Salta and Jujuy Province

Due to the huge distance from Santiago to Salta, we decided to stop off at Mendoza to sample the best wines in the region. The stop off felt immediately worth while due the incredible bus journey through the Andes to get to Mendoza. With roads that wound through the dramatic and constantly changing scenery, it felt like we were watching a movie! The border crossing into Argentina took quite a while, but it didn't detract from the beautiful scenery.

We decided to spend a day hiring bikes to explore the Maipú region of Mendoza, and visited some great vineyards including Tempus Alba and Trapiche where we got to taste world class reds. Maipú itself, however, turned out to be a bit of an industrial estate, and wasn't particularly safe to cycle around. We were pretty underwhelmed by Mendoza overall and without much charm or sights we were glad to move on to the more interesting regions further north. 


After a 17 hour night bus ride from Mendoza we arrived in Salta, northern Argentinian. We wanted to use Salta as a launch pad in order to visit the many interesting places around the area including Cafayate, Purmamarca and Humahuaca, all which boast breathtaking scenery and a more traditional local culture. We decided to spend a day exploring the centre of Salta before booking 3 day tours to the key sights with a local company.

With its colonial architecture and peaceful vibe we immediately warmed to the city of Salta. The main Plaza 9 de Julio was surrounded by beautiful 18th and 19th century buildings including the Cathedral de la Virgen del Milagro and the Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana. It was a lovely place to relax and soak up the atmosphere after a long journey. We also visited the amazing red and gold Iglesia San Francisco, with exterior equally impressive as it's exterior.

We then walked a few blocks, passing some interesting street art (and a vintage car show!) to the small but charming craft market to pick up a few things we needed. On our walk back to the plaza we stumbled across a beautifully designed boutique shop called FED that was selling wonderfully quirky hand-made interior bits and pieces. We then headed back to the square to visit the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, or MAAM (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology).  

Luckily the museum was open until 9pm so after a quick empanada at the bakery (Salta boasts the best) we arrived at the archaeological museum, home to the Children of Llullaillaco, arguably the best preserved mummies of all time. The collections of inca artefacts that had been found on the top of the Llullaillaco volcano were fascinating, and due to cold temperatures and ice had all been perfectly persevered. We learnt about the ancient rituals of child sacrifices in the mountains, ceremonies that took place to praise gods or when an Inka ruler died. On display was El Niño, the mummy of a 8-year-old boy with perfectly preserved clothing, hair and skin in a foetal like position. We weren't allowed to take photos, but it was totally surreal to see someone who had been dead for 500 years so intact.

(Photos by Maria Stenzel)


Our first tour from Salta was to the town of Cafayate, 3 hours south of the city with various points of interest along on the way. The drive is know to be one of the most beautiful in South America, with stunning mountains, giant valleys and interesting rock formations that make up the Quebrada de las Conchas. Our first stop was the ‘Devils Throat’, a tall, narrow passageway carved into a cliff face. Locals played traditional Inca music on flutes as we walked through the terracotta coloured rock that towered around us.

The next stop just around the corner was the ‘Amphitheatre’, a huge natural arena of rock that surrounded you on all sides. Inside there was a busker playing ‘Wish You Were Here’ by Pink Floyd, and the echoing acoustics were truly magical. The wall of rock was so big it was difficult to get a full photo, and without a person in the shot the scale was totally lost.

After driving for a few more kilometres we stopped at a lookout over the Valles Calchaquíes. We were given 20 minutes at the viewpoint to get some pictures of the incredible view of the dramatic orange and green mountains. We were driven past other interesting and appropriately named rock formations including the El Titanic, the Nail and China Town.

For lunch, we stopped in the small town of Cafayate, which was a pretty place although the restaurant chosen by the tour guide wasn’t the best (we learnt that choosing our own was a much better option when on a tour). The food was average but we got to try the local dish Locro and listen to some traditional live music. We then had a walk around the picturesque town and handicraft stalls before getting back on the bus.

