Off Road Puna Adventure
A guided driving itinerary in Argentina's Northwest...
This is an opportunity to well and truly get off the beaten track in a little explored area of Argentina! With basic accommodation in remote villages, this off road adventure is more about exploring eye-opening landscapes and gaining an insight into the local culture and way of life in the Puna. To get you to some of the most remote spots you’ll be driven in a 4x4 equipped with satellite communication and accompanied by a professional driver-guide throughout.
Salta to Tolar Grande
Departing early from your hotel in Salta you will begin your journey into the Puna by heading southwest towards the Quebrada del Toro that connects the green tobacco fields of the Valle de la Lerma with the arid desert plateau known as the Puna.
After a dizzying climb up to 4000m you'll reach the Abra Blanca Pass and the entry point to the Puna. This is an ancient pass, which formed part of the Capaq Ñam or Royal Trail, a 5000km strategic trail built by the Incas to unite the Empire in Quito to Mendoza in Argentina. San Antonio de los Cobres, the designated capital of the Puna, is a dusty village and the last point of civilisation before heading into the desert.
A three-hour drive through wild and deserted landscapes will take you to the Desierto del Laberinto; a fossil dune desert made up of soft reddish clay and gypsum crystals that is over 10 million–years old. Nowadays it’s possible to drive across the desert; a must for adventure and photography enthusiasts alike!
The endpoint for the day is Tolar Grande, which lies at the border of the Salar de Arizaro; one of the biggest salt flats on earth. Nestled against the western ridge of the Cordillera and overshadowed by an infinite skyline of volcanoes reaching over 6000 metres in height the village is your base for the next two nights. Overnight at Hosteria Casa Andina.
Full day to Explore Tolar Grande
On the second day there is a choice of a shorter drive to see the Ojos del Mar and a hike or a longer drive to Mina Casualidad; a remote mining city on the border with Chile. Now a ghost town, Mina Casualidad was once home to a community of over 3000 people who lived at an altitude of over 4200m surrounded by some of the highest volcanoes in the world.
After the morning’s activity you will visit Caipe, an old railway station where the mineral processed at Mina Casualidad was carried on cargo trains and then transported to Salta. From here you can take in the enormous Salar de Arizaro in all its glory before heading back to Tolar Grande as the sun sets over the Puna.
Overnight at Hosteria Casa Andina.
Tolar Grande to El Peñón
Today’s drive takes you to see more of the many surprises that the Puna has to offer. The day begins by crossing the Arizaro Salt Lake, following in the steps of the ancient Arrieros who were shepherds responsible for guiding caravans of animals across to Chile. ‘Arizaro’ means Vultures Cemetery and takes its name from the fact that many animals died crossing the salt flats, providing food for preying vultures!
From here visit the Cono de Arita, an almost perfect cone that juts out from the salt flat and is believed to be a small undeveloped volcano, Antofalla; a spectacular oasis in the middle of the Puna with Poplar, Molle and Willow trees that marks a complete contrast with the surrounding aridity of the desert and the Vega Colorada; a high altitude plain home to llamas, Andean ostriches, wild donkeys and vicuñas.
Before reaching El Peñón you will visit the traditional village of Antofagasta de la Sierra, with its community of more than 2000 people. Take the opportunity to learn more about the deep-rooted traditions and culture of these remote Andean communities before overnighting at the Hostería de Altura El Peñón.
Full day to explore around El Peñón
Using El Peñón as a base today you will visit the Campo de Piedra Pómez, fields of pumice stone, which were produced by a huge volcanic explosion with an impact comparable to that of an atomic bomb. The fields of labyrinthine chalky rocks, carved by the harsh and arid winds of the puna, are an awesome sight to behold against the backdrop of towering sand dunes and volcanoes.
In the austral spring and summer months there is also the chance to visit Laguna Grande; a saline lake, which sits at an altitude of 4150m and attracts tens of thousands of flamingos including Puna, Small Parina and Southern flamingos.
Overnight at the Hostería de Altura El Peñón.
El Peñón to Salta
After four days of high adventure in one of the most remote corners of Argentina you will begin the journey back to Salta. The paved road from El Peñón to meet the famous Ruta 40 routes through yellow fields of native grassland 'paja brava' and is broken by white lagoons and a deserted canyon. After stopping in sleepy Cafayate with its green vineyards, you will drive north to Salta via the colourful Quebrada de las Conchas Gorge with its sedimentary rock formations dating back from forty to a hundred million years-old.
Overnight at the Legado Mítico on a B&B basis.
Please note the cost of this itinerary does not include international flights and is on a full-board basis, unless otherwise indicated.