The Essential North Argentina Backpacking Itinerary & Route

The north of Argentina is a hidden gem, largely untouched by tourism. This means cheap prices and a feeling of being off the beaten track that you can’t find in the bigger cities. Follow our three-week north Argentina backpacking itinerary to help you plan and enjoy the best of the region.

Contents

Day 1-2 - Humahuaca

Humahuaca is the first of three small towns along Route 9 which runs through the beautiful northern countryside all the way down to the city of Salta.

 

Here you can find Argentina’s very own Rainbow Mountain (and depending on who you ask, better than the more famous one in Peru).

 

El Hornocal or the 14 Coloured Mountain, is just outside the town of Humahuaca, a 30-minute drive away. It’s a great little day trip. You can find a cheap tour in town or drive there yourself if you have a car. If you can, try and get there on a weekday to avoid the crowds and turn up just in the late afternoon to experience the colourful mountain illuminated at sunset.

Everything else you need to know about Humahuaca from our favourite hostels to the best restaurants is here in our guide to the town:

 

 

Day 2-3 - Tilcara

Tilcara is the second town you come to along Route 9. It has the same laidback vibe of Humahuaca and is filled with artisan cafes, shops, and restaurants.

 

In the summer, it gets livelier with Argentinian tourists escaping the big cities and filling up the peñas (communal gatherings with traditional music from the region) and bars.

 

You also have some great options for outdoor adventure here. You can trek to El Garganta Del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat Waterfall) or the historical site of Pucara Del Tilcara, a pre-Inca fortification built in the 12th century.  

For more information on Tilcara:

 

 

Day 5-6 - Purmamarca

Another short journey south is the third town on Route 9 which includes Argentina’s second Rainbow Mountain – the Hill of 7 Colours.

 

Whilst it doesn’t sound as impressive as the 14 Coloured Mountain, the hill is just as colourful, and you don’t need to take a tour to see this one. You can see it from anywhere in town but the best way is to walk along the Paseo de los Colorados, a 1.5 mile (3 km) easy trail for great views of this multi-coloured hill.

 

Purmamarca is also a good base for a trip to Salinas Grandes – Argentina’s spectacular salt flat.

 

You can visit by yourself or book a tour and you will have lots of opportunities to get the famous perspective shots and marvel and the unique white landscape that stretches on for miles.

Check our comparison guide of the two mountains:

 

 

Optional - Jujuy

We skipped over Jujuy (pronounced who-who-e) whilst travelling through north Argentina as we were short on time, but this is the largest city in the province also named Jujuy.

 

There are lots to things to do here such as hiking in Calilegua National Park or visiting the natural hot springs at Termas de Reyes. You can even use it as a base for exploring and taking day trips to the towns along Route 9 if you prefer. If you are looking to travel the region by car, then it’s here where you can rent one.

 

We will be going back to check it out in the future.

Day 7-9 - Salta

More and more wine lovers are travelling to ‘Salta – La Linda’ (meaning Salta – The Beautiful) to visit the world-famous vineyards and enjoy the magnificent mountain landscapes.

 

The beautiful countryside paired with high-quality wines and delicious regional foods makes for a great experience.  

 

The city centre has some interesting sights such as the Museum of High-Altitude Archaeology (MAAM) which contains a perfectly preserved mummified corpse of an Andean child, thought to be sacrificed by her tribe hundreds of ago.

 

If that’s not your cup of tea, then the Teleferico Cable Car will take you the top of San Bernardo hill for great views of the city or you can head to Calle Balcare to party with the locals.

 

Salta is also great to use as a base for exploring the countryside. You can take a day trip out to Cabra Corral Dam for some adrenaline-fuelled activities such as bungee jumping or visit the smaller towns like Chicoana or Cachi as day trips.

For everything you need to know about Salta:

 

 

Day 10-11 - Cachi & Route 33

If you didn’t rent a car to explore Route 9 then now is the time to do it. We understand it can be expensive, but you will want your own transport for this next part of the journey as Route 33 is perfect for a road trip.

 

Route 33 from Salta to Cachi will take you past two popular sights – Cuesta Del Obispo and the Tin Tin Straight Line.

 

Cuesta del Obispo, or Bishop’s Slope, is a long winding road ending at the top of a hill at La Piedra del Molino (the Millstone) nearly 11,000 feet above sea level. The mountain offers a perfect viewpoint overlooking the Enchanted Valley, and you will get great shots of the road carved out of the mountainside.

The Tin Tin Straight Line is a 20km almost perfectly straight road that follows an ancient route built by the Inca. Unfortunately, Tin-Tin’s name comes from a nearby river and mountain and has nothing to do with the Belgian detective comic. Hop out of the car for incredible views and a road that doesn’t seem to end.

 

Cachi is a small town which we used to stop off in for a night. There isn’t a lot to do here apart from eat good food, visit a bodega to try some regional wines and marvel at the beautiful countryside.

 

We stayed at Hosteria Cachi for two nights. They have a swimming pool, buffet breakfast and the grounds are set up on a hill giving you panoramic views of the Andes Mountains and the Calchaquí river.

Day 12-13 - Cafayate

Cafayate is a wine-producing region in the northwest of Argentina, located within the Calchaqui Valley – one of the world’s highest suitable locations for growing grapes. The combination of high-elevation, great year-round weather and fertile soil produce incredible malbecs and torrontés.

