Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina

We are over the moon to be hosting this amazing guest post from Jurgen at Dare2Go!

The north-west of Argentina is a fascinating destination to get a taste of the Andean foothills, excellent wines, and colonial towns. The main provincial city of Salta offers all services and an attractive colonial center. It’s a convenient starting point for this round trip of roughly 500 kilometers (~300 miles). You will drive through deep red mountains, pre-Colombian agriculture, and rugged dry landscapes.

 Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

From Salta south to Cafayate

 South from Salta, Ruta Nacional 68 passes through some amazingly colorful scenery and spectacular landmarks. Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) is one place where most tours will stop. This is part of the Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), a stunning nature reserve, where you can spend hours walking amongst the strangely eroded layers of sandstone in colors ranging from pale sand to deep shades of red. Some mesas (table mountains) look like landscapes in Arizona or Utah, in the USA. Closer to Cafayate you will see sand dunes on your left.

Cafayate is one of the most famous wine growing regions of Argentina. The white Torrentes is a local variety. The town offers all the facilities a tourist could want: accommodation, from basic hostels to 5-star resorts, a wine museum, cellar doors open for wine tasting, and a choice of good restaurants. Many tours into the surrounding region start from Cafayate, or you can hire bicycles to explore nearby sights. Ask at the tourist information, located in the wine museum, for detailed maps of the area.

Jurgen at Dare2Go, Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

 
Side trip from Cafayate to the ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum


Sidetrip:

if you want to spend more time in and around Cafayate you might be interested in driving south towards Amaicho del Valle (~65km one way). Along the way, just off the sealed Ruta 40, you will find the ruins of Quilmes, home of the tribe that gave its name to Argentina’s best known beer. These fearsome mountain people resisted the Inca invasion and fought the Spanish conquistadores for a long time.

Amaicho del Valle is home of the Pachamama Museum, recalling the ancient roots of the mountain tribes. It’s not so much the quality of its exhibits that make it worth visiting, but the creative architecture. The entire complex is built from natural rocks of various colors, laid meticulously to create giant figures reminiscent of ancient tribal art. Tall rock and rusty steel statues, set into beds of cacti, complete the impressive picture.

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,


Cafayate to Cachi along the famous Ruta 40


 From Cafayate take the famous Ruta 40* north towards Cachi. This gravel road winds its way through the valley of Rio Calchaqui where the contrasts couldn’t be starker. On one side is dry scrub land, tall cacti, and barren mountain sides; on the other the river feeds lush green fields and vineyards. You pass ancient pre-Columbian watering channels and old mud-brick haciendas in various states of repair.

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

 
You can easily get from Cafayate to Cachi in one day, but we would suggest taking your time and stopping along the way. For example, there are several interesting wineries – some of which are amongst the highest in the world.

On this route you will pass through the Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), a National Monument of Argentina. It’s known for its sandstone mountains, rising up at unusual angles to form pointed peaks. Take the opportunity to stop here, walk around, explore some side valleys and take photos of these bizarre looking formations.

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,


Molinos, a small town just off the main road, is also worth a visit. Part of its old monastery has been converted into hotel; maybe you would like to check in, and use it as a base to explore more sights like the nearby Quebrada de Las Flechas. In the center of the complex stands an old adobe church with twin bell towers. The church is fairly plain inside, and is typical of old churches throughout the Andes.

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

Cachi is a relaxed town with a beautiful, small, historic center. It offers all tourist facilities. The region is well-known for its dried red peppers, which are ground into the spice known as paprika.

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

Return to Salta through the Las Cardones National Park


 Another few kilometers along Ruta 40 will bring you to Payogasta. Here you turn back towards Salta on Ruta Provincial 33, through Parque Nacional Los Cardones. This park covers a wind-swept plateau of colorful rocks, gigantic cacti, and dry thorny shrubs. Providing you feel fit enough in the altitude of over 3500 meters (almost 11500 feet), there are numerous trails to explore this park.


Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,
 

From here the road towards Salta winds its way down through the Cuesta del Obispo, in an apparently endless succession of switchbacks, offering some amazing views. When you get closer to the city, the vegetation slowly changes to more tropical green and brightly flowering trees and bushes.

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

 
The Train into the Clouds


I recommend taking this circular route in the described direction, as it offers you the opportunity to get slowly adjusted to the Andean altitude. Cafayate is 1680m (5512ft) high, Cachi is just over 2500m (8200ft), and the highest point of the route back crosses 3500m (11500ft). This should prepare your body for the final highlight of Salta: the Tren a las Nubes (Train into the Clouds).
 
Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,


This train line is one of the highest railways in the world! Originally built with the intention of connecting Argentina with Chile, it was a commercial failure but an engineering masterpiece. It goes up to 4220m (13850ft) and uses rack-and-pinion for traction. Two spirals and two zigzags were constructed to cross the steepest inclines.
 
Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,


 Today the Tren a las Nubes is a tourist train, with a dining car and several market stops along the way. It’s scheduled to leave every Sunday but check in advance, as line interruptions seem to occur frequently!
 
Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

This tour around Salta should give you a good taste of the stunning beauty and mouthwatering flavors Argentina has to offer. Regardless of whether you spend just under a week, or two or more weeks, you will want to come back for more!

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

Additional information:

Best time to travel is spring or autumn, during southern summer months (December to March) the region receives most of its rainfall. Minimum time suggested for this itinerary would be 5 days. The region has so much to offer that you could easily spend 14 days or more.

You can join tours from Salta, which explore this route. This should provide you with a guide who explains the sights along the way. An obvious disadvantage of organized tours is that you are bound to their timetable and scheduled stops. If your budget permits, consider hiring a vehicle with your own personal driver/guide.

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,


Alternatively you can rent a vehicle in Salta. With your own vehicle, you can stop wherever you like to take photos, hike into a side valley, or have a meal at one of the road-side parillas (grill restaurants). It also allows you to book into accommodation outside towns; you will find some beautiful rural boutique hotels in this region.
Traffic outside major holiday periods is light, so driving should be easy. Only some narrow and steep sections on the way back into Salta require the driver’s full attention. If you travel in your own vehicle, stock up on supplies in Salta; supermarkets along the way are difficult to find and much more expensive.


Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,


* Ruta 40’s claim to fame is that it is one of the longest roads in the world, following the Andes from Bolivia to the southern tip of mainland Argentina. It is roughly 5000 kilometers (3100 miles) long – roadworks and realignments constantly change the accurate figure. It connects many of Argentina’s major tourist attractions.


About the author:

Argentina, adventure, South America, Salta, Ruta Nacional, Quebrada de las Conchas (Valley of the Shells), Cafayate, Guest Post: Explore the amazing mountain scenery of Argentina, ruins of Quimes and the Pachamama Museum, Cachi along the famous Ruta 40, Quebrada de Las Flechas (Valley of the Arrows), Molinos, Quebrada de Las Flechas, andes, Las Cardones National Park, Cuesta del Obispo, Train into the Clouds, the Tren a las Nubes,

Juergen Klein travels with his wife, Yasha Langford, along the Pan American Highway and beyond. Both are from Australia (Juergen is German born) and started their first journey in March 2006 in the USA. They like to travel slowly, taking side roads, and stopping in out-of-the-way places. It took them three years and three months to drive from Alaska to Fin del Mundo in Patagonia, in their pick-up camper. But they didn’t see everything, so they returned in 2014 to see more. Their website dare2go.com is a well respected resource for information among fellow overlanders.

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.