Into the Puna

Exactly one year ago, I traveled to the Puna, a desert in northern Argentina, with my husband, Jorge.  In January, when I returned to San Francisco, I took a travel writing class at Book Passage in Corte Madera with the fabulous Don George.  Don enjoyed the essay I wrote on the Puna so much that he decided to include it in Lonely Planet’s 2014 anthology, “The Innocent Abroad“, which was published this month.  Here is the complete essay:

Campo de Piedra Pomes, La Puna, Argentina

We drove for hours through a vast frigid desert littered with silver rubble and scraps of ancient lava. A solitary dirt path stretched before us endlessly. It snaked past incinerated volcanoes cloaked in black ash and mountains of red earth before dissolving into a tidal wave of purple peaks bobbing in a metallic sea. A fierce sun clung to every rock, mountain and grain of sand, causing my vision to blur and my temples to pulsate. There was a sinister quality to this place that permeated my body to its core.

We were in the Puna, a high-altitude desert in the extreme northwest of Argentina near the border with Chile and Bolivia. Along with the Atacama Desert to the west and the Bolivian Altiplano to the north, the Puna comprises one of the driest regions on earth, a place so hostile to life that it is frequently compared to Mars. I had come to this region drawn by the visual spectacle of otherworldly landscapes and had chosen the Puna, in particular, because it is by far the most remote and least visited of the three border regions. Now that I was here, I felt deeply unsettled. I cringed at the glaring monotony of the surroundings.

And yet, the Puna beckoned to me. At every turn, I would spot a dozen stupefying images that I wanted desperately to capture on my camera or describe in my journal. This bleak land was stranger than I could have ever imagined and every scene that horrified me fascinated me in equal measure. My curiosity propelled me forward.

Red and Silver Mountains, Puna, Argentina

***

My journey to the Puna began a world away in Salta, a bright and vibrant city with pleasant palm tree-filled plazas and lively cafes. There, as I lounged with my husband, Jorge, on the terrace of the elegant finca where we were staying, I fantasized about our journey to the Puna. The Puna had become the focal point of our two-week vacation to northwest Argentina after I had chanced upon a photograph of its hypnotic clay-colored dunes a few months earlier on the internet. I was immediately captivated. I imagined myself with Jorge driving through the windswept dunes in a jeep, exhilarated by the magical solitude of the desert, exploring a place that few had ever seen.

Once in Salta, I immersed myself in a book about the history of the Puna. An ancient plateau of hard crystalline rock, it had originated at sea level. During the Tertiary Age, with the formation of the Andes, the Puna erupted to its present height of 13,000 feet. Indigenous peoples settled in the Puna long before Spanish colonists arrived, including the Incas, who asserted their control over northwest Argentina for roughly sixty years. The book interspersed this historical account with spectacular photographs of dazzling salt flats and pink flamingos, both legacies of the Puna’s maritime origin, as well as volcanoes, lava fields, and undulating expanses of sand. I marveled at the exotic beauty of it all.

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Northwest Argentina: Planning Your Trip

Cactus, Tilcara, Argentina

When To Go

The best time of year to visit Northwest Argentina is in April and May, when the heavy rains and intense heat of the summer months (December – March) have subsided and the foliage is at its finest.  April is also the month when red peppers are harvested and laid out to dry in the lovely mountain village of Cachi.  Do not despair if visiting during these months is not feasible.  Northwest Argentina enjoys a mild climate year round and can be visited comfortably at any time.

Suggested Itineraries

The distances in Northwest Argentina are immense.  To visit the three most important sub-regions– the Calchaqui Valley, the Quebrada de Humahuaca and the Puna— you need at least two weeks.  If you have less than a week, you will need to select only one of these places to visit.  In that case, I would suggest limiting your trip to the Calchaqui Valley, which has both spectacular scenery that can be enjoyed while driving and hiking and world-class vineyards and spas for relaxing.

Below I have included two sample itineraries.  They are deliberately brief with links to prior entries for you to obtain more detailed information about each place.

Five Days

Road from Cachi to Cafayate, Argentina

Day 1: Arrive in Salta.  Stay at Finca Valentina.

Day 2: Depart Salta for a road trip through the Calchaqui Valley.  Drive to Cachi and stay at Finca la Paya.

Day 3: Drive from Cachi to Cafayate.  Stay at Patios de Cafayate or Casa de la Bodega.

Day 4: Enjoy a relaxing day of wine tasting, hiking or massages in Cafayate.

