Argentina's northwest is culturally closer to the Andean cultures of Bolivia and Peru than the European influenced south. Tumbling down from the Andes in the east, the region is a mosaic of parched terracotta deserts, blinding white salt flats and lush green tobacco plantations dotted with colonial adobe villages. The region's showstoppers are geology at its most most exquisite and to top it all, the region is also home to the world's highest vineyards, an area touted as the next Napa Valley.
Rising out of the dusty land and ringed by green hills on the horizon, Salta is the Northwest's largest metropolis and a fascinating place to visit. Founded in 1582 and once the region's colonial capital, Salta slid into decline after Buenos Aires was declared capital of Argentina. Today the sleepy city boasts some well-preserved colonial architecture and has an excellent reputation for hospitality.
At its heart is Plaza 9 de Julio, a leafy plaza dotted with tall palms and lined with orange trees and lively cafés and bars shelter from the scorching sun under graceful arches facing onto the square. The marshmallow pink Neo-classical cathedral decorates the plaza's northern side and is complemented by other pastel hued Neo-colonial buildings around the square. One of these is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAC), whose cool white walls are hung with work by local artists and another the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM) which houses the mummified victims of an Incan sacrifice. For those who like to sample dig in to local food, Salteños will argue that they invented the empanada, the small meat filled pastry not dissimilar to the Cornish pasty. Every Salteño has his preferred spot to indulge in their favourite snack and the best spot to find yours is at the Patio de la Empanada. For a morning spent walking through a unique habitat, just outside Salta is the affluent village of San Lorenzo where a fragile section of lush Yungas forest is preserved.
El Tren a las Nubes
For impressive scenery, take the poetic sounding Tren a las Nubes, the Train to the Clouds. The train chugs out of Salta and passes through red-rock valleys, over an iconic viaduct bridging a deep dusty gorge and winds around and through the rocky hills all the way to the Chilean border.
Argentina's largest and most impressive salt flats lie at 3,500m on the high Andean puna. Ringed by dusty pink mountains on the far off horizon, the salt flats were once a high altitude lake and now gleam under an eternally azul sky, their strange octagon form crunching under foot. The best time to visit is at noon with the sun high in the sky and casting little to no shadows; perfect conditions to play with perspective in photographs.
The Hill of Seven Colours
Providing a wonderful backdrop to what is otherwise a rather unremarkable village, The Hill of Seven Colours stands proudly over Puermamarca. Formed by a complex geological process, the hill is a breathtaking rock of sedimentary layers whose minerals create stripes of earthy orches, pastel maroons, soft greys, rust reds and bruised purples. To capture the hill at its most magnificent, visit in the early morning.
Quebrada de Humahuaca
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Quebrada de Humahuaca is a rugged arid corridor running through the Andean desert plateau. The awe-inspiring scenery is matched only by its fascinating history: the brick red gorge is peppered with Incan, pre-Incan and even prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities.
Standing at the foot of the Andes, Cafayate is the self-appointed capital of the Valles Calchaquíes The area's fertile land is thanks to an irrigation system that channels the Andes snowmelt through canals and ditches to its vineyard, world's highest. Characterised by the Torrontés grape, the region's wine is becoming increasingly celebrated amongst viticulture circles and the town's Museum of Vine and Wine uses brilliant mod-cons to describe the regions long standing connection to the grape. With plenty of the local produce on tap, Cafayate is a pleasant town to while away some time and is within easy distance of white colonial villages and spectacular natural wonders