Thursday 28th November 2019
Tasty breakfast eaten and packed lunch prepared it was time for our road trip. After a full briefing, comprehensive instructions and a little map complete with his own little descriptive drawings from our B & B host…we sent off.
There are two options to drive from Salta to Jujuy. One road is very twisty, hilly and has no street lights, whilst the other is a longer route on a main road. We decided to drive up the wiggly road and to return on the main road. It was indeed very wiggly and the scenery reminded me at times of the New Forest, especially when we came across cows in the middle of the road!
We skirted around Jujay and continued driving along Route 68 up to Pumamarca. There are a number of police checkpoints along the route as Salta is right on the border with Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay. Funnily enough we weren’t stopped at all and were waved on through, often with a smile. Had I been a drug smuggler the fact that I was a smiley, ‘old lady’ English tourist was the perfect cover!
After driving for about 3 hours we reached Purmamarca, but decided not to stop at that point, and continued our journey up to Salinas Grandes. The road to the salt flats climbed higher and higher and the views were amazing.
We were now on Route 52 which takes you up to 4170m above sea level. We had been warned about altitude sickness and although we both certainly felt a bit sicky and breathless, we didn’t have any long term effects.
The road then continues down hill until you finally reach the salt flats. We stopped to eat our lunch on tables and benches made of salt and had the obligatory photos taken beside the huge salty cactus and vicuna.
The Salinas Grandes are a vast white dessert, the third largest salt flats in the world and the largest in Argentina. It was once Lago Salinas Grandes, a lake that evaporated in the Holocene due to its location some 3350 metres above sea level. It is now a 525-sq-km crust of salt up to 0.5m thick. The contrast between the huge expanse of white and bright blue sky is incredible and sunglasses are a must!
We then retraced our route along route 52 and on the roadside were signs for vicuna, which are native to the Central Andes in South America and relatives of the llama. They are shy animals and so I was very excited to see some further along the road.
Once we had got back to route 62 we continued our journey north to Tilcara, which is set in the picturesque mountain valley Quebrada de Humahuaca, a Unesco World Heritage site. With traces of human habitation that date back more than 10,000 years it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Argentina. It was a really cool town, with a back-packer vibe and of course we had to quench our thirst in one of the bars.
Back to route 62 and the return journey to our B & B with happy clouds, fabulous scenery and amazing rock formations along the way.
We stopped off at Purmamarca which sits under the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors). To be honest the hills were a bit overrated but it was lovely to see that even in a tiny village in Argentina little girls love to dress and pose as Disney princesses.
We finished our journey on the more direct road and after a long day it was time for pizza and beers.