[SALTA, ARGENTINA] — You probably haven’t heard much about Salta, in the far northwest quadrant of Argentina, but the word is starting to spread. While everyone knows of Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Patagonia, it seems like Salta has just opened up. You take a two hour flight from Buenos Aires to the city of Salta and then there are a number of road tours you can take from there, each drive is amazing as the other. You read about “a four wheel drive is best” but I balked after booking a last-minute trip and they wanted a thousand bucks for a week and rented a small cross-over Peugeot — a surprising billygoat of a car — but after many harrowing close calls crossing rain-swollen rivers through the mountains, I would have paid five thousand for a 4WD. You need a 4WD. Your knuckles will not be white.
From Salta, there are many routes that you can choose, fanning out in different directions. Some you can go out and back. For others, I’d pick an overnight destination; as in the title and in nearly everything you read, everything is “a couple of hours” but I found the travel times to be much longer, the roads more arduous, the scenery beckoning you to stop every 10 kilometers. Here’s an overview. For more detailed tours, look at the other YOU SHOULD sections. Here’s a great article from Travel & Leisure. Here’s a great article in Conde Nast Traveler, and another on Salta City, and another Conde Nast Article that’s a great summary. Here’s an older NYTimes article on Salta The Beautiful, and here’s a great article from the Wall Street Journal covering this exact route below.
Here’s the route we’ll be taking. The top and left side. From Salta to Cachi, then down to Molinos on this post.
What’s amazing about Salta is the incredible diversity of geology — you can see the entire development of the Earth in just a few hours. Starting from Salta, you can head up through rain forests and roaring river gorges, riding along a varying road with overhangs, washouts and dramatic stream fording (pay attention to the rains, definitely).
As soon as you reach the top of the pass on Ruta 33 and the Cuesta del Obispo (“The Bishop’s Slope”) valley you suddenly hit the vast altiplano high desert of Salta, Argentina. At over 9,000ft and endless views to the horizon, it literally and figuratively takes your breath away. it’s like a whole different world from the lush tropical rainforest you just came through. And within minutes, from zig-zag and harrowing washouts on dirt roads, to straight as an arrow. Dry as a bone.
At the end of Ruta 33 is the dusty town of Cachi. I mean it is a dusty Andean town. There are a couple of nice places to stay there, but I kept pressing on toward Estancia Colomé. From Cachi, you turn south and join up with the famous Ruta 40, the tip-to-tail five thousand mile dirt road that dates back to Inca times and follows the spine of the Andes down to Patagonia. You hit dusty mountain towns like Cachi, outposts like in a Spaghetti Western, and then go south along the Andes, fording rivers along the way. My goal was the Estancia Colome, many kilometers outside the small town of Molinos, stay a few days at this magical place and it’s James Turrell Museum and then head south to the wine town of Cafayete.
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Here’s a great article in Travel & Leisure.
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