Dirt roads and grandiose landscapes: a road trip around Salta (Argentina)

 I always said that you can go almost anywhere by bus in South America. That’s true. But sometimes that the journey which matters and not so much the destination. This post is not about how to get to Cafayate (from Salta you can hop on a bus which drives on the RN68). This article is about taking the dirt roads, going into exploration mode and letting the real fun starts.
Amazing landscapes, dirty roads and at end wine… what else? For the ones who want to take the time to enjoy the landscapes changing km after km,  here is a 2 to 3 days road trip. Rent a car and get lost in the spectacular colours, canyons and rocks of the National Park Los Cardones and of the Sierra de Carahuasi. Adventure starts where good roads end.


road trip Salta Cafayate

On this kind of road trip, the co-pilote should not only know how to read a map, but also how to use a camera!

Make it happen: Road trip Salta – Cachi – Cafayate – Salta

Cafayate via the Quebrada de los Cóndores and RUTA 40

Get out of Salta, direction Cafayate (south) via the RN68. After 40km you reach the town of El Carril where you will turn to RP33 to Cachi, it is a scenic 120km through the mountains and the National Park Los Cardones. Cachi is a tiny dead town but a good point for stop at lunch.
From Cachi, take the ruta 40 direction south to Cafayate, a lonely scenic dirt road, part of the Dakar rallye routes for several editions -this should nto be a surprise once you have driven it. It’s 150km to Cafayate, and it is likely to take you around 4h given how bad -and beautiful- the route is.
In Cafayate, you can decide to take a day off to enjoy the pleasures of the argentinian gastronomy: empenadas, torrontes wine (why not visiting a vineyard?) and the local ice cream.

Ruta 40 – it is not about comfort, it is about fun!


To Salta via the RN68 and the Sierra de Carahuasi

From Cafayate, take RN68 direction north to Salta. It’s 200km of a good road but you will want to take numerous stops to admire the rock formations of the Sierra de Carahuasi: Garganta del Diablo, los Castillos etc… It’s easy: just pull off the road to check the sites when you see a sign – some are more spectacular than others, but you will definitely wonder if you didn’t drive until the mythical Road 66 in the USA. Allow 5h so that you are not pressed by time.

Good to know:

  • The Ruta 33 goes through the mountains with the highest point at 3457m, it is not rare that the road is unaccessible due to snow, too much rain or rocks. Check before you go and allow extra time. It is mainly recommended to plan this journey in late spring/summers/early autumns.
  • Both roads Ruta 33 and 40 are dirt roads made of sand, rocks and gravels. You may want to rent a vehicule adapted to these conditions and be prepared for a sportive drive!
  • Leave early! You don’t want to have to drive after the sunset on this road!

You know you are in Argentina when the view point features a massive public barbecue!

Quick tips for Salta

Eating out: For a memorable argentinian dinner experience, go to a peña. Meat lovers, you won’t be disappointed – We had a great time at La vieja estacion (Balcarce 885)
What to do: Visit the museo de Arqueologica de Alta Montaña which conserves a singular collection of mummies of 3 inca kids.


Bonus: Salta northern loop, Jujuy and the Quebrada de Humahuaca

If you are heading to Salta from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, take a window seat on the left side of the bus (thank me later!).

The province of area of Salta and the province of Jujuy has more wonders that are worth the trip. The Quebrada de Humahuaca and its Cerro de Siete Colores (the seven colors hill) lies north of Salta, close to the town of Purmamarca.

Renting a car is not needed to get a glimpse at this UNESCO protected site: if you are heading from/to San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) by bus, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful landscape while getting to your destination. The road also pass Salinas Grandes, a vast salty plain at 3400m above the sea level. This is NOT the journey where you want to be sleeping!

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