purmamarca hill of 7 colors

Although not on the typical itinerary for an American traveler, there is a lot to do in the Salta and Jujuy provinces in Northwest Argentina. From hikes to the most colorful mountains we’ve ever seen, to arrays of delicious empanadas, to even a stop by Argentina’s second largest wine producing region, there is plenty to do to keep you entertained for a week or two. We had a blast exploring around this incredible part of the world that we had never heard about 2 weeks before we arrived in December 2019 and put together this Northwest Argentina Itinerary based on our experiences to help you plan your adventure!

What’s in Northwest Argentina?

Northwest Argentina is broken up into two areas, the Salta Province and the Jujuy Province. In Salta, you will find the city of Salta which is the largest in the area along with the town of Cafayate known for it’s vineyards and especially its sweet white wine called Torrentes. In Jujuy, you will find the town of Tilcara which is surrounded by colorful mountains and adventures.

salinas grandes purmamarca
The Salinas Grandes, Argentina’s largest salt flats, can be found in the Jujuy Province!

Salta Province

The salta province is the most populated of the two provinces and is home to Salta, Cafayate, Tafi de Valle and Cachi.

Salta

Salta is the largest city in the province and likely where you will arrive by bus or plane. The city of Salta is affectionately called “Salta La Linda” (“Salta the Beautiful”) by its citizens, however outside of the town square and a couple random churches we did not find the city itself to be that charming. Since it is a transportation hub, you will likely spend a day or two here. We don’t recommend staying longer. To enjoy your time, be sure to eat empanadas and steak at Dona Salta and relax with some coffee or wine and some medialunas (mini croissants covered in honey) at one of the cafes in the town square.

Cafayate

Cafayate is the reason why the Salta Province in the second highest producing wine region in Argentina. No visit to this region is complete without a trip through the Quebrada de Cafayate red rock mountains and a day or two spent wine tasting! Check out our detailed Cafayate Travel Guide for all of our favorite things to do there.

cafayate northwest argentina
No trip to Northwest Argentina is complete without a little (or a lot of) wine!

Tafi de Valle

South of Cafayate is the small town of Tafi de Valle. Surrounded by lush green hills, the town has very different scenery than Tilcara or Cayafate. Tafi del Valle is a great place to do some hiking and even horseback riding! Unfortunately, we only found out about Tafi de Valle when doing the final research for this post. More the I write about it, the sadder I am that we didn’t get to visit! If you’re interested in visiting, check out these travel guides:

Cachi

A town of few people surrounded by a lot of cacti that is only accessible by car. Although the quiet town does not offer much to do, the drive, although bumpy at times, is supposedly spectacular. If you want to go to Cachi, talk to your rental car agency about how to get there as many of the roads in this area are very poor.

Jujuy Province

The Jujuy province is north of Salta. It’s home to Jujuy and and Tilcara.

Jujuy

Jujuy is the largest city in the province, but outside of there being malls there is not much to do here. We recommend skipping Jujuy and heading straight for Tilcara. If you must stay a night in Jujuy, Alto Verde Hostel is a good option.

Tilcara

Tilcara is an outdoor lover’s dream. It’s close to the Salinas Grandes (Argentina’s largest salt flats), the Hill of 7 Colors, the Hill of 14 Colors and a hike to a landmark called the Devil’s Throat. Just to name a few. Intrigued? Check out our Tilcara Travel Guide to learn more about one of the coolest places in all of Argentina!

hill of 14 colors
You must go find the Hill of 14 Colors near Tilcara!

What To Eat in Northwest Argentina

Locals from Northwest Argentina are very proud of their food. Although we didn’t find one or two restaurants you must go to, while in the region you must try their empanadas, alfajores and stews (especially a beef stew called locro). Since the region is far away from the coast, the indigenous population was less affected by European colonization and maintained more of their traditional cuisine. The people also look very different here than they do in Buenos Aires!

Also, you need to make sure that you to go to a peña which is a traditional folk concert while in the region. The concerts happen during dinner and usually start around 9PM or 10PM. La Peña de Carlitos in Tilcara is a great option!

cafayate empanadas
I see empanadas in your future!

Do I Need To Rent A Car?

Often when looking at other travel guides for this region, Northwest Argentina is one of the few places that backpackers rent a car to explore. Since all major towns are connected by bus, it is our opinion that you do not need to rent a car to explore all the highlights of this region. If you want to visit some more off-the-beaten path destinations though, you will need to rent one. The detailed guides for Cafayate and Tilcara explain what you can reach by bus or only by car.

If you want to rent a car, you will rent it and return it to Salta. The rate for a non-4WD sedan is less than $25USD per day. If you’re an American and want to rent a car abroad, then you need an International Drivers Permit (IDP). US citizens can only get a valid permit from AAA or AATA. Of the two companies, AAA looks a lot easier to use. Acquiring this permit costs $20 and is much easier to do before you start your trip as there is no current way to get valid one online.

