Private Journeys

Off the beaten track Argentina: Remote Puna adventure

13 days from £3,534pp

Argentina

Itinerary

map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive Buenos Aires.

You’ll be staying in a central hotel. Buenos Aires is probably the most cosmopolitan metropolis in South America. Certainly it looks more European than the others: wide boulevards, Italianate architecture, art deco cafeterias and designer label shops. This seductive (though in some places following economic difficulties a bit shabby) city oozes atmosphere and nostalgia, with its colonial buildings, antique markets, shady squares and tango halls. 

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Day 2

Guided walking tour of Retiro and Recoleta.

In the early 20th century the city's aristocracy enjoyed huge prosperity. Looking to the Old World for inspiration, leading families copied the graceful architecture of belle époque France, covering the upmarket residential areas of Retiro and Recoleta with palatial façades lining shady cobbled boulevards. This walking tour takes you to former palaces and mansions which now have much more practical functions; the Military Society, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the  National Parks HQ.  Follow meandering Arroyo street with its art galleries, and finally stroll down the illustrious Avenida Alvear.

Argentine Tourist Board ©

Day 3

Fly to Salta. Afternoon guided walking tour.

The city of Salta is renowned for its colonial architecture, friendly population and claret-red ponchos. It lies at the foot of the eastern slopes of the Andes, in the only Argentine region where vestiges of indian heritage are still visible.
Your guided walking tour of the attractive city introduces you to some lovely baroque colonial buildings including the sumptuous cathedral on the main square. You’ll also enjoy views over the view of the city from San Bernardo Hill reached by cable car. 

STAFF IMAGES!

Day 4

At leisure in Salta. Optional day walks.

We recommend a visit to the MAAM (High Altitude Archaeology) Museum which reverently displays one or more of the perfectly preserved mummies of sacrificed children found high in the Andes.

If you fancy a trip out of town, there are some good day walks in the Salta region which we can pre-book for you. Nearby San Lorenzo has trails leading into cloud-forested hills which are popular with local people at weekends.  For more of a work-out, another option is an energetic hike on the higher-altitude Cuesta del Obispo with impressive mountain views.  

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Day 5

Your expedition begins: drive to Purmamarca.

Your guide and vehicle for your private expedition will meet you at your hotel, where you will have a briefing (the briefing may be the previous evening). The adventurous road trip begins with a scenic journey to the sunlit Humahuaca gorge, one of north-west Argentina's better-known attractions, where you spend the first night in the quaint village of Purmamarca.

Purmamarca is a small town in the gorge, whose multi-coloured eroded rock faces and hillsides make it one of the most stunning arid landscapes on earth. At 2,400m, the town is set at the foot of the aptly named Hill of the Seven Colours, and has a church consecrated in 1648, which you will see on your tour of the village, along with the handicraft market. Later, stop in Tilcara and visit an archaeological museum and the ruins of Pucara. Continue through other delightful villages  before arriving at picturesque Humahuaca. There is plenty of free time to enjoy its narrow cobbled streets and adobe colonial buildings, before driving back to Purmamarca.

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Day 6

Enter the Puna: drive to Tolar Grande.

Climb a winding road into the high Andes, the increasingly arid and empty landscape becoming ever more bleakly beautiful. You reach the rim of Salinas Grandes, a vast, flat and gleaming-white pan of natural salt, which is still mined today.Continue to the remote village San Antonio de los Cobres. The otherwise stripped-bare landscape is relieved by a few wind-torn areas of tufty grass, clinging to life on a dusty plain, hemmed in by the exposed ribs of naked, ochre mountains. The road then climbs through barren hills and past lonely churches to the highest point on today's journey at 4,500m. Here, you'll begin to spot tiny ghost villages and halts associated with an abandoned railway line.

Rise to a flat plain via a gorge between conical, deeply rust-red hills, Los Colorados, and cross the uncompromising Desierto del Diablo (Devil's Desert), populated only by flocks of vicuñas, to the modest hamlet Tolar Grande, 3,500m, where you spend two nights in a modest but cosy guest house.

Today's drive on gravel roads will take 6-8 hours or longer – as on the other days, you will be tempted to step out of the vehicle at the many scenic spots along the way.

David Nichols ©

Day 7

Explore the Puna from Tolar Grande.

There are two options for today. The first takes you to the abandoned settlements and ghost mines which stud the desert, dwarfed by the off-the-scale grandeur of the natural environment. These include Caipe, a haunting abandoned railway settlement and a very atmospheric place - a forlorn, rusting locomotive on the track, piles of sulphur, discarded railway timetables dating back to the 1970s in the former ticket office.  Further on, beyond salt flats with sweeping views of a bowl of rose-hued mountains is Mina la Casualidad (4,100m) where deserted houses, a church, a shop and a school playground are all overshadowed by the gigantic rusting hulks of the mine's crumbling infrastructure.  After a picnic lunch you may climb even higher to Mina Julia at a chilly 5,200m: it may be snowed in, but the snow-blanched scenery alone is worth the effort to get there.