Day 5: Return to Salta (3 hours from Cafayate) and board flight home.

Two Weeks

Red and Silver Mountains, Puna, Argentina

Day 1: Arrive in Salta.  Stay at Finca Valentina.

Day 2: Explore Salta.

Day 3: Depart Salta for a road trip through the Calchaqui Valley.  Drive to Cachi and stay at Finca la Paya.

Day 4: Drive from Cachi to Cafayate.  Stay at Patios de Cafayate or Casa de la Bodega.

Day 5: Enjoy a relaxing day of wine tasting, hiking or massages in Cafayate.

Day 6: Arrange for a local guide to pick you up from Cafayate and drive you to El Peñon in the Puna.  Though the drive from Cafayate to El Peñon can be done on your own, once in the Puna you will need to be accompanied by a professional guide in order to explore this region safely.  We had a fantastic experience with our guide, Pompon, from Socompa.

Day 7: Day trip from El Peñon to Campo de Piedra Pomez and Laguna Grande.

Day 8: Drive from El Peñon to Tolar Grande.

Day 9: Day trip from Tolar Grande to Mina La Casualidad or Desierto del Laberinto.

Day 10: Drive from Tolar Grande to Salta.

Day 11: Depart for Quebrada de Humahuaca.  Stop in Purmamarca for photos in the late morning and then continue to Tilcara to spend the night at Las Terrazas.

Day 12: Visit the Pucara (indigenous ruins) of Tilcara in the morning and return to Salta in the afternoon.  Stay at Selva Montana in the suburb of San Lorenzo.

Day 13: Enjoy a relaxing day of hiking and lounging by the pool in San Lorenzo.

Day 14: Fly home.

Northwest Argentina: Food and Nightlife in Tilcara

La Casa de Champa, Tilcara, Argentina

Tilcara is one of several sleepy colonial villages along the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow, arid ravine 155 km long in the extreme northwest of Argentina, bordering Bolivia.  Travelers flock to the Quebrada for its breathtaking views of orange, pink and purple tinted mountains and to explore indigenous ruins and a rural way of life.  During my recent visit to Tilcara, I discovered that this particular village offers an unexpected surprise for such a remote corner of Argentina: quirky restaurants, cafes and live music venues with delicious and creative food.  Tilcara’s food and nightlife make it an ideal base for visiting the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Here are my favorite Tilcara food and nightlife discoveries:

1) La Casa de Champa, Belgrano 249, Tilcara

In an old colonial style house with a cozy interior adorned with clay tea pots, religious icons and hand-woven ponchos, this tea shop is the perfect place to experience my favorite Argentina custom, the afternoon tea ritual known as merienda.  Here you will find a wide selection of loose-leaf teas mixed with local herbs (my favorite “Yungas” is named for a nearby jungle), as well as exquisite homemade desserts, like the heavenly torta alemana made with fluffy layers of meringue, cake and chocolate.  An absolute must for lovers of tea and cake!

La Casa de Champa, Tilcara, Argentina

2) El Nuevo Progreso, Lavalle 351, Tilcara

This stylish restaurant owned by a hip young couple from Buenos Aires functions as an art gallery as well as a restaurant.  Contemporary artwork illuminated by candles hangs from the walls, while the high ceilings and elegant façade provide a reminder of Tilcara’s colonial heritage.  The menu takes a creative twist on local cuisine with many excellent options for vegetarians, like the quinoa salad with mushrooms, sesame and grilled vegetables.  The highlight of the meal was the dessert (I ordered the chocolate mousse), which was out of this world.

El Nuevo Progreso, Tilcara, Argentina

3) La Peña de Carlitos, Lavalle 397, Tilcara

The most famous peña in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, this is a wonderful place to come for a drink after dinner to listen to lively stories and music by local performers.   Here you will appreciate the distinct cultural heritage of Northwest Argentina.

La Peña de Carlitos, Tilcara, Argentina

Northwest Argentina: Best Empanadas

Empanadas, Papabuelo, El Carril, Argentina

The empanada salteña, from the northwest province of Salta, is the most beloved of empanadas in Argentina, a country obsessed with these small and savory pastries.  Empanadas originated in Salta and are made differently in this province than in other parts of Argentina.  They are miniature in size and typically filled with finely chopped steak, potato, egg and chili pepper.  Though they can be ordered fried, the traditional version is baked in a mud oven.

