New Year’s in Salta & a Road Trip in Northern Argentina

Unbelievable colours and rock formations on Fido's estate

Alex here again to describe our second road trip and new year’s eve. We hadn’t made any advance plans for New Year’s Eve, and were persuaded by Ellory, an American we’d met whilst travelling, to come to Argentina. So we hopped on a bus from San Pedro in Chile to Salta in Argentina. The border crossing was very easy and the bus pretty comfortable, although a large section of windy mountain pass reminded me why I don’t like to travel by bus!

Vegetarian sushi in Salta
Vegetarian sushi in Salta

We arrived in Salta in the early evening and realised we were totally unprepared for this new country, having not really done any research. We found the hostel, dumped our bags and went to explore the city. We were pretty hungry and thirsty but had no money. After searching the town for a while we were getting concerned, all the cash machines had queues (the Argentinians are ones to rival the British for queuing!) and only seemed to accept local cards. Then we managed to find a row of international banks, no queues, and they accepted our cards, phew! We went for an unconventional first meal in Argentina, at a very nice vegetarian restaurant with huge portions and some artesanal beers.


The next day we were planning a tourist day in the city, but ended up being very lazy and just strolling around town in the heat. We went to meet our friends Ellory and Jill to arrange plans for the next few days. We’d met Ellory in La Paz (and again in Uyuni and San Pedro), and Jill briefly in Uyuni. We’d agreed to hire a car together to see the countryside around Salta after New Year’s Eve. We’d be hiring the car with another travelling friend of Ellory & Jill’s, called Adeline. Some of the photos in this blog are from Adeline, she is a proper photographer (not point and shooters like us) and she has her own website with more amazing pictures of the this trip at adelineheymann.com.

Chilling out by the pool, Loki Hacienda
Chilling out by the pool, Loki Hacienda

We all headed together to our hostel for the next few days, Loki Hacienda. This hostel was something a little different, being out in the countryside with the rooms across a field from a large bar area and pool. Loki hostels have a reputation as party hostels, just what we wanted for a change for new year. We arrived and were greeted by the lovely Diana, who made us feel right at home. The hostel staff were all fantastic, really welcoming and got us all settled in and ready for a party.

We had a great time over three nights at the hostel, playing pool, giant jenga, late night swimming in the pool, playing beer pong, learning Argentinian dance moves and meeting some great people. We enjoyed a few days of just doing nothing for a change. Relaxing by the pool with a giant all day bbq and unlimited homemade ice-cream is not a bad way to recover from a new year’s party!

'Juntadores' road trip crew wine tasting in Cafayate
‘Juntadores’ road trip crew wine tasting in Cafayate

Then it was time for our next road trip. We hired an SUV for 6 days to travel around the countryside near to Salta. It was an amazing trip, with plenty of adventures along the way.

We started by picking up the car in Salta centre, borrowing Diana’s car to drive ourselves into town we parked in one of the confusingly named ‘playas’ (the Spanish word for beach, but used here to mean car park!). We picked up the hire car with no problems, and split up to drive the two cars home. Adeline and I went to drive Diana’s car but it wouldn’t start. We’d left the lights on whilst we’d been out and even though it was only an hour the battery had gone flat! We asked the car park attendant but he didn’t have any jump leads. Adeline went to ask other car parks and random people driving around but no luck. I found a wifi signal and managed to call Chris, he was at a petrol station and found some jump leads to buy. He was literally about to pay for them when someone came back to collect the car next to ours and they had jump leads! I called Chris and he cancelled payment, and then Adeline and I and the car park attendant jump-started Diana’s car. Throughout all of this it was incredibly useful that Adeline speaks perfect Spanish, I’m finding the accent and vocabulary in Argentina really different which makes things more difficult!

We drove Diana’s car back to the hostel. It was good to chat to Adeline as we had only met on New Year’s Eve, but would be travelling together for the road trip so it was great that we all got on so well. By the time we got back to the hostel our dinner was ready, Ellory is a chef and she’d made a fantastic dinner for us all, a great way to say goodbye to Loki and our friends made there.

