Salta and Jujuy in the north-west of Argentina is a place where we have made some of our best travel memories. It’s a beautiful part of the country that provides a contrasting experience to the more popular tourist destinations of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Iguassu Falls and Patagonia. We hired a car in Salta and set off on a five-day journey to explore the sights of Jujuy, Cafayate, Cachi and Tilcara, stopping by at some of the area’s most iconic natural landmarks. Here’s our Salta and Jujuy road trip itinerary to help you make the most of it.
This site contains links to travel services we recommend, from which we may make commission at no extra cost to you.
Salta and Jujuy road trip itinerary: quick view
In a hurry and just want the essential details? Here is a quick breakdown of our Salta and Jujuy road trip itinerary:
- Day 1: Start in Salta, drive to Cafayate through the Gorge of the Sea Shells on Ruta 68
- Day 2: Day trip to Tafí del Valle, Rio Colorado waterfall walk, Cafayate winery experience
- Day 3: Ruta 40 drive from Cafayate to Cachi
- Day 4: Cachi to Tilcara via Los Cordones National Park and the Pumamarca Hill of Seven Colours
- Day 5: trips to Pucará and Humahuaca
Salta and Jujuy road trip itinerary: overview
North-west Argentina is home to a diversity of remarkable sights and attractions. Los Cardones National Park, the Cafayate wine route, Tilcara and the Hill of Seven Colours are all within reach of the hub city of Salta.
All of this is spread across a wide geographical area, however, and navigating it by public transport is challenging and time-consuming.
We decided to stretch our travel budget and hire a car. It was one of the best decisions we made in our travel planning! We had complete freedom to explore when and where we liked, and judging by the pictures we’d seen, we suspected we would be in for a spectacular road trip. We weren’t wrong.
We found our hire car by using Rentalcars.com, a global car hire comparison service. We’ve used it in more than a dozen countries on our travels and it’s always made life easier and cheaper.
To keep our costs down, we decided to make it a camping road trip. We had brought a tent on our journey, and this was our first opportunity to use it. So off we with four wheels and our trusty tent! In this itinerary we’ll also give some local recommendations on alternative places to stay.
This article recants our itinerary and the highlights of our road trip. I have included details of our costs in US dollar equivalents based on the exchange rate at the time. The Argentine peso has been one of the most volatile currencies in the world in recent years. You can check the latest rates on xe.com.
Best time to visit Salta for a road trip
The north-west region of Argentina is possible to visit all year round, but the different seasons bring advantages, disadvantages and various quirks which will have an effect on your experience.
Our trip was in August, towards the end of winter. The weather at this time of year is mild (even at deepest winter the average temperature in Salta is 14 °C), and we had no problems camping at night with the temperature.
The biggest downside for us was that the vineyards were bare at this time of year. To see them in full bloom, and visit wineries when harvest season is in full swing, the best time to visit is in autumn/fall, from March to May.
Our guide to the best times to visit Argentina explores this further, along with insights into the optimal seasons for a range of locations and attractions around the country.
Before we set off: preparations in Salta
The region’s major city, Salta, is the natural pivot for a road trip, and it’s where our itinerary starts and ends. If you happen to travel to Salta from San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile like we did, you are in for one of the world’s most beautiful bus journeys.
We arrived in Salta late in the evening. We were struck by two things; firstly the warmth after spending over a month at high altitude, and secondly how busy it was. As Lisa said when we arrived, “this is the city we’ve been to that reminds me of Europe the most”. Majestic modern buildings, endless shops, street entertainment and swarms of people.
Before collecting our car, we spent two nights at Ferienhaus Hostel, which is excellent value at around USD $12 for a dorm bed per night with free breakfast. This place ticked all of the vital boxes: two minutes’ walk from the main square, good kitchen facilities, hot showers, big lockers, and strong wifi.
