When thinking of Argentina, most think of Patagonia, Buenos Aires and Mendoza. The northern region is one that is left for those that are “in the know”. It’s a part of the country that one typically learns about once they have landed and spoken with locals about where they should go to next. Not only does the north have many sites of historical significance, it’s also a land of great natural beauty. With red monoliths, colorful mountainscapes, and otherworldly salt flats; it is a great contrast to the blue coolness of Patagonia and the bustling vibe of Buenos Aires.
Here are our 4 must see destinations:
Quebrada de Humahuaca (Jujuy Province)
Quebrada de Humahuaca is a colorful valley in Jujuy Province. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2003, this 96-mile long valley has been populated since the time of the hunter-gatherers, more than 10,000 years ago. A ravine in the Andes connecting Argentina to Chile and Bolivia, you’ll see well-preserved ruins of Incan settlements and Spanish churches. Perfect for those travelers who like to take panoramic photographs, the layers of sedimentary rock lining the walls of this deep ravine must be seen to be believed. Words alone cannot do justice to the beauty of this valley.
Serranía de Hornocal is a mountain range near Quebrada de Humahuaca and the town of Humahuaca. The Yacoraite Formation, a geologic formation formed at least 66 million, and as much as 252 million, years ago is within Serranía de Hornocal. Imagine seeing mountain peaks with the surface sliced off vertically, so you can view the interior layers of rock, minerals, and fossils. What’s especially interesting about the Yacoraite Formation is that dinosaur footprints and fossil eggs, as well as dinosaur remains, have been found here. The genus of the dinosaur remains has not been identified, but the footprints are thought to be that of Hadrosauridae. If you're traveling in this area, make sure stop in the towns of Tilcara and Purmamarca, both cities will not let you or your lense down.
Architecture in the City of Salta (Salta Province)
Salta is the capital city of Salta Province, a must-stop if you are interested in photographing Spanish Colonial architecture. Established in 1582 by Hernando de Lerma, a Spanish conquistador, Salta is a cosmopolitan city that has fine examples of buildings from the colonial era. These are considered the best examples of preserved Spanish Colonial architecture in the country.
Take a photo of the exterior of the Convent of St. Bernard, a Carmelite convent that in 1941 was declared a National Historic Monument. The wooden rococo door was hand carved by local Indians in 1762. Another building to photograph is Catedral Basilica de Salta, the city’s cathedral. Designed in the Italian Neoclassical style, it was consecrated in 1884, replacing a church damaged in an earthquake nearly 40 years earlier.
Cafayate (Salta Province)
We told you about Argentine wine in our Mendoza article. Another region of the country in which grapes for wine production are grown is the Calchaqui Valley in Salta Province. Some of the vineyards are located in the pretty village of Cafayate. Several white grape varieties known by the collective name Torrontes are grown here, as is the Malbec, from which high-quality reds are produced. Wandering through the town will provide you with many photo opportunities. The drive to Cafayate alone is worth the trip. Located deep in a valley of red rocks, one must make a stop at the Garganta del Diablo, a crevice in the rocks that challenge even the most seasoned photographers.
A 45-minute drive from Cafayate will take you to the Quilmes Ruins. The Calchaqui people lived in the walled city of Quilmes, which flourished from the 8th century through the mid-17th century. In 1666, the Spanish conquered the tribe, bringing the survivors to Buenos Aires. Due to the dry air in the region, many remnants of the walled city remain, making it a perfect destination for visitors interested in taking photographs of archeological sites during their travels.
Salinas Grandes (Jujuy and Salta Provinces)
You usually think of a desert as being covered in sand, don’t you? Salinas Grandes is a desert, but its surface is salt. Many thousands of years ago, there was a lake with a high salt content covering parts of Jujuy and Salta Provinces. The water evaporated, leaving a vast amount of salt at roughly 11,000 feet above sea level. What is left is a landscape that feels other worldly, where the horizon fades and it is unclear where the earth ends the sky begins. If you're lucky you enough to witness the Salinas Grandes during the rainy season, the whole area becomes a giant mirror, leaving one with plenty of perspective trick photography.
A number of quarries currently operate on this great plateau of salt, cutting the salt into brick-like blocks. One of the largest of these quarries, Big Salt Works, is situated in a depression at 8853 feet above sea level.