Day 1: Salta to Cachi
After the slightly rocky start we were ready to head off and explore the countryside the next day. We squeezed everything and everyone into the car, glad we’d gone for the SUV and not a smaller option! Our first day we drove through some amazing and varied scenery, starting in lush green valleys and going through dry areas of multi-coloured rocks and cacti. We stopped for a simple but tasty lunch of meats and cheese from a tiny road-side hut at the top of a mountain pass, this was some of the best cheese and meat we’ve tasted on this trip!

We finished the day in Cachi, a very pretty town but surprisingly more expensive than Salta. After some exploring we found the municipal campsite which offered very cheap dorms but we had to go back to the centre of town to book. So we headed back to the tourist office and booked ourselves a 5 person dorm. We got some tips from the tourist office for a place to eat and decided we were more desperate for food and internet so we would check in later.

We had a nice meal then headed to the hostel. When we got there it was deserted and it appeared we’d missed the staff by about 10 minutes. We tried the door to the room we’d reserved but it was locked. We spoke to someone staying there and they gave us the owners phone number, but no answer. So we decided to just sleep in 5 empty beds in a 12 bed dorm. We unloaded sleeping bag liners from the car and went to bed, trying to avoid the nasty looking mattresses by wrapping ourselves up despite the heat. About an hour later a family of seven, including some small children, burst into the room, crashing around and laughing whilst getting ready for bed. The curtains were paper thin, and needless to say we didn’t really sleep well! But on the plus side, we did get the room for free as we didn’t see any staff before leaving the next day.

Day 2: Cachi to Seclantas
Day two started slowly with a leisurely breakfast and trip to buy food and a new hat for me (my old one having sadly blown away in the desert in Chile!). We went to the ATM whilst Chris drove to get petrol. He’d been gone ages and we were starting to worry so I went and got wifi so I could call him. There was no answer so Ellory and I decided to walk up to the petrol station and check. It turned out he was fine, and parked at the front of a huge queue of cars waiting for refuelling of the petrol station to finish. He was chatting to an Argentinian couple and getting tips for our trip. Ellory and I headed back to collect the others. I suddenly realised I couldn’t find Chris’s bank card that I had used to get cash out earlier. It wasn’t in my pocket and I knew it wasn’t in the ATM as Adeline had used the machine after me. I was fairly calm as I knew we had a couple of other account cards with us so it wasn’t the end of the world, but still very annoying! We all searched the street on the way back but couldn’t see the card. I was counting it lost by this time but we drove back into town anyway and asked at the bank and tourist office.

The tourist information suggested we announce on the local ‘radio’, which seemed to involve two people talking on a speaker system in the central square. We decided to give it a go and left our details with them, asking anyone to hand in the card to the tourist information centre. We decided to go ahead and call the bank and cancel the card anyway. Chris had been on the phone for a while when one of the radio guys walked up to the car and knocked on the window. Someone had handed in the card! We were amazed and, shouting gracias to the man, I ran to get Chris off the phone before he cancelled the card! Thankfully HSBC customer service is terribly slow so Chris was still on hold (10 minutes on an international call!). I was so impressed with the kindness and honesty in this little town, what a relief!

We were finally able to start on our drive for the second day of the road trip. We headed to a small town called Seclantás where we had a picnic in the picturesque deserted main square. We headed out to the Laguna de Brealito. This was a small lake in a lovely setting surrounded by impressive hills and rock formations. The drive there and back was on a steep windy and sandy road and Adeline did a great job of getting us there and back in one piece (again, definitely glad we took the larger car!).

