Table of Contents
- Northern Argentina itinerary day #1: Arrival in Salta
- Northern Argentina itinerary day #2: Salta city trip
- Northern Argentina itinerary day #3: Tren a las Nubes
- Northern Argentina itinerary day #4: To Cafayate via Cachi and National Park Cardones over Route 40
- Northern Argentina itinerary day #5: Wine tasting in Cafayate
- Northern Argentina itinerary day #6: Cafayate to Huacalera
- Northern Argentina itinerary day #7: Quebrada de Humahuaca
- Northern Argentina itinerary day #8: departure from Jujuy or Salta
A 7-day road trip in northwest Argentina will give a good impression of the area. I did this 1-week northwestern Argentina itinerary recently by car and enjoyed it a lot. I decided to start in Salta (3 nights), make my way to Cafayate (2 nights) and finally up north to Huacalera (2 nights). This trip covers Salta city, the high Andes, beautiful national parks, the best Argentinian wine in Cafayate and pre-historic and Inca archeological sites in Humahuaca.
I was really excited to learn about the Inca civilizations after my trip earlier this year to Mexico where I saw lots of Mayan ruins. I think this northwestern Argentina itinerary has a great combination of culture, nature, and gastronomy. Enjoy northwest Argentina with me!
Northern Argentina itinerary day #1: Arrival in Salta
I don’t include any long international flights on this northwest Argentina itinerary as you probably will arrive in Buenos Aires first and explore there a couple of days. This itinerary can be connected to any Argentina itinerary or add a day before and after if you come from far. There are several flights a day from Buenos Aires which take just 2 hours. I went just after lunch time as I’m not a morning person.
At the airport do not rent a car yet as you won’t need it on day 2 and 3. Save money by just taking a taxi to downtown Salta. I recommend staying at Kkala Boutique Hotel as they offer amazing personal service.
The MAAM Museum (Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana de Salta) is closed Mondays but is the most important museum in northern Argentina. If you do the Salta city trip on a Monday (arriving Sundays) then make sure to have time to visit the MAAM Museum either on the day of arrival or day of departure. It’s best to ask hotel staff in all towns for opening times of museums as they might have irregular times. Be warned.
If you arrive early a half day trip to San Lorenzo is an option. The staff of the Kkala Hotel told me it’s a beautiful small town just north of Salta.
Northern Argentina itinerary day #2: Salta city trip
Salta is the capital of the northwest Argentinian Salta province and has a beautiful colonial city core and several interesting museums worth exploring. A full day is enough to see everything. Start at the top of the San Bernardo mountain by taking the cable car up from San Martin park. On a clear day the view over Salta is amazing.
Once back down it’s a 200-300 meter walk to the San Bernardo Covenant. When I was there it seemed closed for public but the wood carved door is a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial art. Continue further down the road to the San Francisco church and check first if a guided tour is available. If so take it and have a look at the inside after but if the tour starts later check the inside first. Just down the road the Museum of President Jose E. Uriburu is worth a quick visit. It should be around 1PM so time for lunch in one of the many restaurants in downtown Salta. I recommend El Charrúa Restaurant y Parrilla if you want meat which is located in the same street.
After lunch visit the MAAM museum which has one of the three mummified Inca children on display which were found in 1999 on the top of the Llullaillaco volcano. They rotate and when I visited the Boy was on display. It’s the most important museum in all of Salta but not open on Monday. Plan accordingly. After visiting stroll over Plaza de 9 Julio and have a look at the Northern Argentina History Museum. Then, at 4-5PM the cathedral opens for a view inside. Dinner starts late in Argentina so either wander around town or go back to your hotel for a few hours.
ATTENTION! The MAAM museum is closed on Monday. Plan accordingly.
Northern Argentina itinerary day #3: Tren a las Nubes
The Tren a las Nubes has connected Salta and Antofagasta in Chile from 1948 but today only a part operates as a heritage train ride for tourists. It takes passengers high into the Andes mountains with altitudes well over 4000 meters and into the clouds. Nubes means clouds in Spanish hence the name. The train ride is between San Antonio de los Cobres and the Polvorilla viaduct with other parts now done by busses. This is very well organized with a spare bus, technicians and medical assistance including an ambulance. The last just in case someone has acute problems with the altitude but don’t worry too much as you’ll only there for several hours.
