1 | Mendoza - Vallecito - San Agustín del Valle Fértil
We start in the city of Mendoza and enter the province of San
Juan following the famed Route 40. About 60 km east of San Juan
city we visit the desert hamlet of Vallecito, where the shrine
of the popular religious figure Difunta ("defunct")
Correa draws more pilgrims than any other in the country. To signify
their gratitude for favours granted the devotees leave an astonishing
assortment of items, from model cars to bride dresses. Next we
continue bordering lush hills and green valleys, the Valle Fértil
NP, until we reach the refreshingly tranquil village of San Agustín
del Valle Fértil, where we overnight in a local guesthouse.
DAY 2 | San Agustín - PP Ischigualasto | NP Talampaya
- Villa Unión
In the morning we explore (by driving in a convoi) the Ischigualasto
Provincial Park. This dazzling desert exhibits bizarre wind-eroded
sandstone formations, reveals the evolution of vertebrate life,
and represents with a complete sequence of continental sediments
the entire Triassic Period. After reaching the neighbouring province
of La Rioja, in the afternoon we visit (not on our own) the amazing
Talampaya Park and its invaluable geological and archaeological
treasures. Main marvels are the colossal 160m deep Talampaya Canyon
and the up to 80m high terracotta hued cliff walls. Overnight
accommodation in a comfortable hotel in Villa Unión.
DAY 3 | Villa Unión - Chilecito - Belén
From Villa Unión we again follow and stay on Route 40 practically
until the end of the tour. After enjoying the snaky and beautiful
Cuesta de Miranda driving through 500-meters-tall red rock walls
dotted with towering cacti, we arrive in Chilecito, where Station
2 of the cableway La Mejicana is worth a stop. Constructed in
1903 by the German company Bleichert and Co. to transport gold
and other metal extracted from a mine in Cerro Famatina at an
altitude of 4,600 m, in its time it was the longest and highest
cable railway of the world, stretching up for 34 km. Afterwards
we enter the province of Catamarca passing by olive plantations
and nut trees. Nearby Londres, the first town built (1558) in
Catamarca, we explore the remarkable site of El Shincal. Set among
exuberant vegetation and mountains, these ruins are one of the
most amazing remains of the Inca occupation of Argentina. Further
north we arrive in Belén (1,254 masl), well known for its
great tradition in weaving and its handmade llama wool ponchos.
We spend the night in a friendly hotel.
DAY 4 | Belén - Quilmes Ruins - Cafayate
Today Route 40 leads through the fertile valleys of Hualfín
and Santa María, also traversing a wide barren plain. Time
permitting in Santa María we can make a detour through
Amaicha del Valle and stop over in the Pachamama (Mother Earth)
Museum of Geology and Anthropology, also exhibiting stone sculptures
in a courtyard. They all describe the former indigenous cultures
of the Calchaquí Valley. Next visit are the pre-columbian
ruins of Quilmes, superbly built into the side of a mountain.
Considered the most extensive site of Argentina, the Quilmes were
part of the Diaguita culture and resisted Spanish occupation during
130 years. 50 km further on we reach Cafayate (1,900 masl), encircled
by world-class vineyards and well known for its aromatic torrontés
white wine variety, which we could taste by visiting a winery.
We spend the night in a nice typical posada (guesthouse).
DAY 5 | Cafayate - Calchaqui Valley - Cachi
On this journey we travel along the sandy valley of the Calchaqui
River, which is at its most attractive in autumn, when red peppers
are laid out to dry on the fields. Enjoying stunning landscapes
such as the Quebrada de las Flechas (Arrows Gorge), a labyrinth
of serrated rocks stabbing upward like arrows, we also will follow
the meandering river and visit picturesque villages, like Seclantás
and Molinos, featuring adobe-houses and delightful churches. Upon
arrival in Cachi (2,280 masl), a laidback, quiet town at the foot
of the snow-covered Nevado de Cachi (6,380 masl), we wander around
on cobbled streets and among adobe homes painted white. Overnight
accommodation in a cosy posada.
DAY 6 | Cachi - Salta
Heading eastwards the road reaches the heart of Los Cardones National
Park, a vast desert crowded with hundreds of centenary candelabra
cacti, and begins to descend the Cuesta del Obispo in scenic serpentines
until gently entering the Quebrada del Escoipe, a verdant ravine
enclosed by steep red cliffs. Continuing northwards and past the
fertile Lerma Valley we arrive in Salta, "the Beautiful".
End of trip.