Argentina 3 – The Wild North

First up: Argentinian wine country! We are more beer drinkers, but never turn down a chance to try the local specialties and expand our horizons. A fairly long drive brought us into Mendoza, our first big city in months. We spent two days checking out the city, running in the park… and not drinking any wine.  

We decided to drive a bit further into wine country to do some wine tasting. We weren’t too crazy about the wines we did try, and found camping / food / tours to be overpriced and underwhelming. Nothing to recommend, but maybe it’s because we’re just not knowledgeable enough about wine.  

Luckily Mendoza area has more to offer than wine. Up in the mountains, we walked below Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of the Himalayas; visited Puenta de la Inca, a strange mineral bridge; and drove to the top of the pass between Santiago and Mendoza, then turned around and came back down the mountains.  

The next stretch of road was a mixture of Pampa, lakes and cool deserts. We visited Ischigualasto and took a driving tour of the park, but had rainy weather for the tour. Lots of dinosaur fossils have been found in the area and one fossil has been left as found, protected from the elements and shown off to us tourists.  

Around the town Belén, we checked out a beautiful canyon that could have been plucked straight out of Arizona.

The Shincal ruins are the remains of the southernmost provincial capital of the Inca Empire. We spent the night at the parking lot and got an interesting tour in early morning hours where we learned about how children used to be sacrificed on top of the high mountains. Kind of a gruesome history lesson.  

Next stop: Argentinian wine country, Part 2. Cafayate is a much smaller and much more charming region than Mendoza. Again, we didn’t do a ton of wine tasting – just one to be exact – but the experience was 100x better and more relaxed.  

The Puna region is an arid grassland with salt flats and unique geography we wanted to explore. Between San Antonio de los Cobres and Antofagasta de la Sierra it is pretty remote and rough going, so we caravanned with another couple for company and security, in case anything went wrong. The roads were terrible but the views were incredible. The nights were freezing but the landscapes were otherworldly. There were countless volcanoes, some salt flats and amazing colors. So amazing that I’ll shut up and let the photos do the storytelling! 

Three cold nights and a difficult tire change later (on our new travel friends car), we returned to Cafayate and ate an obscene amount of delicious empanadas. The next stretch of road, between Cafayate and Salta, was paved and gorgeous desert landscapes. Ah, paved roads, how we missed you!  

Salta and Jujuy are forgettable and skippable, unless you have errands to do. Car mechanic, Bolivian embassy for a visa, and SENASA for dog paperwork for us. Not much else to say. 

 North of Jujuy is the cute tourist town Purmamarca, sitting below a colorful mountain. It is a nice town to walk in and around for a day and a nice break after Salta and Jujuy. 

Further north is one of the coolest mountains we’ve seen, Hornocal or the Cerro de los 14 Colores. This was the last big stop for us in Argentina, but what a great high point to end on! With 45 Pesos (About $1) left, we headed west towards the Atacama Desert and Bolivia!  

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