The Ultimate Guide to Northern Argentina

Northern Argentina is full of beautiful landscapes, never-ending quebradas, and mouth-watering food. It’s often overlooked by tourists, most of whom rush to more popular places, like Patagonia.

Before my trip, I was skeptical. I never imagined Northern Argentina could rival the beauty of the south. And, sure enough, I was wrong. It ended up surpassing my expectations.

So, if you are looking to explore one of the lesser-known areas in Argentina, then the north is for you!

Here is a complete guide to Northern Argentina. Everything you need to know, including; cool things to do, bus schedules, and more!

Hill of Seven Colors in Northern ArgentinaPin
Hill of Seven Colors

The Best Things to See and Do in Northern Argentina

Salta

Cerro San Bernardo in Salta ArgentinaPin
Cerro San Bernardo

Salta is an excellent jumping-off point for an adventure in Northern Argentina. There are endless things to do and explore. And, as a bonus, most of the activities are free.

Below is a list of things to see and do in Salta:

Salta Free Walking Tour – This was the best walking tour I did in South America. The guides are very knowledgeable on the history as well as life in present-day Argentina. We took detours from popular tourist sites and saw some beautiful areas of Salta. Here is the link to the tour: Salta Free Tour.

Cerro San Bernardo – Here you will have stunning panoramic views of Salta. I hiked to the top, but there is a cable car. The path up the hill begins behind the Güemes Monument, and the cable car leaves from Parque San Martín. I would recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset. The views are spectacular.

La Quebrada de San Lorenzo – This massive park is full of hiking trails and nature activities. And, after a day of exploring, stop by the restaurant at the main entrance. They serve the most mouth-watering empanadas! It’s an excellent day trip from Salta via bus 7. (It takes roughly 30 minutes.) I would also recommend using maps.me because the trails are not marked and there are no maps.

Eat Empanadas – Salta claims to be the birthplace of empanadas in Argentina, and it’s rumored to have the best ones! During my time in South America, I can confirm that Salta has the best empanadas. There are several cafes dedicated to empanadas. I tried several places, but my favorite place was El Patio de la Empanada.

Museo Arqueologia de Alta Montana (MAAM) – This museum focuses on the anthropology of the Andean culture. And the biggest draw is the mummified Incan children. Their remains provided evidence confirming the history and culture of the Incas. And, since their discovery in 1999, many other mummified children have been uncovered.

In general, the historical section of the museum was enlightening. But the exhibition of the mummified children was difficult for some. I chose to visit this part of the museum and used it as a learning opportunity.

Quebrada de Humahuaca

The Quebrada de Humahuaca is a narrow mountain valley in Nothern Argentina. This 150 km valley was carved out by the Rio Grande. And, while the river runs dry in the winter, it becomes very powerful in the summer.

In the past, the Quebrada de Humahuaca was a strategic location in Argentina. It was even colonized by both the Incan and Spanish empires. Today it serves as a cultural route between the Quechuan villages along the valley. And it’s most known for its multi-hued rock formations and indigenous villages.

While there are several villages along the route, the largest are Tilcara and Humahuaca. Below is a list of things to see and do along the Quebrada de Humahuaca from these two towns.

Tilcara

View of Quebrada de Las Senoritas in Northern ArgentinaPin
Quebrada de Las Senoritas

Tilcara is 3.5 hours north of Salta. While Tilcara is quieter than the other towns along the Quebrada de Humahuaca, it serves as an excellent base. There are plenty of hostels and restaurants, and it’s well connected to the other towns. I, personally, used Tilcara as a base to explore the rest of Northern Argentina.

Below is a list of things to see and do in Tilcara:

Visit Purmamarca – Puramamarca is 40 minutes south of Tilcara. It is rather expensive to stay in Purmamarca, which is why I did a day trip from Tilcara. The main attraction in Purmamarca is the Hill of Seven Colors. There are several hikes around the hill that offer stunning panoramic views.