The second, less ambitious option takes you first to the Ojos de Mar, close to Tolar Grande. These salt-encrusted circular freshwater pools, a splash of gemstone turquoise with a tawny backdrop, are a stunning sight in the sunlight of dawn or dusk when the mountains are reflected on the surface.  

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Day 8

Further explorations of the Puna en route to El Peñon.

Set off towards across the salt pan towards the Cono de Arita, a symmetrical black basalt cone rising out of the white salt desert. It’s 110m high and so perfect in form that it looks man-made, and is admired by New Agers for it magical properties. The gravel track continues with multi-faceted views of the cono and rainbow-hued hills rich with minerals and tiny plants. You may spot small herds of vicuña and donkeys along the way.

Arriving at the Salar de Antofalla, the largest salt lake in Argentina, the road descends into the white oblivion of the salt-flats, continuing across rock-strewn desert.  Arrive at Antofalla (pop. 40), an ancient oasis village where centuries-old adobe dwellings line the dusty streets leading to an exquisite white church. The road begins to climb steeply towards today's highest point, 4,600m, where farmed llamas graze on a high plateau of golden tufty grass. The descent begins towards the settlement Antofagasta de la Sierra, set on a vast plain of around 200 black basalt volcanic cones.

You may spend the night at the basic hotel here or continue to El Peñon. (3,400m, pop 300)  another quiet settlement with traditional adobe houses, a small plaza, and welcome splashes of green thanks to the poplar trees that are a feature of the small villages in this province. 

David Nichols ©

Day 9

Explore the unique, pearl-white pumice fields.

Today you discover one of the Puna’s most unique, surreal and breath-taking highlights: the dazzling Campo de Piedra Pomez (pumice stone field). Arrive first at towering snow-white dunes where you can relax or hike on the untrodden rippling sand, climbing along the ridge which shimmers against a cobalt blue desert sky. The views across the desert plateau towards the contorted rock of the luminous pumice field and pitch-black lava rocks are astounding. On a clear day you can picnic here.

Continue to the vast pumice fields themselves and wander through the silent canyons and wind-eroded crevasses. Later in the afternoon (Oct-Apr only) you can drive on to the Laguna Grande (3,500m), home to one of the world's largest populations of James flamingos. It's an extraordinary sight.  Return to El Peñon. 

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Day 10

Leave the Puna and descend to Cafayate.

Today your ultimate destination is the agreeable town of Cafayate, centre of a thriving wine region. Arriving here is a pleasant way to reintegrate into the modern world.

Leaving the Puna behind, you’ll travel up to the last high altitude pass (4,000m), with views over the pumice field and flocks of vicuña – one of just a few sightings of animals on the trip, save for domesticated creatures in the villages. From here it's downhill for over 2km of elevation, descending through canyons and gorges. The temperature rises and the rugged scenery is speckled with giant cacti and framed by multi-coloured mineral-infused mountains.  Pass through small communities and then, below 2,000m, vineyards will start to appear.

Visit the 18th century church at Hualfin, the first major wine-producing town in the valley. You may also have the chance to visit Quilmes pre-Columbian archaeological site, which tells the story of the expulsion by the Spanish of the Quilmes people and their enslavement in Buenos Aires. Some residences and temples have been reconstructed on this large site, located at the foot of steep cliffs.

Enter the Calchaquies Valleys and continue to Cafayate, passing some pretty villages with colonial-era houses. Upon arrival at your hotel in Cafayate, you’ll say goodbye to your driver/guide and trusty 4WD vehicle.

David Nichols ©

Day 11

At leisure in Cafayate.

Your relaxing hotel, a few kilometres outside town, is a touch of luxury after the simple austerity of the Puna, surrounded by vineyards and with well-tailored gardens and a pool. 

Frequently sun-drenched Cafayate, 1,700m, is a focal point of the winelands of the scenic Calchaquíes Valley. It has some first class eateries and a thriving arts and handicrafts scene and is a pleasant place to wander around.

The surrounding bodegas produce some excellent reds, the town is best known for its torrontés, an aromatic dry white wine. Many wineries welcome visitors with tasting sessions; you can take a taxi to visit one, or even walk. 

STAFF IMAGES!

Day 12

Return to Salta airport via Las Conchas Canyon, fly to Buenos Aires.

You’ll be met by another driver for the (paved) journey back to Salta. You might have thought the grand scenery was over, but this journey in itself is remarkably beautiful You travel through the blood-orange Las Conchas canyon, which is characterised by weird rock formations, with evocative names such as the 3 crosses, the amphitheatre and the Devil’s throat. You are heading for the airport and depending on the time of your flight there may be time to stop and investigate these further, and maybe make a quick visit to the community Alemania, an old railway halt with a station which has been spruced up as café. In the 1920 some of the workers on the railroad who lived here came from Germany, hence the name. There were several hundred inhabitants until the railway closed, now only a few families remain but it is an evocative place.

Arrive at the airport and fly to Buenos Aires. Overnight in the city.

Nicola Gude ©

Day 13

Transfer to the airport for international flight.

If your flight is in the evening, you might visit the refurbished port area at Puerto Madero. It is within walking distance of the centre and has a pleasant promenade and some good restaurants for lunch. Alternatively, hop in a taxi to colourful Italian La Boca, famous for its street artists. 

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