Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Northwest Argentina
Train to the Clouds, one of the world's highest railways, takes you on a scenic 269-mile (434-kilometer) journey with views of colorful rock formations. The train ascendes 13,842 feet (4,220 meters), passing through 21 tunnels and crossing 29 bridges and 13 viaducts. The climax comes as La Polvorilla viaduct spans a massive desert canyon.
Purmamarca, in Jujuy Province, just north of Salta, is considered one of Argentina’s most beautiful villages. The town’s adobe houses and Spanish colonial church are all pretty in their own right, but the backdrop of the spectacular Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors ) makes the area particularly picturesque.
Following the Rio Grande along the ancient Inca Road,theHumahuaca Ravine (Quebrada de Humahuaca) is known both for its natural wonders and historic importance. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ravine boasts magnificent scenery—sweeping desert valleys and jagged cliffs striped in shades of pink, red, lavender, and gray—dotted with ancient ruins and Quechan villages.
The Historical Museum of the North in Salta, Argentina is one of the most important museums in the country. The building was once the town hall building and is a true example of colonial architecture. The original building dated back to 1626, but its structure did not hold up, and new construction began in the late 1700s. The building was remodeled and renovated in 1945, and the museum opened in 1949. It is a National Historic Landmark.
Centuries of Argentinean and South American historical treasures are housed here, including items from the indigenous culture and the colonial period. The rooms are arranged throughout two floors in chronological order starting with the pre-Hispanic era. Displays include art, furniture, artifacts, documents and transportation. A changing of the guard ceremony with gauchos takes place at noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in front of the building.
A desert-like expanse of snow-white salt plains await you at the Great Salt Flats (Salinas Grandes), which are located at an altitude of 11,320 feet (3,450 meters). Covering 132 square miles (212 square kilometers), they’re the third-largest salt flats in the world and among Argentina’s most impressive natural landscapes.
With its jagged cliffs and red-rock formations, Shells' Ravine (Quebrada de las Conchas) is one of Northern Argentina’s most impressive natural wonders. Located just outside Cafayate, the ravine is the star attraction of the Calchaquí Valley and is a must-see sight for first-time visitors and budding photographers.
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.
The star attraction of Argentina’s famous Train to the Clouds (Tren a las Nubes) is the mighty Polvorilla Viaduct (Viaducto de la polvorilla). At an altitude of 13,842 feet (4,220 meters), the 20th-century viaduct is the highest point of the railway route and affords spectacular views over the surrounding Andes.
Toro Gorge (Quebrada del Toro) is a gorge northwest of Salta, Argentina. It is along the famous narrow-gauge railway, Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) that runs between Salta and San Antonio de los Cobres, a small mining town at the top of the gorge. The gorge is surrounded by dense forest, imposing rock formations, and colorful varieties of cactus that make for some awe-inspiring scenery. The gorge is named after the nearby river, Rio Toro, which is a calm trickle most of the year. But in the spring its waters are often raging.
The train's path, as well as the path that tour buses take, runs through the Valle de Lerma and climbs to higher elevations, eventually reaching Toro Gorge (Quebrada del Toro) and San Antonio de los Cobres at an elevation of 12,300 feet. Along the way, visitors can see the ruins of a pre-Inca village called Santa Rosa de Tastil, as well as several bridges and viaducts.
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.
More Things to Do in Northwest Argentina
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.
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.
Amid the wild landscapes of the Andes mountains and at an altitude of 9,186 feet (2,800 meters), the tiny village of El Alfarcito feels like a forgotten outpost of Argentina’s Wild West. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in character, with a vibrant indigenous community and a daily handicrafts market.
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.
San Bernardo Hill(Cerro San Bernardo) is a mountain that overlooks Salta, Argentina located east of the city center. From the top of the mountain, you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the city, including La Merced, San Francisco and San Alfonso Churches and the Cathedral of Salta. You'll also be able to see Plaza 9 de Julio and the Cabildo (Town Hall) as well as the roads to Cafayate and Campo Quijano. San Bernardo Hill is also a religious place that attracts pilgrims on the first Sunday of every May. There are 14 stations of the Way of the Cross on the hill.
The summit can be reached by cable car, driving, or on foot. The footpath up the hill involves climbing 1,070 steps, which takes about 30 minutes. There is a restaurant at the top of the hill serving food and beverages and a shop selling handicrafts.