Quebrada de Las Senoritas – This small desert hike begins in the town of Uquia, 30 minutes north of Tilcara. You will walk along deep red sand set against orange-colored mountains before arriving at a viewpoint. From here you will have stunning views of the valley below. If you are looking for solitude, then this is the place for you! I would recommend using maps.me, carrying a lot of water, and some snacks. The hike takes 2-3 hours and is best done in the morning. And, after the hike, I would recommend visiting Uquia.

Garganta del Diablo – Garganta del Diablo is a massive rock formation buried in the mountains next to Tilcara. Its name, Devil’s throat, comes from its shape, which looks like a throat. You can either hike (1.5 hours – one-way) or take a taxi. If you decide to hike, I recommend going in the morning. The afternoon sun is scorching. From the Garganta del Diablo, there is a trail that leads to some small waterfalls. While the trail is ok, the waterfalls were not worth the effort.

Humahuaca

Panoramic View of the Fourteen Colored Mountain (Serrania del Hornocal) in Northern ArgentinaPin
Fourteen Colored Mountain (Serrania del Hornocal)

Humahuaca is the liveliest town along Quebrada de Humahuaca. In fact, many Bolivians travel to Humahuaca to sell food, clothes, and other goods. So, you will see a mix of cultures here. This was, honestly, my favorite city during my time in Northern Argentina.

Below is a list of things to see and do in Humahuaca:

Iglesia de la Candelaria y San Antonio – Dating back to 1631, this is the oldest building in Humahuca. Inside you will find a series of exquisite baroque-style paintings that date back to the 1700s.

Heroes of the Independence Monument– This giant sculpture pays homage to the indigenous soldiers that fought in Argentina’s independence wars. From here, there is also a beautiful panoramic view of the town.

Visit Penas Blancas– Penas Blancas is a white rock hill that offers stunning views of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. You can visit Penas Blancas on foot (30 minutes) or by taxi. If you decide to walk, I recommend using maps.me as there are several diverging trails near the end.

El Hornocal (Fourteen Colored Mountain)– El Hornocal showcases bands of multi-colored limestone formations on an enormous scale. This magnificent rock formation sits at a whopping 4761 meters (15620 ft)! It’s an impressive sight that will literally take your breath away.

To visit El Hornocal, you will need to hire a private car or take a shared minivan. Shared minivans are located at the main bus stop. There are drivers walking around looking for passengers. Ask for El Hornocal and choose the time you want to leave. I recommend going in the morning or at sunset. And the entire trip takes 3-4 hours.

Iruya

Panoramic View of Iruya from Mirador de la Cruz at SunsetPin
Mirador de la Cruz at Sunset

Iruya lies deep in the mountains of Northern Argentina. This little mountain town offers endless opportunities for hikers and adventurers alike. With a population of barely 1000 people, Iruya is ideal for anyone looking to escape the crowds.

Iruya is a hiker’s paradise, and, so you should come prepared. I recommend having the following items (at the very least): good hiking shoes, at least 3L of water, and maps.me.

The best hostel is El Caucillar. On arrival, they will give you a detailed map of Iruya and help you organize your trip. They also speak French, English, and Spanish. If you want to experience all Iruya has to offer, plan on spending at least 2 days here.

Below is a list of things to see and do in Iruya:

Mirador de la Cruz – This small hike offers spectacular views of the city and the surrounding valley. I hiked up to the Mirador de a Cruz to watch the sunset, and it was spectacular.

Mirador El Condor – If you are looking for a hike that will test your fear of heights, then this is it! The trail is exceptionally narrow and at times dangerous. But if you are up for the challenge you will be rewarded with spectacular views and you may even see condors.

The hike to Mirador El Condor hike begins on the other side of the bridge, opposite the bus stop. While the trailhead is difficult to find, it’s marked on maps.me.

