Take an adventure through the heart of Argentina. This northwest region houses some of Argentina's most inspiring scenery, from colourful mountains and barren plains, to spectacular gorges and lunar landscapes. Woven into this tapestry is a strong cultural and gastronomic presence - throughout the tour, discover the indigenous heritage still found in the Andean region and contrast this with multi-cultural Buenos Aires. Wine tasting - Taste the specialities in vineyards around Cafayate and Mendoza, famous for their Malbec and Torrontes wines Magnificent scenery - Journey from arid cacti-strewn deserts to rich fertile forests Humahuaca - Explore the immense gorge and 'seven coloured mountain', and take a drive up to San Antonio de los Cobres
Arrive in Mendoza, the heart of Argentina's wine country, located in the shadow of the mighty Andes. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Mendoza at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport (airport code MDZ), a 20 minute drive from our hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, you could explore this lively city by strolling the leafy streets or taking a coffee in one of the many charming plazas and people-watching.
30 minutes outside of Mendoza city we find Lujan de Cuyo - a wine growing region where row upon row of vines grow in neatly ordered lines under the shadow of the Andes mountains. Drinking wine in this landscape is an unforgettable experience, and today we will be visiting two of the region's wineries. Although this area is home to many varieties of white, it is mainly known for its reds, particularly the ubiquitous malbec. We will have the chance to taste the multiple varieties of grape found in the area during our tour, before returning to Mendoza. The late afternoon is free to explore the city, and on our first full day in Argentina it's a good idea to try some of the local delicacies - alfajores are an Argentinian staple, a cakey biscuit filled with 'dulce de leche', perfect with an afternoon tea or coffee. We may even try mate - a bitter green tea drink that takes centre stage in most Argentinian social gatherings. Throughout our trip we may often see people walking around the towns and cities, flask in hand, as they go about their daily business. If you are offered some take note - mate is served in a communal cup, with a 'bombilla' (straw) to drink through, and is passed around the circle, each drinker enjoying the mate before passing it back to the server to be re-brewed. Be careful not to say thank you, as this signifies that you have had enough!
Today we have a full day trip to Aconcagua Provincial Park, home to the magnificent Aconcagua - standing at 6961m it is the tallest peak in the Americas. At the bottom of the permanently snow-covered peaks we find lush meadows and some forested valleys, and our Explore Leader will take us on a short 1.5hr hike to the Horcones Lagoon, a glacier fed lagoon with outstanding views of the mountains. The trail is relatively flat and rocky, with mountains looking at either side of us and the peak of Aconcagua rising before us in the distance. Before returning to Mendoza, we also make a stop at the Puente del Inca, a geologically formed bridge once allegedly used by Incas to cross the river. The reddish oranges of the formation are caused by the minerals in the waters running beneath the bridge, and the remains of a slightly curious-looking stone chapel are still found built into the rock. We arrive drive on to Uspallata after our visit, arriving in the evening.
Today we set off to Barreal, one of the most beautifully situated towns in this sleepy region of the country. Seven snow-capped Andean peaks overlook the town, and arriving here is a shot of green in the often desert-like landscapes of the northwest. The highlight is the nearby El Leoncito National Park, a protected area with very strict regulations on air pollution. Due to the quality of the atmosphere it is an important centre of astronomy. The highlight of the park is the observatory, and we will visit at night, where hopefully we'll have no cloud cover and an unrestricted view of the stars.
We have a long day of driving today, approximately seven hours, to Villa Union. Much of the drive is on the iconic Route 40 - similar to Route 66 in the US, the road is embedded into the country's culture, taking travellers from Salta in the north down to the wilds of Patagonia. Most of the road is paved, with just 120km of dirt roads, and on this section we pass through small villages, ancient pre-hispanic settlements and the 'Las Burras' Gorge road, winding through the mountains. Villa Union is the jumping off point for exploring the Talampaya and Ischigualasto National Parks, and is a sleepy town with the shadows of the Andes in the background.
A day full of weird and wonderful landscapes awaits us today as we explore the moonlike scenery of Ischigualasto National Park, and the red rock towers of Talampaya. Once the kingdom of dinosaurs, these two parks contain the most complete fossil record known from the Triassic Period and have together been granted UNESCO heritage status. Ischigualasto National Park is up first. Popularly known as 'Moon Valley', the geological oddities that have been somehow formed by water, wind and sun over the last million years have turned the park into another planet. 'Bowling Lane' is one of the most iconic sites, with scores of perfectly polished round balls sitting on a flat surface, with apparently no explanation to their formation. At Talampaya, the scrub desert boasts fossilised remains of a wide range of ancestral animals and plants. Even for those amongst us who are not scientifically-minded, the park is another impressive show of geological wonders. We will be undertaking an easy hike through the immense red rock canyon of the Don Eduardo Gorge, which is approximately 8km on flat terrain. The dry riverbeds, red dunes and sand plains are more akin to a Martian journey than our expectations of Andean scenery. After a thorough exploration of both parks, we return to Villa Union.
We get back on the Ruta 40 today, driving towards the small town of Belen and passing through characterful, rural villages en route. Part of the drive takes us on a winding upwards journey over the Cuesta de Miranda, perhaps one of the most photogenic and visual climbs in the region - taking us from 1000m to 2000m above sea level and back down, in just a couple of hours. The highway was originally built in the early 1900s, following the path of the ancient Inca Trail that eventually leads to Cusco. That early road was precarious - you could barely fit two cars abreast, with one side of the road dropping into the deep Miranda gorge. Thankfully it was updated in the last ten years, and a new highway was built - we'll pass the old one during the drive for comparison! After the Cuesta de Miranda, it's an easy drive for the final 200 kilometres to Belen. There is a women's weaving co-operative in Belen that we have been visiting with groups for the last few years. Weaving, with both sheep and llama or alpaca wool, is an essential part of the economy up here in the northwest, and the co-op is a fascinating way to learn more about the process and its important place in this society.
