After spending twelve wonderful days in Buenos Aires, we were off to see a completely different side of Argentina. We headed up north to Salta, and from there we rented a truck and headed off on one of the craziest and most memorable road trips I’ve ever been on.
Our original plan was to make our way down south from Salta to Mendoza and drop the truck off there. At the last minute we made a very out of character spur of the moment change of plans, and decided to stay in the north as we felt that we needed more time to do it justice. We hurriedly changed hotel reservations and recalculated our route and wrapped our mind around where our adventure would take us.
I’m pretty lucky that Zevi loves driving and is willing to let me be the passenger 99.9% of the time. I was the official navigator and picture taker, while he handled the sometimes-treacherous roads with remarkable ease, as I knew he would. We spent our first driving day making a mostly failed mission to Parque El Rey, where it turns out that there really wasn’t much to see or do besides almost getting stuck in some thick clay-like mud. The day was redeemed, though, as we found a small highway with amazing red dirt rows, giant cacti, and views over a spectacular river valley. I was pretty awed by the scenery, but it turns out that this was only a taste of what was to come.
The next day was my favourite driving day of the trip. The roads were paved and wide, and it was only the scenery that made me hold my breath rather than the crazy twists and blind corners we’d encounter over the coming days. If you’re only going to drive one road in Northern Argentina, make it highway 68 between Salta and Cafayate. We kept swearing that each picture stop would be our last, but we just couldn’t help ourselves as we encountered one jaw dropping view after another. As always, pictures absolutely don’t do justice to what we saw, but they’ll give you some idea of the towering red rocks interspersed with streaks of yellow, brown and green that will take your breath away. If the views weren’t reward enough, Cafayate is a town with a lot more to offer than we ever expected.
Leaving Cafayate brought with it the first day of a couple of pretty wild drives. We were seeing Ruta 40, Argentina’s famous North-South highway known for it’s amazing scenery and difficult terrain, at its best, as we were greeted with more incredible rock formations and heart-stopping views. This time the road was much more difficult, as it was gravel and often barely had enough space for two cars to pass each other. I spent a lot of time sitting in the passenger seat crossing my fingers that we wouldn’t meet a semi truck head on as we went around another impossible corner. Thankfully, Zevi seemed to be much more relaxed than I was. We got a wonderful lunchtime break as we stopped in at Bodega Colome, which boasts the highest altitude vineyard in the world. The wines were delicious, the staff were very kind, and my quinoa salad far exceeded most of the salads I’ve had on this trip. We ended our day with a wonderful dinner and an amazing nights sleep at the beautiful Casa de Campo near Cachi, which was much needed after a long day on the road. The adorable giant-pawed puppy didn’t hurt either.
The next day brought us to new heights as we continued on Ruta 40 and reached the top of a mountain pass that was enough to make us just a little dizzy. We didn’t think we’d eclipse the elevation we’d reached in the Colca Valley, so we were surprised as our GPS showed us climbing closer and closer to 5000 metres above sea level. We didn’t quite reach that round number, but we got awfully close. This section of the road was almost deserted, and even the few locals we saw closer to Cachi were nowhere to be found as we ascended the pass. Tourists seemed to be a novelty for those living in the area, and we got some rousing cheers from an audience of local kids as we splashed through a huge puddle in our truck. Much to Zevi’s delight, there were multiple river crossings and lots of twists and turns. We’d actually been advised by our rental car company that we absolutely should not take this road, but we came out the other side exhilarated and completely unscathed.
Our fortunes changed as the afternoon of that day turned to evening, but I’ll write more about that in another post. Suffice it to say that on the last day of our road trip we were more than ready to feel some pavement under our wheels and had no complaints about driving on traffic-filled roads.
Driving through Northern Argentina gave us a chance to see some sights that we’d surely have missed had we not had our own wheels. The roads aren’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for the adventure you’ll be rewarded with amazing vistas that most others will miss out on.