On the way back we started along the main highway, which turned out to be a really bumpy track. We pulled over when we had phone signal (the reception in the countryside is pretty bad) and managed to book in for the night at a place near Seclantás recommended by our hire car company and the tourist agency in Cachi. We turned the car around and had just set off when we started to hear a strange noise. We pulled over and realised we had a very flat tyre. Chris and Adeline changed it for us in record time, thankfully the SUV came with a proper spare. We drove back to Seclantás and found a small tyre repair shop who only charged us 60 pesos (£3) for the repair, great value! We finally headed to our accommodation for the night, Finca Montenieva, run by the fantastic Fido.

Road trip crew with Fido
Road trip crew with Fido

Fido greeted us and gave us tea with jam and bread, got us all settled in and told us all about his land and the local area. He was really passionate about the local culture and history, he showed us artefacts he had found in the area including a prehistoric clay pipe and arrow heads made from beautiful coloured stones. We had been recommended to visit Fido as he has some fantastic caves on his land and runs tours to see them. There isn’t much information online about his place, but it was absolutely worth the visit. The accommodation was comfortable, the food plentiful and tasty, and Fido was so welcoming and friendly, we wished we could have stayed longer. We went to bed after some great stargazing on a beautiful clear night.

Day 3: Seclantas to Angastaca
The next day we had our tour to the Caves of Acsibi. We set off on Fido’s 4×4 down a bumpy track/dry river bed. He gestured to the expansive country laying before us and explained (in a way similar to Mufasa in The Lion King), that everything infront of us as far as we could see was his land. We drove for about an hour until the river bed narrowed and we were in a small canyon. We began to walk along the canyon, climbing rocks and following a small stream. We saw tiny frogs around the water, and large hummingbirds above us. The rocks were an amazing red-brown colour. The canyon opened out and the valley sides were made of multicoloured stone, some of it looked like it must have been carved or painted, the geography was so surreal. We carried on winding down the valley until we came to the rock formations and caves he had discovered aged just eight. After so much amazing landscape I didn’t know what more to expect, but it was simply awesome in the truest sense of the word, our photos can’t do it justice. The rocks were orange and looked like giant bubbles, it felt like we were on another planet. We saw the caves and played around taking photos, whilst Fido set up a fantastic spread on a picnic table which appeared from nowhere.

The walk back was a little faster as it was slightly downhill, the scenery was still fantastic, and kept revealing new angles and shapes. The clouds had gathered and we ended up running and sheltering from a sudden hail storm! The crazy weather turned quickly however, and we were soon back at the car in glorious sunshine.

Vineyard on-route to Angastaca
Vineyard on-route to Angastaca

That afternoon we drove further south on Route 40, a famous scenic road with amazing landscape keeping us entertained the whole way. We decided to take a detour to visit a vineyard that we’d seen lots of signs for. We turned off the main road and bumped along a terribly bumpy dirt road for a while, eventually turning a corner to find the vineyard in front of us. We’d unfortunately arrived too late for any tours, but the automatic gates still opened for us and we wandered between the vines and looked out over this very impressive and obviously very wealthy estate. There was even a museum, restaurant and helipad on site! But all of it was closed so we quickly headed off. We checked the map and all voted for pressing on to the next town, although we didn’t know what the road would be like and only had less than two hours daylight left, we felt it would be better than the alternative of retracing our drive in the wrong direction. We set off and the road was fine at first, then it narrowed and became more of a track. We were glad to have the GPS and Maps.Me as we could follow our route on the phone and avoid taking any of the many misleading wrong turns! We were racing against the sun but having to drive slowly because of the road, Chris did a great job (especially in the face of some nervous passengers!) and we made it back to the main Route 40 (still a dirt road, but better quality) as it went dark. We pulled into the village of Angastaca and headed for the municipal campground marked on our map, this turned out to be completely wrong, it was actually a run-down hospital! So we got directions to the two hostels in town and checked them out. Chris and I decided to splash an extra £6 between us for the hostel with breakfast included and a private room.