I have always loved empanadas and part of what attracted me to Salta was its reputation for empanadas.  During my two weeks in Northwest Argentina, I embarked on a search for the best empanadas, constantly hounding locals for recommendations and sampling as many as I could.  What I found surprised me: the most popular spot among tourists and locals alike, the Patio de la Empanada in Salta City, disappointed me.  However, near the end of my trip, while stopping in the remote mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres for lunch, I unexpectedly stumbled upon an empanada so sublime that I will never forget it.

Here is my list of favorite empanadas spots in Salta Province ranked from best to worst:

1) El Puneño, San Antonio de los Cobres, Salta Province, Argentina    

In a sad and dusty mining town in the heart of the Argentine Puna, I found my favorite empanada in all of Salta Province.  Rich in flavor, with a soft, delicate dough that will melt in your mouth, they can be ordered fried or baked and with a variety of fillings.  This is a perfect place to stop and have lunch on the road between Salta City and Tolar Grande.

El Puneño, San Antonio de los Cobres, Argentina

2) Doña Salta, Salta City, Argentina 

A block from the central plaza of Salta City, this large and affordable restaurant featuring an extensive menu of regional specialties serves excellent empanadas.  The empanada de charqui, filled with salted dried meat, is particularly tasty.  However, the empanadas, though delicious, are overshadowed by the fabulous carbonada, a thick pumpkin soup with veal, potato and spices, possibly my favorite dish in all of Northern Argentina.

3) El Papabuelo, El Carril, Salta Province, Argentina

This rustic roadside eatery, about 45 minutes south of Salta City, is a convenient place to stop for lunch when traveling to either Cachi or Cafayate.  Meals are served at outdoor wooden tables in a patio surrounding the traditional mud oven used for baking empanadas.  The empanadas are decent, as are the corn-based humitas and tamales.

El Papabuelo, El Carril, Argentina

4) El Patio de la Empanada, Salta City, Argentina

Ask almost anyone who has lived in or visited Salta where to go for the best empanada and you will likely be told to come here.  Every blog I read and every taxi driver I asked insisted that this was the place where I would taste the best empanada of my life.  With such high expectations, it is perhaps not surprising that the empanadas I had here disappointed me.

Still, I would recommend that anyone visiting Salta stop here at least once for a quick empanada run.  The setting, a collection of colorful empanada stands clustered around a sunny courtyard, will appeal to anyone with a penchant for street food.  The prices, too, are hard to beat.  And, though I found the empanadas to be bland and generic, keep in mind I only sampled empanadas from two of the stands and there were several more options I could have tried.  To avoid a similarly disappointing experience, I recommend ordering a single empanada from each stand until you find the one you like best.

Patio de la Empanada, Salta, Argentina

Patio de la Empanada, Salta, Argentina

Northwest Argentina: Road Trip Through Calchaqui Valley

Calchaqui Valley, Argentina

The Calchaqui Valley is situated high in the mountains of Salta Province in Northwest Argentina.  A river cuts across this long and arid valley that is defined by its stunning variety of landscapes: lush oases, strange and colorful rock formations, snowy peaks and vast plains dotted by sand and flowering cacti.

The best way to see the Calchaqui Valley is by renting a car and exploring it on your own.  The starting point for this road trip is Salta, a busting city of 650,000 inhabitants and the capital of Salta province.  From Salta, drive to Cachi, a tiny mountain village with cobblestone streets and colonial style buildings in the shadow of a snow-covered mountain, the Nevado de Cachi.  The final stop is Cafayate, a larger town encircled by vineyards and red rock mountains, which is an ideal place to rest for a day or two before returning to Salta.

Car rental tip: Rent your car from Federico Ochoa at Marina Semisa Rent A Car near Plaza 9 de Julio in Salta.  I had read horror stories before my trip from travelers who rented cars from other local car rental agencies, but Federico came highly recommended to us by our hotel and was indeed extremely reliable and professional.

Recommended Itinerary:

Day One: Salta to Cachi

Distance: 98 miles on both paved and unpaved roads, allow up to six hours including stops for lunch and photos

From Salta, drive south along Route 68 for about 45 minutes and stop for lunch at the wonderfully rustic El Papabuelo in El Carril, a small roadside eatery specializing in empanadas made in a traditional wood-burning oven, as well as other regional favorites like corn-based humitas and tamales.

