[JUJUY PROVINCE, ARGENTINA] — Cue the voiceover from the Voice of God dude in movie trailers: “In a world where…” and you’ll get a feeling what it’s like to make the trip to tour Salinas Grandes in Argentina, one of the largest salt flats in the world.  A well-worth-it side detour from traveling up the Humahuaca Gorge in Jujuy province.

My trusty guide Augustin, who I’ve known only for an hour says, “But first we must make a stop.” pulls over to a skanky strip center off to the side of the road and comes back to the truck with some coca leaves and some unnamed Bolivian snuff. “This will make the altitude better, it’s legal here…and necessary, because ‘The Altitude.’

We do a bump and take a wad in of leaves our mouths and crank up the Salteño tunes. Nodding, not saying anything as we look out the window.

Coca leaves
I was all down with the coca leaves. And then there was some magical Bolivian snuff that made the trip more pleasurable.
The road to Salinas Grandes
After leaving Salta, we drive up the road an hour or two, then up and over a steep mountain pass with switchbacks to dream for.

Taking a steep and windy left from the main road, you go up and over the switchbacks, often through the clouds, into a high arid plain, with the Salinas Grandes (salt flats) looming as a mirage at the distance. You see it and you keep driving. It seems close, but it is far away.

View of Salinas GrandesThere it is…

Salinas Grandes — Like Being in Your Own Dream

Cranking great Salteno music on the stereo and chomping on cocoa leaves and some unknown Bolivian snuff, it is like descending into the dream sequence of your own personal movie.

There are no special effects, because it is real. Or unreal, once you get down to the shimmering reflections of the salt flats off the main road. The clouds. The shallow water. The unbelievable silence. At over 14,500 ft (4,500 meters) it’s the intense sun that fries you in minutes.

Guide Augustin Salinas Grandes
Looks like the movie poster for “Man Facing Southeast”. Everything is surreal.

My trusty and encyclopedic guide, Augustin, parked his powerful Ford F250 off the side of the road with the doors open and Salteno music adding to the perfectly surreal effect as we enjoyed a fine lunch-ona-rock with wine, cheese and cured meat sandwiches. Even spending just moments there, you will remember the hallucinatory views for the rest of your life. When friends see these pics, they go “Ooooooh, where’s that?”

Salinas Grandes reflection
Salinas Grandes jumping
Mirror image of Salinas Grandes Argentina
Clouds above your head. Clouds below your feet. As far as the eye could see.


Salinas Grandes Map Location
You can see how huge these salt flats are.

— Last Visited March 2011, Updated May 2024 —

More Information on the Salinas Grandes

Here’s Lonely Planet’s take on it, which I disagree with.Here’s a really nice overview of 7 Reasons to visit Salinas Grandes from InBetweenLattes. And a brief mention of the SG as one of the top destinations in South American from Conde Nast Traveler. Here is a great article on Northwest Argentina in Conde Nast Traveler.  Here’s another post of mine on Purmamarca and the Humahuaca Gorge.

Here’s a great article in Conde Nast Traveler about crossing the Andes from Chile to NW Argentina. And also, a great article from The Telegraph on driving through the Andes of Argentina.

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