It’s a long day as busses depart from Salta train station early morning. The bus makes stops at an old steam locomotive, a huge viaduct, and a small town for breakfast before arriving in San Antonio de los Cobres. There, the train is waiting for everyone to board. Note that the tour doesn’t depart all days, check the Tren a las Nubes website for information. The trip is amazing and therefore a must-do on any northwestern Argentina itinerary.
Read all about my Train to the Clouds experience in this trip report:
ARGENTINA – Train to the Clouds; a must-do ride in the Andes near Salta
The train ride itself takes one and a half hour crossing the Polvorilla viaduct and back. It’s amazing passing this viaduct and it’s even more amazing mankind managed to build it there. At the Polvorilla viaduct the train also stops for 30 minutes where I disembarked the train to buy local souvenirs and check the viaduct up close. The Tren a las Nubes then returns to San Antonio de los Cobres for lunch. I recommend Resto Bar El Malevo, a more local restaurant, serving delicious lama steak. The bus ride back makes one or two nature stops and one last stop at a small town with a local Inca museum. The busses arrive back to Salta at 8PM just next to Balcarse street where there are plenty of Pena restaurants (with live music) for dinner.
ATTENTION! The Tren a las Nubes train ride doesn’t depart every day. Check the website for more information and plan accordingly.
Northern Argentina itinerary day #4: To Cafayate via Cachi and National Park Cardones over Route 40
There are two routes to drive from Salta to Cafayate: the fast-paved route 68 and the amazing unpaved route 40. I included the latter on the itinerary as the scenery is amazing and the drive can perfectly be done in a day in a normal car. A scenic road trip that shows northwest Argentina at its best. The first part takes you up the mountains over the Cuesta del Obispo (hairpins!) which ends at Piedra del Molino.
Complete Argentina Travel Guide
The second part is route 33 through the National Park Cardones which is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a park full of cactuses which are at the far end if you’re almost out of the park. I didn’t know that and drove 30 kilometers on route 26 to nowhere when my car stopped with an electric problem. No cell reception and 30 kilometers of the main road. I thought I would die but after 5 kilometers walking the park rangers drove by and saved me. More on this story later but don’t drive route 26 as there is nothing there! If all goes well you should arrive in Cachi around 1PM. There are plenty of options for lunch around the main square. Make sure to wander around town too as it’s a nice Spanish colonial influenced town.
The third and last part is a 3-4-hour drive over route 40 to Cafayate. It’s a scenic drive with magnificent nature. As I said my car stopped working which I left behind for Hertz to replace. This meant I was in a taxi for the whole route (200 kilometers) and it was difficult to ask every 15 minutes for a photo stop. Sometimes things go wrong, but hell, it was an adventure I never forget. I finally arrived 9PM an hour late at Patios Wine Hotel in Cafayate.
Read all about my road trip from Salta to Cafayate in this day trip report:
ARGENTINA – Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40 via Cachi
Northern Argentina itinerary day #5: Wine tasting in Cafayate
Cafayate had been on my radar since a few years after my visit to the Uco Valley near Mendoza. Cafayate is also one of the better wine regions of Argentina. You can easily taste wines for two or three days but I only had one during my visit to northwest Argentina. I visited the wine museum and 5 vineyards on a day. Each vineyard I selected carefully as I wanted to taste different kind of wines and preferred the higher end segment.
Visiting 5 vineyards and a museum on a day needs good planning. I started at 9AM at the wine museum which takes an hour to explore. Then, it’s best taking a taxi (or own car) to Finca Las Nubes which is a small family owned vineyard producing high end quality wines. Take a taxi or own car back to Cafayate center after the tasting and make sure using taxis for the rest of the day. You don’t want to drive under influence and the police does control everywhere. Another option is to hire a bike but it was too hot for me for that option.
Take a taxi, or bike, to Piattelli vineyards which is a luxury vineyard. They opened just a few years back but have an older vineyard in Mendoza too. They serve delicious lunch so after the tour go for a juicy Bife de Oyo and one of their wines. After lunch have Piattelli staff order a taxi to Yacochuya vineyard which is 3 kilometers uphill. Trust me, it’s too far to walk and make sure to leave Piattelli latest at 2:30PM.
The visit and tasting at Yacochuya vineyard doesn’t take long after which it’s a short walk to Domingo Molina vineyard. Both are small family owned wineries and produce high end quality wines. Just make sure you do the tasting of the high-end wines. At Domingo Molina order a taxi latest at 5PM to El Esteco which is the last vineyard. Their last tour and tasting is at 6:30PM so make sure to visit them last. Next to El Esteco is Patios Wine Hotel and La Rosa restaurant where I suggest having dinner. I enjoyed this day of wine tasting a lot!