Tamal, El Papabuelo, El Carril, Argentina

From El Carril, turn west onto Route 33 and brace yourself for one of the most bizarre and spectacular drives of your life.  Past the grand estancias and tobacco fields of Chicoana, you will enter the Quebrada de Escoipe, a verdant ravine bordered by steep and winding cliffs with rock faces shaped like Venetian masks that will startle you unexpectedly at every turn.  From there, the road begins to ascend the famed Cuesta del Obispo.  The green vegetation slowly fades and gives way to arid rocks and parched mountains dotted with flowering cacti, known as candelabra for being shaped like antique candlestick holders with multiple arms.  After reaching the summit, Piedra de Molino at an elevation of 3348 meters (10,984 feet), you will descend onto a wide-open plain crowded with even more cacti, the heart of Parque Nacional Los Cardones, a park with informative signs and well-marked trails for seeing the cacti.

Oasis near Cachi

Your final stop for the day is Cachi, a village high in the mountains with cobblestone streets and white colonial buildings with green doors.  You will want to stop in Cachi for a walk around the village with your camera, before heading to your hotel, Finca La Paya (see previous entry), a nineteenth century farmhouse situated in a river valley about fifteen minutes south of Cachi with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

Finca La Paya, Cachi, Argentina

Day Two: Cachi to Cafayate

Distance: 102 miles on an unpaved road, allow eight hours including stops for shopping, lunch and photos

From Finca La Paya, drive south along Route 40.  Take a detour between El Colte and Seclantes to visit the Camino de Artesanos, a country road that runs parallel to Route 40.  This road is home to Argentina’s finest poncho makers.  Here you can watch the artisans at work and buy ponchos and other textiles.  The road ends in Seclantes, a lovely village with colonial architecture and lush vegetation, an oasis in the desert that is the Calchaqui Valley.

Seclantes, Argentina

Stop for lunch at Hacienda De Molinos, the beautifully preserved home of the last governor of Salta Province under Spanish rule.  Dine under the shade of an enormous leafy pepper tree in the main courtyard of the hacienda and then take a stroll through the surrounding village of Molinos, another colonial gem along Route 40.

Molinos, Argentina

South of Molinos virtually all traces of vegetation and water disappear.  The road turns to sand and curves through a narrow maze of jagged rocks piercing upward like arrows, the aptly named Quebrada de las Flechas.  Be warned that the landscape here is so bizarre that you will want to stop every few minutes to take photos.

Quebrada de las Flechas, Salta Province, Argentina

Finally, you will reach the red rock mountains and vineyards of your destination, Cafayate.  Here there are many fantastic places to stay, including the ultra luxurious Patios de Cafayate and more affordable but highly recommended Casa de la Bodega.

Day Three: Cafayate

Take a break from the long days of driving and indulge in the vineyards, spas and incredible landscapes of Cafayate.  There are many fashionable and costly vineyards to choose from including Esteco of Cafayate, but those seeking a less pretentious experience will prefer San Pedro de Yacochuya or Bodega Nanni.  Spas can be found at the high-end hotels, including Patios de Cafayate.

Vineyard near Cafayate

At sunset, take a drive with your camera through the terracotta colored rocks of Quebrada de las Conchas, the third in a series of stunning ravines you will have encountered by now in the Calchaqui Valley.  Those staying at Casa de la Bodega can hike to the Quebrada from their hotel.

Quebrada de las Conchas, Cafayate, Argentina

Day Four: Cafayate to Salta

Distance: 115 miles on a good paved road, allow four hours including stops for lunch and photos

Return to Salta along Route 68, a good paved road, which will get you back to Salta in less than three hours if you make no stops.  The main attraction along this road is Quebrada de las Conchas, which I recommend those interested in photography visit separately the day before so that you can enjoy the intense colors of the rocks at sunset.

Quebrada de las Conchas

Just past the town of Alemania, stop for lunch at La Posta de las Cabras, a dairy farm with a delightful restaurant specializing in homemade goat cheese, sumptuous olives, salads and desserts.

Goat cheese, La Posta de las Cabras, Alemania, Salta, Argentina

End your trip in Salta.  For hotel recommendations in Salta, see previous entry.

Northwest Argentina: Best Hotels

Finca Valentina, Salta, Argentina

Hotels I Loved

1) Finca Valentina, Salta, Argentina

On a country estate in a bucolic suburb of Salta, this exquisitely decorated colonial style inn with only five guest rooms features a quintessentially Argentine aesthetic and superb service.  An adobe façade gives way to cool stone floors and white washed walls draped with colorful hand-woven rugs and gaucho saddles and hats.  Baskets of bright red chili peppers dried in the sun rest lazily atop rustic wooden furniture.