Day 4: Angastaca to Cafayate 
I woke up to hear a mosquito and got up to find overnight I had been bitten all over including on my face! We both had a lot of bites, but thankfully small ones that went down fairly quickly and weren’t too itchy. We packed up, picked up the others and set off for another day’s driving. The first part of the drive along Route 40 was called the valley of the arrows. This was more spectacular rock formations, the rock formed as horizontal layers and then was pushed up on an angle by tectonic plate movement, creating diagonal lines in the rocks. We found a small village cemetery full of fake flowers and simple crosses, right up against the rocks.

Wine ice cream in Cafayate
Wine ice cream in Cafayate

We passed a small town called San Carlos, where we stopped to try some craft beer at El Burro brewery, and also bought some cheese. Then we drove into Cafayate, a small town surrounded by vineyards. After some traipsing around looking for hostels we eventually found one in budget and with a five person room we could all share. We headed out to sample some of the local wines. The vineyards and wines were very nice, although the tasting was very basic with just a quick “this is a red wine” for explanation! We also sampled some unusual flavours of ice-cream that evening, they made wine flavoured malbec or torrontes ice creams which were delicious! Plus a few odd local flavours such as coyote con nuez (actually some kind of pumpkin but very tasty) and viagra (a mint flavour, without the medicinal effects!).

Back at the hostel we got chatting to some Argentines on holiday in the area, they were all heading out to a local live music and dance night, known as a peña. We decided to join them and enjoyed an hour or so of traditional music. There was no sign of any dancing though, and we were getting sleepy from the affects of the wine so we decided to head to bed at around 1.30am. We found out the next day, our Argentine friends had stayed out until 6 and the dancing hadn’t started until around 3, we are definitely not hardcore enough for Argentine nights out!

Day 5: Cafayate to Tafí Del Valle

Goat's cheese farm in Cafayate
Goat’s cheese farm in Cafayate

The next day we left Cafayate after one last vineyard trip (this time a bit busy with tourists) and a tour around a goat’s cheese farm (lots of information on how they look after the goats plus lots of tasty cheese tasting). We drove on to a place called Tafí del Valle. As we drove out of wine country the scenery changed again and we were soon climbing steep hills. We reached the highest point and a thick fog came in. An interesting experience for me to drive in, still getting used to the left hand drive car and steep winding roads but now in very low visibility. We eventually caught a glimpse of bright green through the fog and then it started to clear. We had dropped into a beautiful grassy valley, it was like being back in Derbyshire but with everything on a bigger scale!

Tafí del Valle
Tafí del Valle

We arrived into the town and went on a hunt for suitable accommodation, being five of us it took some searching, we seemed to have hit a popular town and went to a few places before finding something. We went out for dinner and randomly bumped into an intense German guy who Chris had met in the Loki hostel in Salta, who again wanted to talk to us for ages! We managed to escape and find some nice food.

Day 6: Final day
It was cloudy in the morning but we loaded the car then walked into town to hire bikes. We had been recommended a loop from Tafí to another small town called El Mollar. Unfortunately the only bikes we could find in town were terrible. Each one had different foibles, gears not working, seats that wouldn’t move, failing brakes! The valley was very pretty, if a little hard work on these bikes. We finished the loop in good time and set off for the final drive to the large town of Tucuman, where we were catching buses to Mendoza. On getting out of the car in the station car park we found we had another flat tyre (just a slow puncture this time), we had no idea we where this had happened as the roads had been good all day! Thankfully the company rep we were meeting was happy to take some money to get it fixed so that we could run for our buses. We said bye to the girls who were on a different bus, but knew we’d bump into them again in Mendoza.

The 'Juntadores' road trip crew
The ‘Juntadores’ road trip crew

It had been a great road trip. The scenery was amazing, and although we didn’t cover a large distance, we saw so much. We’d enjoyed the fun company and the food, and of course the wine. We had a great few days in an area a little off the standard backpacker route, and one we hadn’t really heard about before embarking on this trip but definitely worth a visit.

Our next post will be about the city of Mendoza where we did more wine tasting in this wine famous region.

Author: Alex Greenwood

Traveller, muddy gardener, sustainability consultant

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