EXTEND YOUR TRIP: Plan an additional day in Cafayate to taste more wines or visit nearby waterfalls or mountains.
Northern Argentina itinerary day #6: Cafayate to Huacalera
The drive from Cafayate to Huacalera (in Jujuy province) is a long one with just over 5 hours pure driving time. Considering that there many magnificent photo stops you can guess that an early start is a must. I suggest starting this day of the northwestern Argentina road trip itinerary at 8AM. The first part through the Quebrada de las Conchas (valley) including photo stops to Piedras Moradas takes about 4 hours. These stops are marked with road signs.
In Piedras Moradas there are restaurants for lunch. If you arrive early drive 20-30 minutes east on route 47 for some amazing views on lake Cabra Corral. If you’re short on time skip it but alternatively extend your northwest Argentina trip by a day and do one of the many water activities there. From Piedras Moradas it’s a 3-hour drive up north to Huacalera. Huacalera is in the center of Quebrada de Humahuaca and I recommend staying at the luxury Huacalera Hotel. You are now at 2500 meters altitude which should be all right after travelling several days already at around 1500-2200 meters. This is also the reason to end this road trip at Huacalera in the Jujuy province to avoid altitude sickness.
Northern Argentina itinerary day #7: Quebrada de Humahuaca
Quebrada de Humahuaca is a valley in northwest Argentina province Jujuy and used as a passage since prehistoric times. It’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site with pre-Inca, Inca, colonial Spanish, and modern cultural remains. The nature is beautiful as well, in my opinion better as the trip I did from Mendoza into the Andes. A day is enough to see the main attractions but if you want to do hikes to certain Inca archeological sites then plan a day per hike.
If you have a day the following Quebrada de Humahuaca itinerary is the best. I started from Hotel Huacalera and stopped at the small Spanish colonial church in Uquia first. I then continued all the way up to the 14-color mountain but didn’t do the local hike of an hour more up. The views are amazing as you can see in the photo below! From there it’s a short drive back to Humahuaca which is the most important colonial town in the valley. I wandered around town, visited the cathedral (be sure to be there at 12:00 for a look inside), had a look at the archeology museum and Heroes of Independance monument before having lunch.
After lunch I drove to Tilcara to have a look at the Inca ruins. The Inca ruins at Tilcara are partly restored which gives a good understanding of how the village must have looked like centuries ago. A few kilometers down the road is the Hornillos museum which highlights Spanish colonial past including some pre-historic finds. My last stop was at the 7-color mountain which is nice if you didn’t see the 14-color mountain. I drove the scenic route as walking around it would take up too much time. I was back at the Huacalera Hotel at 7PM for a delicious dinner. Try their lama steak! It was the last night of my northwestern Argentina road trip itinerary in Jujuy. I do need to return to the Jujuy province one day!
Northern Argentina itinerary day #8: departure from Jujuy or Salta
My flight was at 6PM from Salta to Buenos Aires and I arrived way to early at the airport. Thank you LATAM Airlines for a free change of flight to 4PM. I left early morning from the Huacalera Hotel as I still had to visit the Hornillos museum and MAAM Museum. These visits, however, took less time as planned and I arrived at the airport early. As I said museums sometimes have irregular times so check with hotel staff for opening times when you’re there. Another option is to fly from San Salvador de Jujuy as it saves a 2-hour drive but it means you must drop the car in another location. This might be more expensive.
This 7-day northwest Argentina itinerary covers all the most important places from Salta to Cafayate and finally Humahuaca. It’s an amazing mix of nature, culture, wine tasting and gastronomy. Everything in this northwest Argentina itinerary is a must-see. Of course, it’s possible to extend this 7-day northwest itinerary. I have given a few suggestions which will extend the road trip to 10-12 days.
My business & leisure trips however normally include 3-4 days of business and 6-8 days of leisure. This also makes sure my business class flight is cheap. I will return to Argentina as there is more to see. I already saw Patagonian glaciers, Iguacu falls, missions in Posadas and Cordoba, more wine in Mendoza and of course Buenos Aires. What’s up next? I hope a trip to the Malvinas Islands, Georgia Islands, and Antarctica. I keep exploring!
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Did you visit northwest Argentina including Salta and Jujuy too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!