The friendly and attentive staff prepares lavish three course dinners of regional favorites like beef filet and ossobuco paired with excellent local wines.  Guests with a fondness for sweets will swoon over the homemade cakes and cookies served for afternoon merienda and breakfast.  A swimming pool, airy living room with adjoining outdoor seating area and individual patio for each guest room provide ample opportunities for relaxation while staring at the mountains that surround the estate.

Finca Valentina, Salta, Argentina

Finca Valentina, Salta, ArgentinaFinca Valentina, Salta, Argentina

2) Finca La Paya, Cachi, Argentina

In the foothills of the snow covered Nevado de Cachi mountains, this nineteenth century farmhouse built upon the ruins on an important Inca settlement evokes an earlier era.  The cozy and dimly lit interior of low ceilings and exposed stone walls adorned with religious paintings conjures images of poncho-wearing gauchos who likely passed through here 100 years earlier.

A long veranda, known as galerias, wraps around the house and faces the dramatic mountains and river valley that sit on the hotel’s property, complete with a vineyard and walnut orchard.  Activities include lounging by the swimming pool and hiking into the nearby mountains.  The owner’s daughter, Virginia, is a wonderful host and source of information regarding history and culture of the region.  Though simpler than some of the boutique options in the area, Finca La Paya is exceptionally comfortable and stands out for its amazing value (about US $50 for a double room with breakfast included).

Finca La Paya, Cachi, ArgentinaFinca La Paya, Cachi, Argentina

Where I Wish I Had Stayed

 My principal regret during my trip to Northern Argentina was not reserving at least two nights for my stay in the town of Cafayate, about three hours south of Salta.   Cafayate offers world-class vineyards and spas and is thus the ideal place to rest for a few days amidst a hectic sightseeing tour of the Calchaqui Valley.  If money were no object, I would no doubt stay at the opulent Patios de Cafayate, which I was told by a guide is so enchanting that guests frequently miss flights home to be able to prolong their stay.

On a moderate budget, however, I would have happily stayed at Casa de la Bodega, a boutique hotel and vineyard which boasts the extraordinary perk of being located among the mesmerizing rock formations of the Quebrada de las Conchas.

Another regret was not visiting San Lorenzo, a suburb of Salta known for its lush beauty and hiking paths.  I could have gone for the day or stayed at the affordable and highly recommended Selva Montana.

 

Argentina: How to Save Money by Avoiding the Official Exchange Rate

Argtine100Pesobill

Probably the most frustrating and overwhelming aspect of traveling to Argentina these days is navigating the exchange rate.  Usually, when traveling abroad, this is not an issue that requires any advance planning.  You simply arrive in a new country, compare the rates offered by various banks or official exchange houses and select the one that gives you the best rate.

However, in Argentina, if you are looking for a bank or official exchange house, you are already on the wrong track.  That is because these sites use the official exchange rate, but everyone else in Argentina uses the black market, or “Blue”, exchange rate.  The difference between the two is very significant.  Currently, at the official rate, US $1 equals 6.5 pesos, while at the Blue rate, US $1 equals 10 pesos.  Accessing the Blue rate, or at least one that is close to it, will save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars during a single trip to Argentina.

The problem is that, in order to access the Blue rate, you must sell your dollars on the black market.  And while it has become commonplace to find black market buyers, known as “arbolitos”, huddled like drug dealers on street corners throughout Argentina, fraud is rampant and the risk of getting scammed very high.  So, how can you, as a foreign tourist, obtain a favorable exchange rate without becoming a victim of fraud?  Here are two ways:

1)  Sell dollars to a trusted Argentine acquaintance

If you have friends in Argentina, or if you have friends who can put you in touch with their friends or family in Argentina, you should have an easy time finding a buyer willing to exchange your dollars at a favorable rate.  Though Argentines must pay a higher price to buy dollars on the black market, they are willing to pay this price because recent policies have severely restricted their ability to buy dollars through official channels.  In addition, they are eager to buy dollars because rising inflation makes it nearly impossible for them to save money in their own currency.  As a tourist, you can benefit from this situation by selling your dollars to a trusted acquaintance at a rate that is equal or close to the Blue rate without taking the risk of selling to a stranger on the black market.