Just a heads up, the roads are not great in this region. You can expect some slow, bumpy gravel sections where you’re hoping and praying that you do not pop a tire in the middle of nowhere.

Full disclosure: Michelle and I along with another couple rented a car to explore the region and had an absolutely incredible time! After traveling for so many months, it was amazing how much freedom we felt by not being tied to a bus schedule! If you have the budget for it and are lucky enough to have the friends for it, renting a car can only add to your Northwest Argentina experience.

bodegas dupont vineyard
A car makes it easier to visit the Bodegas Dupont vineyard near Tilcara!

How To Get There / Where To Go Next

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Taking a 12 hour day time only bus from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Salta, Argentina is a very popular way to enter or leave Northwest Argentina. The route is considered to be one of the most beautiful bus rides in the world with scenery ranging from desert, to salt flats and mountain vistas. Since it is a popular choice, it is best to book this bus a couple days in advance. There should be a bus every day but by multiple different companies so ask around at the bus station to find the day that works best for you!

Cordoba (then Buenos Aires or Mendoza)

If you’re heading to Buenos Aires or Mendoza then you’ll first take an overnight bus from either Salta or Tucuman to Cordoba, Argentina’s 2nd largest city. Somehow the city has a walkable, almost New-York-like feel (weird, I know) with small shops and apartments lining wide streets. The city, especially the Guemes neighborhood, loves its craft beer and burgers and seems to have a brewery or beer garden on every corner. We spent a quiet week around the holidays mostly in coffee shops writing up some of our past adventures. If you’re stopping through Cordoba and love specialty coffee, check out our guide! From Cordoba, you’re only an overnight bus from Buenos Aires or Mendoza.

If you choose to bus from Cafayate to Salta to Cordoba (like we did), be warned it will take at least 17 hour in buses or at bus stations. Be sure to stock up on plenty of snacks and download some movies! The trip to Cordoba from Tafi de Valle looks much easier. It’s a 2 hour bus to Tucuman and then an 8 hour overnight bus to Cordoba. If we were to do it all over again, this is the route we would have taken.

Cordoba Argentina - best cafe La Vereda de Achaval
Some coffee will be in order after your long voyage!

Iguazu Falls

Another popular connection from Northwest Argentina is Iguazu Falls, the spectacular waterfalls on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguary. Even though it is in Northern Argentina, Iguazu Falls is not exactly next door. To get there, you will need to take a 15 hour bus from Salta to Corrientes. After a ~2 hour layover in Corrientes, it’s a 9 hour bus to Puerto Iguazu. Flying is also an option. Here’s a link to the bus company that operates the route.

If you do choose to make this journey, we’ve put an Iguazu Falls 1 Day Itinerary together to help plan your trip!

Iguazu Falls
You must visit Iguazu Falls at some point during a trip to Argentina and/or Brazil!

Northwest Argentina Itinerary

This Northwest Argentina itinerary can be done by bus and does not require you to rent a car.

  • Day 1 (Salta): Arrive in Salta, eat at Dona Salta
  • Day 2 (Salta/Tilcara): Breakfast in Salta town square, bus to Tilcara
  • Day 3 (Tilcara): Hill of 7 Colors + Salinas Grandes day trip
  • Day 4 (Tilcara): Devil’s Throat Hike
  • Day 5 (Tilcara): Hill of 14 Colors + Uquia day trip
  • Day 6 (Tilcara/Cafayate): Bus from Tilcara to Salta, then Salta to Cafayate
  • Day 7 (Cafayate): Bike the Quebrada de Cafayate
  • Day 8 (Cafayate): Wine Tasting at El Porvenir and Piatelli
  • Day 9 (Cafayate/Tafi): Bus to Tafi, del Valle hike and explore
  • Day 10 (Tafi/Cordoba): Horseback ride, bus to Tucuman, overnight bus to Cordoba

For more detail on the activities mentioned in this Northwest Argentina itinerary and some car-only activities, check out the Cafayate and Tilcara travel guides linked above. If you’re not in a hurry, there is easily enough to do to spend an extra day or two in both Cafayate or Tilcara.

If you plan to head towards Iguazu Falls after Northwest Argentina (you brave, brave soul), skip Tafi del Valle and return to Salta once you’ve visited Cafayate.

northwest argentina itinerary
No trip to Argentina is complete without a stop by the Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint!

Final Thoughts

This part of the world will always hold a special place in our hearts because we were lucky enough to explore it with another incredible couple that we met along the way! Having friends to share long (often bumpy) car rides with, to BBQ with, and drink 1 too many bottles of wine with made this region that much more fun! When you’re traveling, it’s not only the places you see, but also the people you meet that will stick with you for the rest of your life!

the travel couples
The travel couples in action! Their faces may also be seen in Machu Picchu, Carnival in Salvador Brazil, Ushuaia, and Torres del Paine National Park!

There you have it, our Northwest Argentina Itinerary! From us to you, happy adventuring!

Notes

All prices in this post are current as of December 2019.

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