It took roughly 18 hours from Buenos Aires to Salta – the distance is around 1,500 km. We took an overnight bus and both of us managed to sleep quite comfortably. There was plenty of leg space and the seats could be reclined almost 180 degrees.
Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world, almost 3,000,000 square kilometres, and we had limited weeks of vacation. This meant we had to decide on a couple of places to visit; it would be impossible to ‘do everything’. We decided to start off with Salta and the northwest because my husband had been there before and he had only fond memories.
Argentina’s northwest is lofty and dry, and sits against the beautiful backdrop of the mighty Andes. Nature works magic here with stone; strange, wonderful, tortured rock shapes are visible everywhere. And the puna (altiplano or Andean highlands) and its fauna need to be experienced in person.
Colorful traditional handicrafts, indigenous communities and Inca ruins give the area a definite Andean feel, so does the animal, llama, that I saw (and tasted for the first time!). Coca leaves are sold openly and legally. It is part of the culture to chew coca leaves mixed with bicarbonate of soda to assist breathing at higher altitudes. The mixture is also said to combat fatigue and hunger.
During our stay in Salta, we went to a museum named: Museo de Arquelogía de Alta Montaña. Honestly, this was the first time I read and saw some videos about the Inca culture. When we visited the museum, the well preserved, mummified body of one three children discovered at the peak of a volcano, Llullaillaco, in 1999 was on display.
The Incas practiced what some may consider bizarre custom of sacrificing children of royal lineage or higher status to appease the Gods and ensure safety and fertility. Sacrificed children were buried on some of the Andes’ highest peaks. Llullaillaco is 6,739 meters high. It is not clear whether some of the children were actually buried alive!
It was a bit eerie to see the mummy, but I didn’t have any nightmares afterwards. ☺ It was not allowed to take pictures in the museum so I’m not able to show you what it looked like. If you want to know more, visit the website.
After exploring the city of Salta for a couple of days, we rented a car and headed north up to the Quebrada de Humahuaca for a number of days. We made the small town of Tilcara our base for daily excursions.
Now let me share with you some pictures of the magical, awe-inspiring nature in the northwest.
This is the blue backpack I told you about in my previous story :)
Purmamarca village, 30 minutes by car from Tilcara
Hill of Seven Colors (Cerro de los Siete Colores) in Purmamarca
We followed a homemade map to get there. The problem with the map was that distances were approximate at best. But good fortune comes to s/he who tries and after some walking under the scorching sun we finally found what we were looking for.
The beautiful tortured rock shapes (don’t you agree?)
Roughly 25 km up a winding gravel road from the town of Humahuaca at an altitude of around 4,200 m is the Mirador del Hornocal, a viewpoint from which the splendor of the Serranía Hornocal can be seen.
The colored limestone formations are simply amazing. It is best to visit in the afternoon when the sunlight intensifies the colorations. It was a bit cloudy when we went there, but nonetheless indescribably beautiful. And it was quite chilly, only around 8-9 degrees Celsius.
The Mirador del Hornocal is much less visited than the well-known, easily accessible Hill of Seven Colors (Cerro de los Siete Colores) in Purmamarca. The Hill of Seven Colors is fantastic, but bleaks in comparison to the Hornocal, at least according to me.
The salt flats of Salina Grandes are located on the puna at around 3,500 meters above sea level. Salt is mined here for human, industrial and animal consumption. I cannot describe the salt flats and the surrounding landscape in words, but let me give it a shot: amazing, incredible, dramatic, endless, powerful, extreme, awesome, mind-blowing… And I’ll never forget walking around on the salt flats.
That big white spot in the front is the Salinas Grandes