Nothing Except Vast Skies and Wild Donkeys

Roads of Argentina Series:  2 of 3

by Sarah Tesla,, @lostnotfoundin

Argentina is huge and you need at least few months to to explore its full diversity. But don’t let that dissuade you. If all you’ve got is a couple of weeks, there are plenty of day trips where you’ll find yourself happily in the middle of nowhere, or at least happily far far away from the tourist types. This series will focus on not-to-be-missed roads and the special places they will take you.

Ruta 51, 40 and 52: Salta & Jujuy Province

Welcome to the north! Salta is a place of colonial beauty and it’s surrounding area is a juxtaposition of lush greenery and rocky red soil. As you venture further north into Jujuy you are greeted by colourful mountain landscapes painted in purples, pinks, greens and orange minerals. This region is an explorer's paradise, well worth spending at least a week getting to know. In the interest of time we’re going to take you through one long day filled with cactus forests, lonely plains, high altitudes, and an ocean of salt flats and purple mountains. Ready?

Departing from Salta City you will make your way West along Ruta 51. This quiet stretch of road will eventually, and abruptly turn to gravel and bring you alongside a river bed in a deep valley. Looks like this area of the river bed is used as a gravel pit, but the further along you go the more interesting things become. Soon you’re surrounded by a sea of 10ft tall cacti that dot the hills casting their shadows. They seem to grow on every precipice and is the only green contrasted against this rocky terrain.

This stretch eventually turns back into tarmac and you can get a sense of some of the local communities along the way. We liked the colourfully decorated cemeteries, and if your eyes are sharp you might spot one that has become overgrown by vegetation. The road gradually starts to gain altitude, with you eventually reaching 4080m at Abra Blanca. As you begin to descend the road turns back to gravel, and if you’re depending on Google maps, be prepared for some confusion as Ruta 51 and 40 start to blend together.

The town of San Antonio de los Cobres is your jumping off point to a lesser used, poorly marked leg of Ruta 40. The town has a strong frontier vibe to it, with very basic amenities. We arrived with a flat tire, but considering how common flats are on these dirt roads, we found a Gomeria quickly. Once we got patched up, we spent a bit of time circling around looking for our entry way to Ruta 40 and thanks to helpful tips from the locals soon found our way.

This stretch of road has nothing except vast skies and wild donkeys, which we thought was pretty cool. This road will take you to the famed Salinas Grandes and also across the border from Salta Province to Jujuy Province. Take time to get out and walk around the salt flats. There is an incredible spaciousness to this alien surface. If you’re out there on a sunny day cover up, because you’ll burn to a crisp in just a few moments!

Once you’ve got your fill of salt and sun, get ready to enjoy some epic curves! Following Ruta 52 East you’re going to start to ascend to your next vantage point at 4170m. It’s a bit of a tourist stop, so be prepared to wait in a cue to get a photo with the sign if you wish. Then from here it’s down, down, down along what feels like a spiral staircase into the valley that leads to Pumamarca.

As you enter the valley you’re greeted by purple and orange hues as the mountains along side you transform. Pumamarca is a key jumping off point for buses and popular with backpackers. We weren’t too keen to battle our way through traffic and vendors. Instead, we had our sights set on reaching our final destination of the day.

The 52 intersects with Ruta 9, which runs North to the famous hills of Humahuaca (stunning!) and South to the capital, Jujuy City. We headed south into a beautiful valley just outside the village of Volcan. If our day wasn’t already an adventure, the dirt road and cattle gates added to the rugged landscape as dusk fell with us finally arriving at our destination.

Rumiyoc is a beautiful country estate and active farm that has been lovingly restored and turned into a B&B. The stone turret and cozy valley transport you back in time nearly one hundred years. Our host Joaquin, and the estate's caretaker Rodrigo were incredible hosts. This would serve as our HQ for the next few days, while we went out exploring the natural beauty of the area before heading out on the next leg of our adventure!

Road Notes:

Salta to San Antonio de los Cobres approx 174km
Gravel road begins just outside Campo Quijano
Limited services
San Antonio de los Cobres to Salinas Grandes 101km
Old Ruta 40 is gravel, travel with a spare tire and lots of water
No services
Salinas Grandes to Pumamarca approx 65km
Petrol, food and accomodations
Rumiyoc bookings:


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