Argentina’s northwest corner owes much of its appeal to the convergence of Andean deserts and fertile valleys, offering visitors an array of stunning natural landscapes to get lost in. Its isolation from the rest of the country, meanwhile, has helped the region retain a rich folk culture.
1. Take a road trip. Several major roads make exploring Argentina’s northwest easy by connecting larger capitals like Tucumán and Salta with smaller towns in the Quebrada de Humahuaca Valley, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
2. Gorge yourself on empanadas. Salta’s version of one of Argentina’s favorite bites is in a class of its own. Typically smaller than the empanadas served in Buenos Aires, the empanada salteña is filled with chopped beef, potato, hardboiled egg, and green onion. Try them at El Buen Gusto in Salta’s capital city. ($1 per empanada)
3. Reach new heights. The top of San Bernardo Hill, east of Salta’s city center, provides an excellent view of the city. A cable car, within walking distance of Salta’s central plaza, goes to the summit, but if you’re feeling fit, it’s 1,000 steps to the top. ($10 round trip)
4. Explore wine country. Argentina’s robust wine industry isn’t limited to Mendoza. Salta province is known for Torrontés, an aromatic white wine. Tour a winery in picturesque Cafayate, just three hours outside of Salta city.
5. Retrace ancient footsteps. A five-minute walk from the town of Tilcara brings you to Pucará de Tilcara, the hilltop ruins of a fortification overlooking Jujuy’s Río Grande. An adjacent museum provides a fascinating look at the pre-Columbian cultures of northwest Argentina. ($4 for foreigners, free on Mondays)
6. Go back in time. Spend a night in El Cortijo Hotel Boutique, a colonial house in the village of Cachi, Salta. On the way, drive through Los Cardones National Park, home to the cardon grande cacti. (Double rooms from $85)
7. Enjoy dinner and a show. Peñas, a restaurant-music venue hybrid, are a unique way to get a taste of the region’s traditional folk music. Dine on regional dishes while listening to performances, and join an impromptu jam session after a couple glasses of wine, perhaps.
8. Soak in a spa. After long days of sightseeing, relax at one of the hot spring oases sprinkled throughout the region. One of the best spots is the resort town of Termas de Río Hondo, approximately halfway between Tucumán and Santiago del Estero.
9. Satisfy your inner geologist. The Hill of Seven Colors in Jujuy province is a breathtaking formation of rock layers, each with its own vivid hue, overlooking the charming town of Purmamarca.
10. Get salty. If a trip to neighboring Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni isn’t in the cards, Argentina offers an alternative. Reaching some 13,000 feet above sea level, the expansive white landscape of the Salinas Grandes feels otherworldly. (Talita Kum Tourism offers tours for $70 a person).
O’Boyle is an editor for Americas Quarterly