Northern Argentina

Northern Argentina

Cordoba and Salta, Argentina

January 4th - 10th, 2024

After spending a week with my friends and my godson Max in Buenos Aires, Colonia and Iguazu, I started my solo trip in Argentina’s second city, Cordoba.

Located in the center of the country, with a population of 1.6 million Cordoba is Argentina's second largest city. The city was founded in the 16th century, and still has many interesting colonial buildings, chief among them is the beautiful Cathedral. Construction began in 1582 and continued for over 200 years.

The remarkable and very ornate interior of the cathedral was built largely by Native American craftsmen in the Latin American baroque style.

The Cathedral overlooks the Plaza San Martin, which was the center of the old city, and is named after Argentina's national hero José de San Martin, also known as the Liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru. San Martin was a general, who lead the successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire of the southern parts of South America, at the same time as Simon Bolivar accomplished the same for the northern countries of the continent. The elegant white building next to the cathedral is the Cabildo de Cordoba, the former townhall, which serves as a museum today.

Historically the most important part of the city, is the so-called Jesuit Block, which contains the main buildings (the church, the Jesuit residences and the university) of the capital of the former Jesuit Province of Paraguay. The Jesuit order was established here in the early 17th century and it ended in 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from the country. It functioned almost as a state within a state, as it was essentially autonomous from the Spanish colonial rule, and it allowed native Guarani people to live isolated from the Spanish colonists and thus avoid being enslaved. Together with five estancias outside of Cordoba, which supported the Jesuit province, this site was awarded UNESCO world heritage dedication in 2000.

The city was founded as one of the first European settlements in the country in 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, who named it after his home town in Spain. The oldest university in Argentina, the National University of Cordoba, was founded here by the Jesuits in 1613. This is the inner courtyard of the former Jesuit college, which now houses the historical museum of the university.

This is the building of the Colegio Nacional de Monserrat, which is one of the oldest and still one of the most prestigious high schools in the country.

After spending two days in Cordoba I flew north to the city of Salta

Salta, located in the north-west corner of Argentina, has a population of around 600,000 and is the capital of the province of the same name. The city was founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1582, and still has a number of interesting buildings from the 17th and 18th century. I started my sightseeing tour by climbing the Cerro San Bernardo, a 250 meter high hill overlooking the city. There is a cable car that takes you to the top, but it is also a pleasant one hour hike through the forest. The views from the top are beautiful.

The Plaza 9 de Julio, the city's main central square, is surrounded by historical buildings, including the pink and yellow neo-classical cathedral.

A few blocks away from the central plaza, however is the city's most beautiful church, the elegant Basilica de San Francisco:

While Salta itself is quite a beautiful and interesting city, the main reason to visit this part of the country, are the amazing landscapes to the north and south of the city. I had two separate day-trips booked through Viator, the first of which took me north through the spectacular Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Quebrada de Humahuaca
I was picked up by bus early in the morning for the long drive (about 3.5 hours) that would take us through the Quebrada towards the town of Humahuaca. Our first stop along the way was one of the most famous sites in the country, the Cerro de los Siete Colores (The Hill of Seven Colors) near the town of Purmamarca, which is one of the most visited landmarks in Northern Argentina.

The unusual coloring of the mountain is the result of a complex geological history over millions of years. The seven colors are all from very different geological periods and due to different minerals and rock types. Pink is made of red clay, white is limestone, the shades of brown and purple are due to lead and calcium carbonate minerals, while red is due to iron deposits, green is mostly due to copper oxides and finally yellow is made of sandstone.

I was able to fly the drone here:

After Purmamarco we headed further north und higher up towards the town of Humahuaca, which is located at an altitude of over 3,000 meters. The Quebrada Humahuaca is a 155 km long valley formed by the Rio Grande. The river is almost completely dry during the winter, but turns into a major river in spring and summer. The Quebrada de Humahuaca was awarded UNESCO world heritage status in 2003, not only for its natural beauty, but also for its importance as a transport corridor during the times of the Incas and earlier. There is archeological evidence that the valley has been a major trade route for at least 10,000 years.

The city of Humahuaca, who gives the valley its name, is a small town of just over 10,000 people. The town's main church with its white bell tower, has colonial origins, and is in fact one of the world's smallest cathedrals.

The most visible site here is the Monumento de la Independencia, which is a huge statue built on top of a rocky outcropping overlooking the city.

On our way back we briefly stopped at the small town of Tilcara, which is nestled along the slopes on one side of the valley.  

The colorful rock formations are visible all long the entire Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Quebrada de las Conchas and Cafayate
After spending a day in Salta, I had a second day trip planned that took me to the south through the spectacular landscape of the Quebrada de las Conchas. The further we drove south, the narrower the valley became.

Wind, water and tectonic activity have transformed this valley over millions of years into a spectacular landscape of bizarre rock formations. The first one we stopped at, was called Garganta de Diabolo (the devil's throat), which is a huge cavern that was hollowed out by an ancient waterfall.

Also created by a long-dried out waterfall and less than a mile from the Devil's throat, is the even more impressive amphitheater, which you enter through a tall and narrow gap in the rocks.

This is the view from the Tres Cruces lookout over the green valley flanked by dark red rock faces.

This rock formation is also known as the sinking Titanic for obvious reasons.

Gradually the narrow valley of the Quebrada de la Conchas opened up as it joins the wide plain of the Valles Calchaquies. We were now surrounded by vineyards, since the valley is one of Argentina's major wine producing areas. Just before we reached the town of Cafayate, we stopped over at one of the large vineyards, where we had an interesting guided tour, and got to taste some strong red wines.

Afterwards we drove to Cafayate, which is a pleasant little town of mostly single story houses. The streets are all laid out in a grid surrounding the large central square, which is overlooked by the 19th century Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Rosario. I had a nice lunch and walked around the town for a while, before the drive back to Salta.

We drove back the same way through the valley, and stopped a couple more times for photos of the spectacular and strange landscape in the afternoon light.

The next morning I left Salta by plane to Montevideo to continue my South American adventure in Uruguay.

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