These are some more great accommodation options in Salta for different budgets:
- Coya Hostel – homely budget hostel away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre
- Esperanto hostel – friendly and relaxed hostel within walking distance of the plaza and the bus station
- MG Design Boutique Hotel – 4-star hotel in a leafy park area just to the east of the plaza
We used most of our spare full day in Salta preparing for the road trip. In search of a map we turned to bookshops; we ended up finding three superb ones and spent hours exploring them. Finally, we found a stationery shop to pick up some sketchbooks and coloured pencils, and we were ready to go.
If you’re also a reading enthusiast – check out our blog post on the best books about Argentina!
Day 1: Salta to Cafayate
We picked up our car at 10am sharp on Friday morning – a shiny new Chevrolet Celta. The trickiest part of driving in a new place is always those first few minutes…
The prospect of navigating out of this hectic city, with right-hand-side driving to boot, was a little unnerving at first. We did take a few wrong turns in the process, including a U-turn on a one-way street – Salta is surprisingly difficult to navigate for a city that is literally ‘atlas’ spelt backwards!
After a stop at the supermarket to load up on journey snacks, we eventually found our way to Ruta 68, and we were on our way to Cafayate.
Gorge of the Sea Shells
The route from Salta to Cafayate begins mundanely, but blossoms into a scenic extravaganza through Quebrada del Rio de las Conchas (Gorge of the Sea Shells).
Before that we needed a lunch stop, so we decided to come off Ruta 68 and head to where we could see a large body of water on the map just a few kilometres away. Lakes are always pretty, right? The tactic worked, and we soon found ourselves picnicking on the peaceful shores of Cabra Corral Reservoir.
The next section of the drive winds through red canyons and jagged rock formations for the best part of two hours. Every corner you turn brings a fresh wonder. I lost count of the number of ‘mirador’ stops we made to take in the scenery and get some pictures.
If you love this kind of rugged red-rock scenery and you are travelling further south in Argentina, then you should also consider adding Sierra de las Quijadas National Park to your itinerary. It’s another beaut.
Cafayate and the Argentina Wine Route
The rock formations made way for acres upon acres of vineyards as we approached Cafayate. The town is one of the most important locations along the Argentina Wine Route, one of our main reasons for visiting.
It was a little unfortunate for us to arrive in August, out of season. We could only imagine how incredible those vineyards must look at the height of summer in oceans of green against the backdrop of Andean mountains, although the barren, skeletal winter look does elicit its own kind of charm.
We chose to wait until the next day to visit a local winery, after a bit of a day trip on the road, as I’ll explain below. But depending on the time you arrive in Cafayate, you might prefer to visit a winery on the first day.
Where to stay in Cafayate
We arrived in Cafayate at around 4pm and headed straight to Luz y Fuerza, our campsite of choice for two nights. We paid USD $25 in total, which included our tent and car for both nights.
If you’re not camping, these are some good other accommodation options in Cafayate:
- Hopedaje Felisa – family-run budget accommodation close to town centre
- Hostal Rustyk – tranquil hostel with garden area, BBQ facilities and a great breakfast
- Villa Vicuña Wine & Boutique Hotel – with beautiful courtyard, close to bodegas
After pitching the tent we headed out to explore the town. The combination of low season and siesta time meant it was very quiet, but we found a murmur of activity in the central plaza. Best of all, we found wine ice cream!
Heladeria Dessio on the square offers malbec and torrontés flavours at USD $2.50 for two scoops. After indulging, we bought a bottle of actual wine and headed back to the campsite for an early night.
Day 2: day trip to Tafí del Valle
On our full day based in Cafayate we decided to take a day trip to Tafí del Valle, a two-hour drive across the border into the Tucumán province and up into the Calchaquí Valley. With its own microclimate, the Tafí del Valle is renowned as a great spot for trekking and enjoying panaoramic valley views.