2)  Transfer dollars from a U.S. bank account using Xoom.com

Fortunately, if you do not have friends in Argentina, there is another solution for you.  The money transfer website Xoom.com allows you to transfer up to US $2000 in a single transaction from a U.S. bank account to yourself at one of their pick up locations in Argentina.  The advantage of this method is that Xoom, unlike a bank, converts your dollars into pesos using an exchange rate that is significantly more favorable than the official exchange rate.  Currently, at the Xoom exchange rate, US $1 equals 8.8 pesos.  That is not as high as the Blue rate, which would give you 10 pesos, but is significantly better than the official exchange rate, which would give you 6.5 pesos.

Xoom charges a small fee for each transaction, but as long as you transfer a large sum of money, the loss in minimal.  When I was traveling in Argentina about a month ago, I was able to save US $1200 on a single transaction (a five day tour and several nights at a hotel) by using Xoom compared to what I would have spent using the official exchange rate.  The savings are significant and, therefore, Xoom is a fantastic alternative for travelers unable to access the Blue rate.

For more tips on exchanging money in Argentina, refer to two excellent Argentina based expat blogs: Gringo in Buenos Aires and Discover Buenos Aires.  

 

La Quebrada de Humahuaca

Cerro de los Seite ColoresThe Quebrada de Humahuaca is a narrow, arid ravine 155 km long in the extreme northwest of Argentina, bordering Bolivia.  It follows the course of a dried out river, the Rio Grande, and is flanked on either side by villages and churches from the colonial era and vibrant mountains with multicolored rock faces.  There are also pervasive signs of the area’s indigenous past–ancient hilltop forts and rock fences for growing quinoa and potatoes, as well as the Inca Royal Road, a reminder of the Incas’ 60 year reign over northwest Argentina.

Jorge and I spent the last three days exploring the main towns of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, Purmamarca, a picturesque village famous for the Cerro de Siete Colores (translates to “Hill of Seven Colors,” pictured above) and Tilcara, a bohemian enclave with lively restaurants, museums and local music joints known as peñas.  We also ventured into the mountains above Tilcara and stayed on an immense estate owned by one of the direct descendants of Colonel Manuel Alvarez Prado, remembered as a hero in Tilcara for helping to secure gaucho control over the Quebrada (http://www.casacolorada.com.ar).  Next stop: Bolivia!

Purmamarca, Jujuy, Argentina

Purmamarca, Jujuy, Argentina

Tilcara, Jujuy, Argentina

Tilcara, Jujuy, Argentina

Tilcara, Jujuy, Argentina

The Argentine Puna

Campo de Piedra Pomes, La Puna, ArgentinaThe Puna of northwestern Argentina is an ancient plateau of hard crystalline rock more than three thousand meters above sea level.  It comprises the lesser known corner of the Atacama Desert, which is shared by northern Chile and southern Bolivia and Peru.  The driest place on Earth, it is one of the few spots on our planet to contain regions devoid of any life form.

During my five day journey through the Argentine Puna, I was stunned by the eerie, otherworldly quality of my surroundings: red, silver and purple mountains, volcanoes so black they appear to be permanently shaded by clouds, dazzling white salt flats, vast fields strewn with lava or bits of gray rubble.  And yet, within this arid, inhospitable land, life manages to sprout to the surface: oases of leafy green trees, yellow straw-like grasses, pink flamencos, furry llamas and graceful vicuñas.  It is no wonder scientists come here to study how life might have formed on Mars.

Lunar landscape, Puna, Argentina

Lunar landscape, Puna, Argentina

Red and Silver Mountains, Puna, ArgentinaIMG_3577Cono Arita, Puna, Argentina

Laguna Grande, Puna, Argentina

Laguna Grande, Puna, ArgentinaVicuñas, Puna, Argentina

Llamas, Puna, ArgentinaAntofallita, Puna, ArgentinaSuri, Puna, Argentina

Los Valles Calchaquies, Argentina

Vineyard near Cafayate

The Calchaqui Valley is situated high in the mountains of Salta Province in Northwest Argentina.  A river cuts across this long and arid valley that is defined by its stunning variety of landscapes: lush oases, strange and colorful rock formations, snowy peaks and vast plains dotted by sand and flowering cacti.

This week, Jorge and I embarked on a three day road trip through the Calchaqui Valley. We started in Salta, a busting city of 650,000 inhabitants and the capital of Salta province.  From there, we drove to Cachi, a tiny mountain village with cobblestone streets and colonial style buildings in the shadow of the towering Nevado de Cachi and finally to Cafayate, a larger town encircled by vineyards and red rock mountains.  Below are some photos we took from the road.

Parque Nacional Los Cardones

Oasis near CachiSeclantesQuebrada de las FlechasQuebrada de las Conchas