San Isidro de Iruya– San Isidro is a small town that can only be accessed on foot. The hike takes 2 to 3 hours and follows the Rio de Iruya. Again, there are no trail markers, so make sure you have some form of navigation. The area is desolate and the mountain landscape is stunning. If you are looking to hike in complete solitude and connect with nature, I can’t recommend it enough!

How to Get to Iruya

Iruya is only accessible by bus. And, depending on your starting point, it takes anywhere from 4-6 hours. Finding the bus times were challenging, so I’ve compiled the complete schedule below.

From Tilcara to Iruya: 8:00 (no return to Tilcara, first stop in Humahuaca)

From Humahuaca to Iruya (Monday to Saturday): 9:00, 16:00, 1800

From Humahuaca to Iruya (Sunday): 16:00 and 1800

From Iruya to Humahuaca (Monday to Saturday): 6:00, 13:00, 15:15

From Iruya to Humahuaca (Sunday): 13:00 and 15:15

La Quiaca

La Quiaca is the northernmost town in Argentina and it’s only a border town. I spent one night here before crossing to Bolivia. If you need to stay at the border, I recommend staying on the Bolivian side in Villazon. The hotels and restaurants are nice and it’s much cheaper!

Tips for Visiting Northern Argentina

  • Consider flying. If you are coming from Buenos Aires, don’t take the bus. The distances are so long and the buses are so expensive. It’s much cheaper and easier to fly.
  • Use Busbud. If you do decide to take the bus, use Busbud. This application lists all the companies and times for various destinations throughout Argentina. You can even buy tickets online, which are often cheaper than those at the bus station.
  • Beware of altitude sickness. As you move north, there is an elevation increase from 1500 meters (4921 ft) in Salta to 3400 meters (11154 ft) in La Quiaca. If you travel too quickly, you risk falling ill. Symptoms range from a throbbing headache to extreme nausea.
  • Stay hydrated. The landscape slowly turns to dry desert as you travel north. This combined with the increase in elevation results in rapid dehydration. It’s important to stay well hydrated.
  • Use Tilcara or Humahuaca as a base. The buses between the other towns in the north are cheap and efficient.
  • Don’t use tour agencies. Most activities do not require a guide. Don’t be fooled by tour agencies, they are overpriced.

No trip to Argentina is complete without visiting the north. As you can see there are so many things to do in Northern Argentina, it’s something not to be missed. Use this guide to help plan your next adventure!


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Read More About My Adventures in South America

Hope you enjoyed my guide to Northern Argentina. Here are some of my other adventures in South America!


Have any questions about traveling in Northern Argentina? Send me a message in the comments below!

Interested in more travel tips & tricks? Check out my other posts for more travel tips.


10 Comments

    • It really is a beautiful place. There’s quite a bit to do and it’s a bit more off-the-beathen-path when compared to the south of Argentina. And Iruya I discovered by accident. There were not a lot of blogs on it and it only had a blurb in the Lonely Planet. So, it’s really something to see! 🙂

  1. San Isidro de Iruya sounds like my kind of trail. I love spending time in nature and going places that most tourists don’t go, and I love connecting with the locals in unique ways. This is a great list! Thanks!

    • Oh if you love all of that I can guarantee that you would love Iruya. For me, it was a last-minute decision (when I saw the bus for it), and I was really glad I went. 🙂

  2. I love this! Northern Argentina definitely looks like a hiker’s paradise. I love Quebrada de Las Senoritas and the Fourteen Colored Mountain looks insane! So beautiful! It’s interesting how you mention not to use travel agencies. I’ve always thought it would be the right choice for international travel. But I guess if they’re overpriced it doesn’t make any sense to go through one.

    • Yes, there are so many hikes…it’s really incredible. For the travel agencies, they are very expensive and the activities they offer can easily be done with public transport. If you are really short on time and can’t afford to lose a minute (and speak Spanish) then maybe it might be a better option.

    • Oh, the empanadas are delicious. I ate way too many when I was there. And, yes, the colored mountains are an added bonus! 🙂

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