The ascending drive took us above 2,000m altitude and provided yet more impressive scenery. In particular, the mirador near Observatorio Astronómico de Ampimpa gazes back down the climbing road, with dusty plains stretching to the mountains on the horizon.
Tafí del Valle: a town in the clouds
By the time we reached Tafí del Valle we were driving in clouds. Stepping out of the car we were met by chilly air and the first rain we’d seen since the Amazon jungle six weeks earlier.
With the weather not so favourable for trekking, we decided instead to potter around the town, and stop for a coffee and Jesuit cheese sandwich at La Quebradita café, with a great view of Angostura Lake. Our bill was a very reasonable USD $12.50.
For more activity ideas while you’re in the town, check out this guide to Tafí Del Valle.
After lunch, we drove back to Cafayate in time for a walk to the Rio Colorado waterfall and some winery tourism. We didn’t make it all the way up to the falls, but it was a pleasant walk nonetheless.
For our winery experience, we went to Bodega Nanni, the region’s only organic winery, situated conveniently in the centre of the town. This turned out to be a good choice! The staff at Nanni were super friendly and helpful, and gave us a free tour in English, while we paid just USD $3 each for a tasting.
At the end we decided to buy a bottle of one of the finest wines in their shop, the ‘Arcanvs’ gran reserva for USD $26.50. In true classy style we enjoyed it from plastic cups back at our campsite! Some would say that’s sacrilege, but we had a great time.
If you want to make a full day of wine discovery in the region, we would recommend booking an experience like this half-day wine road tour from Cafayate.
In general, wine in the region is staggeringly cheap. In shops you can get a bottle for less than USD $2. That evening we ate in a restaurant on the main square and paid USD $6 for a decent bottle of local red. Our total bill for food and wine came to just USD $20.
We were glad for the wine overnight as the temperature dropped; north Argentinian winters are still warm by British standards, but you need to wrap up for camping.
Day 3: Cafayate to Cachi on Ruta 40 (dirt track section!)
In the morning we were on the road again to take the famous Ruta 40 up to Cachi. The longest road in Argentina and among the longest in the world, it stretches from Ushuaia in the deep south of Patagonia all the way up the Andes to the Bolivian border.
We assumed that such a renowned road would by smoothly paved throughout. Not the case! The section between Cafayate and Cachi is a 100-mile gravelly dirt track, and it took us about three hours to drive it. The views make up for the bumpy ride, though; we were in for yet more scenes of colourful rock formations as far as the eye can see.
Cachi: a desolate town before election day
Our only night in Cachi happened to be on election day, and much of the town was closed. Frustratingly, the local law dictates that alcohol cannot be sold on election day, and so when we went to Oliver’s, a renowned wine bar in the town, we were told apologetically that we could buy no wine.
Even so, Cachi is a lovely little town to explore for a half-day, with its quaint cobbled courtyards, white churched and cosy cafés. We sat down for some sketching in the main plaza before stopping for some empanadas from local favourite Mi Favorita and enjoying the orange hues of the sunset.
Where to stay in Cachi
Our camping experience in Cachi was also an odd one. We headed to Camping Municipal, one of the few sites we’d found online. When we parked up, an army training exercise appeared to be taking place.
We found some staff and asked about camping; they advised us that we could indeed camp there, at just USD $2 per person per night,. However, when we tried to pay, they didn’t take our money. With our limited Spanish we couldn’t figure out who or where we were supposed to pay, and we ended up camping for free!
Cachi is a small, quiet town, and other accommodation options are quite limited. Here are some options, which we would recommend booking in advance:
- Viracocha Art Hostel – a colourful place, which we’re pretty sure is the only hostel in town
- Hospadaje La Casona De Cachi – cosy stay with a cute white courtyard
- El Cortijo Hotel Boutique – the town’s most beautiful hotel in an old colonial house
Day 4: Cachi to Tilcara through Los Cardones National Park
The drive from Cachi to Tilcara was the most beautiful of our north-west Argentina road trip. We set off at sunrise, with mountains kissed orange as we drove into Los Cardones National Park.
