the two most iconic red rock formations in the valley, an area on UNESCO’s list of possible World Heritage sites.
Cuesta del Obispo, or Bishop’s Slope, is a hill southwest of Salta, Argentina along the way to the village of Cachí. Its name derives from the 1600s when a bishop was traveling through the area. He was so mesmerized by the sky that he decided he had to stop and sleep under the stars that night. The locals started calling the hill the Slope Where the Bishop Slept, and eventually it was shortened to Bishop's Slope.
The hill is in the Calchaquí Valley, which was once much more populated, but the natives were conquered by the Incas who were later conquered by the Spaniards. The hill offers a perfect viewpoint over the Enchanted Valley. The slope itself is a long dirt road that leads up the hill and ends at La Piedra del Molino (the Millstone) at an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet above sea level.
Los Cardones National Park is located in the central part of the Salta Province, and it occupies approximately 160,000 acres. It was established in 1996 to protect the high elevation vegetation located in the colorful sierras and dry gorges of this area. The cardones are column-like cactus plants that thrive in high altitudes and are found throughout the national park, which is where the park got its name. The area also boasts small forests of the leguminous Churqui. Many animals live in the national park, including more than 100 species of birds.
Three different environments are represented in the park. They include the mountainous area of the sierras, the piedmont and low lands, and the basin. Fossils from many extinct animals, including dinosaur tracks, have been found in the park. Other attractions in the park include pre-Inca cave art.
More Things to Do in Northwest Argentina
Pucará de Tilcara was a fortification from pre-Inca times that is located outside the village of Tilcara about an hour north of San Salvador de Jujuy, Argentina. Its location on a hill was strategically chosen to be easily defensible and to have good views over a big portion of the gorge called Quebrada de Humahuaca. It is the only publicly accessible archaeological site in Quebrada de Humahuaca, and it was declared a national monument in 2000.
The town was originally built by the Omaguaca tribe who settled the area in the 12th century. The civilization thrived for several centuries. They built living quarters, corrals for animals, and sites for religious ceremonies here. However, in the late 15th century, they were conquered by the Incas. The site was rediscovered in 1908, and today visitors can see the ruins on the hill as well as artifacts in the town's archaeological museum.
The Cathedral of Salta was declared a National Historical Monument on July 14, 1941. The current church is actually the fourth church built in its location in Salta, Argentina. It was completed in the late 1800s by Italian architects Soldati, Giorgi and Righetti. The towers and the facade were designed in an Italian style with Corinthian columns, balustrades and cornices. The two towers and the central body of the church emerge on top of the balustrades. The building has a nave and a cross vault, above which there is a dome with a lantern.
Inside the church is an image of Christ on the crucifix. Legend has it that this image saved the town from being destroyed by an earthquake on Sept. 16, 1692. The priest José Carrión had a revelation that taking this image of Christ out on a procession would end the earthquake. From that day on, the Fiesta del Milagro (Festival of the Miracle) has taken place every second week of September.
The Calchaqui Valley in northwestern Argentina is one of the country’s most spectacular natural wonders—an often overlooked gem replete with picturesque vistas, ancient ruins, friendly locals and good local wine to wash it all down at the end of the day.
Perhaps the most famous attraction in the Calchaqui Valley is Cafayate, an up-and-coming wine region famous for growing Argentina’s native grape, torrontés. Cachi, a small village on Ruta 40, serves as a popular base for exploring the archaeological sites and smaller valleys within the northern portion of the Calchaqui Valley. In the Tucumán segment of the valley, you’ll find the Ruins of Quilmes, the archaeological remains of one of Argentina’s largest pre-Colombian settlements.
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