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.
San Bernardo Convent, built in the 16th century, is one of the oldest buildings in Salta, Argentina and was declared a National Historical Monument in 1941. It was originally built when San Bernardo was chosen as the patron saint of the city, and it was used as the city's main church while the Salta Cathedral was being built. Aside from the church, it also operated a hospital on and off for about 200 years, but by the mid-1800s, hospital operations ceased and it became a convent.
Over the centuries, San Bernardo Convent has been reconstructed and renovated several times, both for aesthetic reasons and as a result of an earthquake. The door dates from 1762 and was carved from carob tree wood by aboriginals. It once belonged to the Bernardo de la Cámara family and is considered a treasured piece of colonial art in Salta.
The San Francisco Church and Monastery in Salta, Argentina was originally built in the early 1600s, but it has been reconstructed and remodeled several times. In 1870, architect Luis Giorgi constructed a tall tower on the front of the church, and at 174 feet (53 meters) tall, it is the highest tower of its kind in South America. In 1909, a clock was added to the tower. In 1915 marble floors were installed and the church was set up to start receiving electricity. It has a long, narrow nave that is ornately decorated. The church's facade designed in a Baroque style and is distinct in its red and yellow color scheme.
The church has an important library where old books are kept, including rare and priceless antique editions. Several pieces of valuable art can also be found in the church and in its small museum. The San Francisco Church was declared a National Historical Monument on July 14, 1941.
The capital city of Jujuy province in Argentina is surrounded by mountains and located near the southern end of Quebrada de Humahuaca gorge. Visit San Salvador de Jujuy, founded by Spaniards in 1593, to experience the heritage of its culturally indigenous population, see eye-catching architecture, and soak up Argentine history.
Part of the ancient network of Incan trails running through northern Argentina, Tin Tin Straight Line (Recta de Tin Tin) is a super-straight stretch of road that extends for about 11 miles (18 km) along a seemingly perfectly flat plateau dotted with giant cardón cacti.
Some historians believe that the straight line was created by indigenous populations, which will seem like an incredible feat when you see just how long and straight it really is The road—now paved—passes through Los Cardones National Park, created in 1996 to protect the forest of cacti that covers the high-altitude plateau.
Located amid the vineyards and cacti-dotted ravines of the Calchaquí Valley, the Quilmes Ruins are a collection of ancient walls and fortifications perched on a hillside. The ruins are the remains of Argentina’s largest pre-Columbian settlement, which dates back to AD 75 and once housed 5,000 people.
The Cultural Center of the Americas is a building and organization dedicated to celebrating and promoting cultural events in Salta, Argentina. Events held here include concerts, art exhibits, educational workshops, and cultural, social and business groups. The building was designed by renowned architect and engineer Arturo Prins, and it was built in a French Neo-Baroque style in the early 1900s. Its original intent was to house the 20th of February Club, but the building was expropriated by Ricardo Durán, the governor of Salta at the time. It was a government building for about 40 years after that.
In 1987 the building underwent renovations and became the cultural center it is today. Artists from around the world come here to present their work in art shows, musicians perform here, political and economic conventions are held here, and many other organizations use the cultural center as an entertainment venue.
Some 150 years ago, European immigrants discovered the excellent high altitude wine growing conditions of Salta. In 1857 a pair of Spanish families joined forces to found La Banda Winery, the oldest winery in the Calchaquí Valley.
The name has since changed to Vasija Secreta Winery(Bodega Vasija Secreta), and today visitors can learn about wine production — both traditional and modern — in the winery’s small museum. Vasija Secreta also organizes wine tastings; as with many wineries in this part of Argentina, Vasija Secreta Winery is known for its Torrontés, but also produces notable Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec.
San Lorenzo is a village just outside of Salta, Argentina. It is home to some of the region's best hiking spots and beautiful scenery. One exceptional place to hike is el Duende de la Quebrada. Hiking up this mountain is sure to take some effort, but once you're at the top, you'll enjoy the gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape while being almost level with the clouds. San Lorenzo also offers lots of opportunities for horseback riding, renting an ATV or bicycle, or whitewater rafting to enjoy being out in nature.
The village is also known for its unusual subtropical micro climate. This used to be a summer retreat for wealthy families, but many people now come here to enjoy a quick escape from the city. There are also shops selling good handicrafts here.
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