One of the highlights around Cachi is Recta Del Tin Tin, a long, straight road along Ruta 33. It is a fine sight to behold, especially at the break of day with huge shadows of hills splayed across it. Make sure you get out of the car here for an obligatory photo!
The road through the national park coils around colossal green hills, climbing and descending and climbing again. Green turned into red as hills became canyons.
We passed back through Salta onto Ruta 9 north into the Jujuy Province. The landscapes mellowed down for this stretch, but once we were past the city of San Salvador de Jujuy we found the most stunning rock formations we had seen yet.
The most notable of these was the Hill of Seven Colours in the town of Purmamarca. The hill’s unique blend of colours derives from a complex history of tectonic plate shifts, marine sediment and water body movements.
Allow a couple of hours for the stop at Purmamarca. Sure, you could just stop for a quick view and photo of the seven-colour hill, but the town also has some interesting markets to wander round for a while, and makes a good stop-off for some food.
Live music and local food in Tilcara
We made it to Tilcara by about 3pm and set up camp at El Jardin, paying USD $23.5 for two nights. it’s just across the road from a hotel of the same name.
As with Cafayate and Cachi, we had the site pretty much to ourselves at low season. We would have preferred more company, but it’s also nice to have a bit of peace and quiet! Other than that, it was a great place to stay, with flat pitches, power points and hot showers.
We strolled into Tilcara and found a bigger, livelier and more photogenic town than Cachi. That evening we tried some locro (a regional dish) at a restaurant called La Peña on the main plaza. By 9pm the place was packed out and we were treated to some local live music. For two courses each and two bottles of wine we paid just USD $29.
Places to stay in Tilcara
For the non-campers out there, these are some good places to stay in Tilcara for a night or two:
- Hostal Antigua Tilcara – the best hostel in town with awesome hill views
- Postales Del Tiempo – lovely budget option with large rooms and breakfast
- Las Marías Hotel Boutique – beautifully designed hotel with a vineyard and swimming pool
Day 5: trips to Pucará and Humahuaca
Standing on a hilltop just outside Tilcara is the ancient ruin site of Pucará. It makes for a pleasant walk, and there are stunning views to be enjoyed when you reach the top. This is how we start the final day of our Salta and Jujuy road trip itinerary.
On our way up to Pucará we befriended a stray dog, who followed us up and down the hill. We called her Nancy.
The entry fee to Pucará is a bit pricier than other attractions in the region (we paid around $6), but it is worth the visit. The restored ruins are fun to explore, and the hilltop delivers a fantastic panorama of the town and surrounding valley, which we stopped to sketch. A ticket also includes entry to the archaeological museum back in the town centre, but we didn’t end up making it there.
With half a day left for exploring, we drove up to town of Humahuaca for a final dose of beautiful scenery, and yet more colourful rocks. The drive from Tilcara to Humahuaca takes about 45 minutes, passing more amazing rock formations along the way.
One of Humahuaca’s highlights is the Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia at the town’s summit. This majestic statue peers out on the markets below and the hills beyond.
Humahuaca is a nice town to slowly potter around for a while, explore the markets, and maybe grab a bite to eat.
The return drive to Salta
We stayed for one more night in Tilcara. The next morning we were up at 5am to drive back to Salta and drop the car off. A sad goodbye – we loved having our wheels!
It was back to the standard backpacker option of buses, until our next road trip across New Zealand. But there was plenty more wine to be had in Argentina in the meantime.
More South America travel inspiration
If you’re heading down to Patagonia (and we highly recommend you do!), then check out our complete Patagonia itinerary and travel guide.
If you’re travelling to Argentina’s capital city, read our article on the coolest things to do in Buenos Aires.
Are you travelling to Peru? If so, take a look at our mega 28-day itinerary for Peru to help plan your trip.