If Northern Argentina is on your travel itinerary (and it should be), a Salinas Grandes Day Tour is sure to be the high point of you holiday. This comprehensive tour traversing Salta and Jujuy will not only allow you to capture stunning photos of the Andean mountain and desert landscapes, but will also introduce you to the region’s deep traditions, culture and kindness.
It’s also worth noting that this region is one of the most affordable places to visit in Argentina, especially compared to Southern Argentina, as well as Buenos Aires. If you’re looking for great value for your money or to stretch your budget, Salta should definitely be on your radar.
Ruins of Tastil & El Alfarcito
This full day tour from Salta starts early in the morning from the city of Salta. Between seven and eight in the monring, a shuttle service picked us up at our accommodation. Equipped with water bottles, sunscreen, sunglasses and dressed in comfortable clothing – as was recommended to us when booking – we boarded the van to embark on an amazing trip.
Important: This Salinas Grandes Day Tour, also known as Vuelta Por Las Alturas, has a duration of approximately 14 hours. We recommend following the guide’s advice to make the most of this experience, and to prepare yourself for a long, but unforgettable day.
Following the road that goes the same route as the Tren de las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), the first stop was the Tastil Ruins. Here we found the first cardones (a cactus typical of the Andean region) in a desert surrounded by pastel-coloured mountains that was a nice preview of what was to come.
Another stop before lunch was a pueblito (small town) called El Afarcito. An interesting aura surrounds this little village. Our guide told us the story of a local priest, known as Padre Chifri, who recently passed away. Chifri was the man behind the significant social work in this town. After this brief stop in El Alfarcito, we carried on to visit another village before stopping for lunch.
San Antonio de los Cobres and Llama Meat
Reaching San Antonio de los Cobres, it was time to sample a typical delicacy of the region: the exotic llama meat. Llama is like “cattle” in this region and is a typical meat to find in local dishes. Our guide recommended trying the meat, as it is tender and fatty. The lentil stew with llama meat I tried was a dish I’ll never forget – the guide was definitely right! I even got some empanadas with llama meat filling to take with me for the rest of the tour. Note that the cost of the meal is not included in the tour price.
Leaving the restaurant, some locals were selling miniature crocheted llamas. They were beautifully and delicately made, and are the perfect souvenir for yourself or as gift.
Salinas Grandes: The Salt Flats
The next stop was the most awaited moment of our tour. The photos we’d seen beforehand couldn’t prepare us for the sight of the salt flats located in the Puna de Atacama (Atacama Plateau). Stretching for approximately 200 km², a vast white desert awaits. You will need sunglasses and sunscreen, as the sunlight illuminated off the ground is intense!
The guide suggested that we take off our shoes, put our feet in the salt water and taste a little piece of this salty landscape. Next to the salt desert, an abandoned construction drew our attention. This ruin was an old restaurant that failed and was taken over by the salt, turning it into another attraction in Salinas Grandes where you can buy unique souvenirs made from salt.
Purmamarca and the Hill of 7 Colours
After leaving the great white salt flats of Argentina, our last stop, but definitely not the least impressive, was the town of Purmamarca. Located 65 km from the capital of Jujuy, this place is special both during the day, where you can see the incredible Cerro de los Siete Colores (The Hill of Seven Colours), and at night where the bar-restaurant Entre Amigos is the perfect spot to enjoy Chacarera, a local genre of folk music and dance. We arrived to the town in the late afternoon, and strolled through the main crafts fair that takes place every day in the town square.
The Salinas Grandes Tour goes from Purmamarca back to Salta, where you will be dropped off at your accommodation. However, we decided to stay on in Purmamarca for an evening so that we could explore some of the other little towns in the area. For a small town with no more than 20 blocks, Purmamarca has a number of hostels to stay in and an interesting number of restaurants. We spent a pleasant evening here in this small town surrounded by dramatic mountains.
Tips for traveling through Northern Argentina:
- If you have the time, it is worth renting a car in one of the capitals (Salta or Jujuy), which will allow you to explore all the little towns without worrying about the confusing bus schedules.
- Whether you’re travelling with friends, as a couple or solo, a hostel in this part of the country is a good place to stay. Despite the fact that the towns are small and lack complete tourist infrastructure, they all have good, comfortable and great-value lodging options.
- Don’t travel through the deserts and mountains alone. This part of the country doesn’t attract the same numbers of people as the South, and there are areas that are quite isolated. While it isn’t a particularly dangerous region, be cautious and travel with a group or with a tour.
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By: Luiza Cavalcante | Adapted by Nicole Eberhard