The charm of Northern Argentina lies in its small towns, tucked between incredible mountain formations and valleys. You might come to this part of the country to see the multi-hued mountains and the large salt flats, but it is the villages and the people that will make you fall in love with this corner of Argentina.
Whether you’re hiring a car and road tripping across the north-west corner by yourself, or you’re taking day trips from Salta city, these are some of the towns of Salta and Jujuy you’ll encounter along the way.
The small towns in Salta and Jujuy are authentic travel destinations / Photo by Luiza Cavalcante
Cafayate is the wine capital of Northern Argentina and a firm favourite for travellers. The picturesque town is surrounded by lush green vineyards, creating the feel of an oasis. With lots of hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts and camping spots, it’s the ideal spot to relax for a few days, whatever your budget. There are plenty of activities to choose from: go wine tasting, relax at a café on the beautiful central square, go hiking to the Cascadas del Rio Colorado (a series of waterfalls) or explore the unreal Quebrada de Cafayate rock formations on the route between Salta and Cafayate.
It's not all about the desert landscapes; Cafayate is home to lush, green vineyards / Photo by Daytours4u
One of the most charming and unique places in this region is Cachi, a beautiful colonial village known for its gorgeous white adobe buildings. Besides the beauty of the town itself, it’s the route to get there that offers the real wow factor. The drive through the Calchaquí Valley, particularly through the Quebrada de Escoipe, the Cuesta del Obispo pass and the Valle Encantado, makes up for the bad roads with incredible scenery. The perfect way to visit Cachi is either with a guided day tour or as part of a driving loop combining Cafayate and San Antonio de los Cobres.
SAN ANTONIO DE LOS COBRES
The small mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres is famous because of its location along the route of the famous Train to the Clouds (Tren de las Nubes). It’s one of the highest towns in Argentina in terms of altitude, sitting at 3.775 metres above sea level. Not many tourists choose to stay over in the town, although it is a good stop over town if you’re driving from Cachi to Salinas Grandes / Purmamarca.
The route through Calchaquí Valley between the small towns is quite simply spectacular / Photo by Daytours4u
Humahuaca lies north of Tilcara, in Jujuy province, and is close to the Bolivian border. It is one of the largest towns in the area and is located in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a long valley that is part of the Camino Inca. The main reason for visiting is to see the canyon with its spectacular mountains, but the town itself is also scenic and peaceful. Sightsee the white-washed colonial houses, pick up some unique souvenirs, and take a walk up to the Monumento de la Independencia (Monument to the heroes of the Independence).
One of the most bustling small towns north of Salta is Tilcara. Located between San Salvador de Jujuy and Humahuaca, this town has blossomed, with lots of restaurants, cafés and bars, and plenty of hostels to accommodate the crowds that fill it during the busy Carnival season. Besides the narrow cobbled streets and great vibes, the drawcard to staying here are the Pucará de Tilcara ruins. This pre-Incan settlement located on a hill on the outskirts of town is a must to visit. There is also a great 4-hour walk to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) waterfall. If you’re driving, make sure you fill up your tank at Tilcara’s gas station - it’s the only one you’ll see in a while.
The Pucará de Tilcara Ruins and monument is a highlight of the region / Photo by Daytours4u
Tucked spectacularly into a mountain pass is the remote village of Iruya, in northern Salta. It’s considered by many to be the most magical town in the region. It’s only reachable through Jujuy along a 46km dirt road. Locals don’t recommend you do this drive yourself but take a bus instead. The windy road to reach the town can be dicey but offers some incredible views. If you have time, try to stay over a night or two here to take advantage of the great hiking around the town.
This enchanting little village is famous for its incredible mountain backdrop - Cerro de los Siete Colores (the Hill of Seven Colours). Many people pass through on their way to the Salinas Grandes salt flats, but they’d be missing out two wonderful walking trails around the tiny town, to see the hill (and the many other magnificent mountains around it) from different angles. The village is small with a beautiful central square, great handicrafts and a number of comfortable accommodation options.
Purmamarca in the foothills of the Mountain of Seven Colours / Image Source
While in an ideal world you’ll have time in your itinerary to take your time driving through all these incredible small towns of Salta and Jujuy, this might not be possible for your vacation. Luckily, you can visit most of these towns on day trips from Salta, or can choose to do a short trip to just a few villages of your choice.
Looking for more tours and activities in and around Salta? Visit Argentina4u.
By: Nicole Eberhard, travel writer and avid explorer, with a Masters in English Literature.