Setting off this morning to Argentina's northern winelands around Cafayate, we stop at the indigenous Quilmes ruins en route. The Quilmes people, dating back to around AD1000, famously resisted the Incan invasion and lived through over a century of Spanish colonisation. The large site is made up of the remains of terraces rising up the cacti-covered hillside - we can walk to the top for excellent views of the valley and the site. Although not as impressive as other archaeological sites in the Andes, it helps us to understand the indigenous heritage in this part of Argentina. Finally, we arrive in Cafayate in the early afternoon for a round of wine tasting in two of the region's rustic wineries, their rows of green vines backed by the spectacular mountains beyond. We might try Argentina's main white wine, Torrontes, famous in this region.
The Argentina of the Andes is steeped in Inca heritage, and the indigenous populations have retained many of their old traditions - in small towns like Cafayate, local methods of weaving have been maintained since pre-Hispanic times, and during our journey through the Andes we may admire their woven clothes, hats, sweaters and ponchos in llama and vicuna wool. Today this journey takes us to Cachi through 'Broken Arrow Gorge', a spectacular formation of sharp, pointed rocks shooting up through the air at all sorts of different angles; the road that we travel on pierces this dramatic and surreal landscape. We'll take the opportunity to stop en route at viewpoints, with some short walks and small village visits. On arrival in Cachi (2530m altitude) we have some free time. We can use the time to relax and wander the cobblestoned streets and tranquil plazas of the town.
This morning we have free time in Cachi to explore some of the surrounding mountain trails. In the afternoon, we head on to Salta, down the 'Bishop's Hill Road', 20kms of hairpin bends that offer views down to the Sierra del Obispo. During the three hour drive the change in scenery is simply amazing, as we travel from the cactus filled deserts of the Cardones National Park, down to lush green mountains, blanketed in vegetation and eroded by rippling brooks and streams. We stop to discover the spectacular mountain views at the various viewpoints on route to Salta - one of the more lively cities in the north of Argentina, it is a blend of colonial architecture, fascinating museums and buzzing nightlife. Tonight we can get a taste of its music scene at a 'pena', a traditional folk music hall where locals come with guitars and take turns in playing and singing. Dinner is included.
Today we set out to explore the UNESCO Heritage area of the Humahuaca Gorge, a highlight of any trip to the northwest of Argentina. Purmamarca is one of the towns within the gorge, and setting off today we can appreciate the town's incredible backdrop - a mountainside named the 'Seven-Coloured Hill' for its bright shades of yellows, oranges, reds and greens. Indeed, the rest of the day's journey is awash with colour and scenic roadside lookouts; another appropriately named mountain is The 'Painters Palette'. Through our exploration today we visit the regions old traditional villages, such as Tilcara, Maimara and Humahuaca - these villages are perfect people-watching opportunities, and it's interesting to see once again the heritage from the pre-Columbian period which gives this area of northwest Argentina a very distinct sense of cultural identity. This is not only manifested in the woven items that we have seen in other towns, but also in the local diet, with northern food including llama stews and corn dishes. We return to Salta this evening and can make the most of our journey in the north by eating at one of the local restaurants.
We say goodbye to the northwest and catch our flight to cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. Here we find ourselves in the midst of Argentina's capital, located on the southern shores of the Rio de la Plata. Since its founding by Pedro de Mendoza in the 1500s, the city has thrived on trade and its vibrant streets are filled with an eclectic mix of European architectural styles, with Spanish, French and Italian classicism rubbing shoulders with remnants of Victorian grandeur. The afternoon is free to settle in. Tomorrow we will visit the eclectic and bohemian south of the city, so this afternoon you might want to visit the elite north, home to the embassies, the richer neighbourhoods and many of the city's green spaces. Its main site is the famous Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of some of Argentina's most revered figures, including Eva Peron. Or perhaps go to Palermo Park, an urban oasis in the madness of the city. This evening or tomorrow we will have an opportunity to enjoy something of Buenos Aires' dazzling nightlife and soak up the pulsating rhythms of one of South America's most captivating cities.
This morning we take a tour of the southern part of the city, exploring the major landmarks around the Plaza de Mayo, site of the famous mass demonstrations by supporters of Juan Domingo Peron in 1945, organised by his wife Eva. We also visit the arty district of San Telmo, with its small one-way streets and walls covered with street art and graffiti. The tour ends in the colourful vibrancy of La Caminito in the La Boca district of the city. Settled originally by Italian migrants, the area is famed for its bright houses and lively street performers. We will surely come across the tango being performed on some street corners, a dramatic difference to the Folkloric dancing in the northwest, and highlighting the capital's affiliation with Europe in this most Latin of dances. The afternoon is at your leisure. There is much to do and see in Buenos Aires, so revisiting a favourite area or simply relaxing by the waterfront at Puerto Madero may be on your wishlist. A final taste of the famous alfajores is essential!
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Buenos Aires. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Buenos Aires at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from either Aeroparque Internacional Jorge Newbery (AEP) or Ezeiza International Airport (EZE).
13 Break Fast(s) 1 Dinner(s)
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