 

After leaving the town of Cachi, you will be driving along Route 40. Route 40 is Argentina’s famous highway that stretches the entire length of the country from the north at the border of Bolivia, all the way down to Patagonia in the south.

 

It’s consistently rated as one of the best routes to road trip in the world.

 

Along this road, there are multiple photo opportunities as you follow the Rio Calchaqui south. The most unique stop is Quebrada de las Flechas – or Canyon of Arrows.

 

You drive along a winding road through this canyon with 150 ft rocks jutting out at steep angles either side. We stopped the car multiple times to marvel at the natural beauty of the valley.

Once you are settled in Cafayate it’s time for wine tasting.

 

There are three bodegas in town that are easy to visit – Nani, Domingo Hermanos and El Transito. At each one you can pay a small price to try a selection of wines. For example, at Bodega Nani we paid 250 pesos for 5 wines (3 reserves and 2 young).

 

After that, you should visit Piatellia Vineyard for a full tour and to learn more about how grapes are turned into wine before another tasting!

 

Whilst we love our adventure travel, this part of our South America journey came at the perfect time when we were a bit worn out. We just laid back, enjoyed the beautiful weather, and drank wine to our heart’s content. We suggest you do the same.

Check out our full guide to the town including the best bodegas and vineyards to visit here:

 

 

Day 14 - San Miguel De Tucuman

Whilst road-tripping in Argentina is great, it is also expensive. After Cafayate, we decided to drop off the car in San Miguel de Tucuman and from here we took an overnight bus to Mendoza (we had a flight to Chile to catch otherwise we would have carried on road-tripping along Route 40).

 

You can do this if you like or if you want, there are endless options for continuing the road trip.

 

You could loop back up from Cafayate to Salta along Route 68 which is another incredible road with lots of beautiful stops along the way or you could carry on south on Route 40. The north of Argentina is such a beautiful region; you won’t struggle to find towns to explore and places to enjoy. 

Day 15-20 - Mendoza

Mendoza is the number one wine-producing region in the country, and guess what, you’ll be enjoying even more great wine whilst you’re there.

 

The city is a lot bigger compared to Salta so we would recommend 4-5 days. Whilst here we toured the vineyards on bikes by ourselves and partied a few nights with the locals.

 

Other great activities included trekking around Aconcagua in Parque Provincial – the highest mountain peak in the Western hemisphere or heading out to Lake Potrerillos – an artificial lake for swimming and other activities.

Make sure you stay at Gorilla Hostel in Mendoza. They have a swimming pool and host great BBQ nights with lots of wine!

Day 21 - Travel To Santiago, Chile

Santiago is just across the border from the Mendoza and takes 4-5 hours by bus (including the border crossing). If you are continuing to travel in Chile, then be sure to check out our guides for this incredible country as well.

 

If you aren’t then you can fly from Mendoza back to BA or whatever your next destination is. And that wraps up our north Argentina itinerary!

See how this itinerary fits into a wider South America backpacking trip by combining it with a visit to Chile and Argentina:

 

 

This itinerary is based on our three-week trip through the north of Argentina, starting in Bolivia and making our way down to Mendoza before crossing the border to Chile.

 

It’s a great route for those of you on longer South America journeys. To see what these look like, check out our longer multi-country itineraries below:

 

 

Is North Argentina Worth Visiting?

The north of Argentina is well worth a trip, especially for those who love their wine, and those who like to feel like less of a tourist and more like a local.

 

You have cheap prices, minimal tourists and a host of beautiful sights, tours and activities to choose from such as Argentina’s Rainbow Mountain, Salinas Grandes Salt Flat or the wine region of Cafayate.

 

The area pairs well with extended trips to Bolivia or Chile as well as you are just a short border crossing away from being in a new country.

Alternative North Argentina Itinerary Options

Not everyone will be crossing the border from Bolivia to Humahuaca so you may need to adapt this itinerary slightly to fit your needs. Here are some alternative options: 

North Argentina Itinerary (Starting In Buenos Aires)

If you are starting in Buenos Aires then after spending a couple of days in the capital, take a flight or overnight bus to Salta. From here, we would recommend the same trip by travelling up to Humahuaca first and then working your way back down.

 

  • Day 1-3 – Buenos Aires
  • Day 4 – Fly To Salta
  • Day 5-6 – Humahuaca
  • Day 7-8 – Tilcara
  • Day 9-10 – Humahuaca
  • Day 11-12 – Salta
  • Day 13 – Cachi
  • Day 14-15 – Cafayate
  • Day 16 – San Miguel De Tucuman
  • Day 17-20 – Mendoza
  • Day 21 – Fly To BA

North Argentina Itinerary (Starting In Mendoza)

Our route can also be followed in the opposite direction from Mendoza up to the north. We would recommend travelling along Route 40 and stopping at the small towns on the way to break up this part of the journey.

 

San Agustin de Valle Fertil is a great stop, perfect for exploring Ischigualasto National Park and the valley of the moon.

 

  • Day 1-4 – Mendoza
  • Day 5-6 – San Juan
  • Day 7- 8 – San Augustin de Valle Fertil
  • Day 9 – Drive to Cafayate
  • Day 10-11 – Cafayate
  • Day 12 – Cachi
  • Day 13-14 – Salta
  • Day 15-16 – Humahuaca
  • Day 17-18 – Tilcara
  • Day 19 – Purmamarca
  • Day 20 – Salta
  • Day 21 – Salta to BA