Northern Argentina: Off the beaten path

In my younger years when I used to skip my university lectures in order to spend more time in the mountains, I dreamed to climb the highest peaks on all continents. When we got close to Aconcagua, I started working on Ivan: “We are not too old for this adventure, right? Let’s give it a try.”

His usual answer was: “Yeah, yeah, it will look good on your Facebook”

Unfortunately, we didn’t plan properly and the climbing season was already closed. Dang, so much about my dreams, I was left only with lots of pictures.

Well, I got you here, didn’t I? Climbing Aconcagua, with its almost 7,000 meters altitude, has never been in the cards. Only in my dreams.  

The road from Santiago to Mendoza is spectacular and the views are breathtaking. 


For Ivan’s pleasure, it is full of “curvas”, which at some places are numbered.


He started counting and greeting every one of them, I was not so happy with his hectic driving.

The red fountain in Mendoza. We tried it, but it is not wine


Northern Argentina is somehow overlooked in most of the touristic destinations and overshadowed by the splendid Buenos Aires and the famous Patagonia and Tiera del Fuego. Salta province has remarkable views of Andean peaks, deep red and colourful canyons, white salt flats and stretches of dry desert places.

On the way to Salta, we stopped at Ischigualasto Park, often referred to as Valle de la Luna.  This was the third of the four Moon Valleys in our travel. All of them are beautiful in different ways, and they deserve their names.

Ischigualasto Park is on the UNESCO heritage list and it is heaven for paleontologists. More than 70 species of fossil plants have been discovered there, as well as, some of the oldest known dinosaur’ remains.

In Ischigualasto Park I also met a new friend.

And an animal that doesn’t belong to this part of the country. Could you name it?


Salta is an old city with beautiful colonial architecture.

A must-see is the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology in Argentina which displays the children of Llullaillaco – mummies of three children, sacrificed by the Incas. They were six, seven and fifteen years old at the time of their death. They were sacrificed and buried at the top of the volcano Llullaillaco at 6,500 meters altitude. Due to very dry conditions and lack of oxygen, the mummies are one of the best-preserved mummies and the highest archeological site in the world. All the objects found at the sacred place, including textiles, feathers, pottery and silver and gold ornaments are very well conserved and offer a glimpse into Inca culture. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed in the museum.

In Salta, unluckily we suffered our first stomach infection. For six months on the road, we learned to eat and drink what the locals eat and drink. Until that day, street food and drinks from local vendors didn’t have a harmful impact on our bodies. Just a piece of advice, if you have severe diarrhea, stomach cramps and temperature, start the antibiotic. It will save you a week or two on bread only.

The Quebrada de Humahuaca or the Rainbow Mountain (the second on our list) is a narrow mountain valley with layers of beautiful colors and many semidesert flowers.

The village of Humahuaca has narrow streets, beautiful architecture, lovely people and one of the best tortilla asada a la parrilla (baked on barbeque flatbread with cheese) I have ever had. Or maybe after five days on bread and butter, this was a nice addition to my after-stomach-infection diet.

In Humahuaca we slept in the strangest hostel in our travel. It was a cute, blue hostel, with a beautiful inside courtyard, very well decorated and absolutely empty. The guy let us in and disappeared. In the night, we were left alone, with no Internet, the light bulbs dying one after another. The only other inhabitant was a smokey cat with a devilish look in her eyes. 


In the dark, eerie silence I felt almost like in Hotel California. 

Salinas Grande was another salt flat on our list after Salt Lake City flats, Salar de Uyuni, and Salar de Atacama. Thanks to Google, we got there in the most difficult way, after three hours on a terrible dirt road. Ivan and our lovely car Fory were not happy, but I had the pleasure to observe local rural life in the small hamlets around the road and a newborn baby alpaca.

We were lucky to visit the flats after the rain and the reflection on the clouds in the puddles was amazing.


On the way to Brazil, we crossed the northern part of Argentina and then Bolivia. Here, on the border between Argentina and Bolivia, we had our first cross-border accident. We are with dual citizenship and we were getting advantage of it where possible. Since Argentina requires visas for Canadians, we took the shortcut and entered it with our Bulgarian passports. The Argentinian officer at the border spoke very good English and we had a nice chat while he put the exit stamps on our Bulgarian passports. Then we proceeded to the Bolivian office across the street, and since Bolivia requires visas for Bulgarians, we went ahead with our Canadian passports. The lady looked at our passports and asked where is our exit stamp from Argentina. We explained the situation, but she didn’t like our tricks at all and told us that we can’t enter Bolivia with a passport without an Argentinian exit stamp. All our attempts to convince her hit a wall.

We quickly realized that we are trapped between the two borders in Catch-22. We had to apply either for a Bolivian visa as Bulgarians or apply for an Argentinian visa as Canadians and go back to Argentina. Arranging any of these visas would easily take days, and would require printing forms from the internet, etc. And we were on a dusty stretch of a road between the two border offices.

The best we could think of was to go back to the nice Argentinian officer speaking English and to ask him for advice. He listened carefully to our story, scratched his head for a moment and then asked for our Canadian passports. Then he solved the problem exactly like Alexander the Great untied the Gordian knot – simply stamped them with Argentinian entry and exit stamps. Then he smiled at us and wished us good travels.

We crossed Bolivia in just a few days, but we didn’t miss stopping at our friend Cristian and his wonderful family in Santa Cruz.

This time he had a monkey named Martin in his backyard.


Ivan forgot to mention Mancha, the huge beautiful dog Christian has. According to Ivan, she is living proof that all big things are with a good temper. We, the small ones are dangerous.


The village I liked the most in Bolivia is San Ignacio de Velasco. The Saint Ignatius Cathedral is a Roman Catholic temple finished in 1761 by Jesuit missionaries.  It has amazing tropical wood columns.

The village is close to the border with Brazil in the middle of the beautiful rainforest. The road to get there is a bad, dirt road and it took us 6 hours to drive 300 km, but we had the pleasure to enjoy wild toucans and an abundance of birds.  According to Google, this is the road to Brazil. We refused to take it.


In front of the Bolivian Army Station, we found these Lego-inspired sculptures.

What I liked the most in Northern Argentina and Eastern Bolivia was the lack of tourists. The roads were terrible and hard to pass, the sites and the villages were beautiful and we had them all to ourselves.


There were no other gringos storming on the streets, no vendors trying to sell you tours and gifts, and no busy crowds. Just a dream travel.



    1. I think there are busses between the cities – Salta, Humahuaca, etc. But I don’t think there are any reliable transportation in Bolivia. The roads are really bad in this part of the country.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The roads are bad in Bolivia but very good transportación system in Salta and Jujuy, and the roads are most of them paved


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