Northern Argentina Scrapbook

Salta and its neighboring province of Jujuy is an oft-overlooked part of Argentina that mixes surreal salt pans; high-altitude Torontés wines; rock formations that glow in bands of red, pink, green, and yellow; and well-preserved colonial towns. Within the region is a narrow valley called the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. National Geographic Traveler named it one of the 21 Best of the World in 2018. I recently spent a happy week in the region, trekking with llamas, practicing my Spanish with the tolerant locals, and taste-testing empanadas. Check out my scrapbook below.


Here we are in Salta, in northwestern Argentina, at the foot of the Andes. Its historical center is full of well-preserved 18th- and 19th-century architecture, like the pink Cathedral of Salta.


At the 9 de Julio Square, named for Argentina’s Independence Day, a statue of General Juan Antonio Alvarez de Arenales on horseback is surrounded by women with birds on their heads and plaque with a line from the Argentine national anthem: “Hear, mortals, the sacred cry, ‘Freedom, Freedom, Freedom.’” Salta, Argentina.


Nice ceiling: The dome of the Basilica of San Francisco, Salta, Argentina.


These tastefully textured textiles scream "Take me home!" TUNA store, Salta, Argentina.


Meet a local: This man waved me over and we ended up talking for two hours. Sergio Fernandez has lived in Salta all his life, though has traveled around South America. He was forced to retire after he lost some of his hearing. He hangs out on this corner almost every afternoon. He reminded me of my grandfather. He sang for me (traditional canciones, Italian opera), gave me life advice which I couldn't fully understand because my Spanish couldn’t keep up but which nevertheless felt profound, and gave me a small bag of coca leaves for my upcoming excursion into the mountains and a packet of tissues for the tears that came to my eyes, so touched was I by the encounter. Salta, Argentina. 


Members of a troop of junior police snack during a gathering at Salta’s main square for an environmentally themed festival. Northwestern Argentina.


Salt of the earth: The Salinas Grandes, in Northwestern Argentina’s Jujuy province, was once a lake some 12,000 years ago. Today it looks like a scene from a post-apocalyptic novel. Industrial miners love it for the salt, potassium, and lithium. Tourists love it for the photo possibilities, from stark to silly. I'm here on a tour with Say Hueque Journeys prior to #atws2017.


Lamb shop: A woman sells her trinkets in the village of San Antonio de los Cobres, one of the highest in the region at 12,300 feet. Salta, Argentina.


Road sign with salt llama and salt cactus at the Salinas Grandes, a vast expanse in the provinces of Salta and Jujuy. Northwestern Argentina.


Pet, rock: White dogs turn pink in the red sediment of Purmamarca, Jujuy, Argentina.


Los Colorados, our hotel in Purmamarca, built of adobe at the base of the famous Cerro del Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors).


A short hike around Purmamurca, Argentina.


Little wonder they call this spot Cerro de Siete Colores. More colors coming up on this Say Hueque Journeys trip. Purmamarca, Argentina.


Adela readies Jura the llama for our two-day trek into the mountains. Northwestern Argentina.


Even with a llama carrying your stuff, trekking at altitude (around 12,000 feet) is no walk in the park. Northwestern Argentina.


At the end of the dusty, rocky trail, homemade cake and home-dried banana slices, plus rounds of the Argentine national drink, mate. Jujuy, Argentina.


We are spending the night at Don Isidro’s house, a rustic (i.e., no electricity, pit toilet) refugio in the middle of a beautiful nowhere. His closest neighbor is his wife, who lives with the goats the next mountain over (we’ll visit her tomorrow). There are no roads--one has to walk in and out. He lives alone but loves company and young people. Not a bad singer either. Jujuy province, Argentina.


Don Isidro's wife, Presentacion, tends to the family's 150 goats, which provides meat and cheese (trust me, yummy). It's a steep 2-mile climb at altitude from the main house to get to the small hut and pen. Jujuy, Argentina.


Hot tamales: Presentacion and her visiting daughter and granddaughter whip up some yummy goat- and cheese-filled tamales for us. Jujuy, Argentina.


Three generations of the Martinez family. The second and third generation currently live in Buenos Aires. Jujuy, Argentina.


We're within a stunning valley called La Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area marked the southern end of the Inca Empire. Northwestern Argentina.


Time for our rather large band to load up the llamas and head back to Tilcara. Jujuy, Argentina.


Readying the asado. El Bordo de las Lanzas, Salta, Argentina.


Would you like meat, or meat? A traditional Argentinian asado. El Bordo de las Lanzas, Salta, Argentina.


The estancia life. Dreamy. El Bordo de las Lanzas, Salta, Argentina.


The Cafayate Valley is known for its high altitude wines, particularly Malbecs and Torrontes. At Finca Quara, we taste some very nice bottles on a day trip with Travel Vision Photo Journeys.


Good striations: Photography teacher Ossian Lindholm inspects the geological marvels of the Calchaqui Valley, in northwestern Argentina, not far from the border of Bolivia.


Red rock: And yellow rock and green rock and purple rock. Such epic beauty. Calchaqui Valley, northwestern Argentina.


Earth, wind, and fire in northwestern Argentina’s Calchaqui Valley.


Five centuries ago, three children from the royal house, ages 15, 7, and 6, were clothed in finery, given chicha (corn brew) to drink, and once asleep left to die in an underground niche on the top of Mount Llullaillaco --a sacrifice to the Inca gods. (This area marked the southern edge of the Inca Empire) Time and high altitude and a dry, frigid climate kept the kids in a perfectly preserved state until their rediscovery in the early 2000s, so much so that seeing one of them (only one is exhibited at a time, rotated every six months) at Salta’s small but excellent museum MAAM (Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña) is like stepping through a time machine; it’s an affecting and powerful experience. Photos are not allowed so this is a page from the book available at the museum store. Northwestern Argentina.


Photos © Norie Quintos