After lunch we continued to the Finca Quara vineyard where we got to sample local wines and tour the factory. Unfortunately the tour was only in Spanish, but luckily we had an english-speaking Argentinean on our tour who helped translate most of the information. We sampled some amazing reds including Malbec and Cabinet Sauvignon, and even bought a bottle for our evening meal. The prices were ridiculously cheap, around £1.60 per bottle! Cafayate was how we envisioned the wine regions of Argentina to be: a charming town nestled amongst vineyards and beautiful countryside. We could easily have stayed a night!


Our second day tour was a trip to the small town of Cachi, a 3 hour drive west of Salta. The route reaches altitudes over 5,000 metres, and we could start to feel it as we climbed the hills in our small tour bus. The locals on the bus kindly offered us some Mate, a bitter tea and tradition popular with Argentinians.

We were also advised to take coca leaves to help with altitude sickness, and our tour guide showed us the technique of rolling up 10 leaves into a small bundle and keeping them inside your cheek for around half and hour. We weren't sure if they worked or not but they seemed to calm us down a bit, and it was interesting to try something that was so integral to South American culture. We wound high up into the giant green hills and stopped at the lookout where a small shack was selling Llama Salami!

From there we continued to the small town of Cachi. There wasn’t too much to do in the town to be honest, and besides a small Inca artefcats exhibition we found the tour to be a little less interesting compared with our trip to Cafayate the day before. On the way in and out of the town we noticed large red fields where the local farmers were drying vast quantities of sweet red peppers. Unfortunately we didn’t get to stop and look as we were on a quite tight schedule, but it would have been interesting to see the fields up close.

After leaving Cachi we set off to the final stop, the Los Cardones National Park. It was a huge expanse of land filled with giant cacti as far as the eye could see. We spend 20 minutes or so taking pictures and wandering around the desert landscape. The tour guide decided to play a trick on us and pretended to drive off, leaving us stranded with nothing but our cameras in the desert! We eventually saw the funny side once the bus stopped and the doors opened!

Humahuaca and Purmamarca

Our third and final tour was to Humahuaca, but we wanted to use the tour to travel up towards our next stop, San Pedro de Atacama. The road to San Pedro passes through the small but beautiful town of Purmamarca, so we decided to stay there after our tour and catch the bus en route to northern Chile. Due to a political protest, we didn’t stop at the city of Jujuy on our tour, so an hours drive later we stopped in Purmarmarca where were treated to a small but bustling town with locals selling colourful garments and a handful of decent restaurants. As we'd decided to stay in Purmamarca we popped into a recommended hostel and booked a nights stay before continuing north with our tour.

We continued onwards passing amazing colourful zig-zagging mountains until we stopped at Tilcara, a small town with ruins of a pre-inca fortification nearby (Pucará de Tilcara). We took a short guided tour of the ruins, learning about the purpose and layout of the structure. It was a shame to see that archeologists had destroyed part of the ancient ruins to build a memorial for themselves (something that the guide was rightly quite upset about!)

Our lunch stop was in Humahuaca, another small city in Jujuy Province. Having learnt from a couple of bad lunch experiences we decided to break from the group and head to a small restaurant specialising in empanadas. They had about 10 varieties, and we sampled a range of the local specialties which were both delicious and cheap. The town was very similar to Purmamarca, if not a bit bigger, and had some impressive steps surrounded by market stalls selling knitted goods and ceramics.

After an hour were were summoned back to the bus, and by our request they dropped us back in Purmararca where we made our way to our very quiet hostel, El Viaje Algarrobo. We spent that evening in a nearby restaurant called Tierra de Colores, listening to a brilliant local band over a steak dinner with cheap (but good) Argentinian wine. 

The following morning we woke up at 6am to see the sun rise over the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colours) that puts Purmamarca on the map. We scrambled up the dark, rocky hillside to the viewpoint and waited for the sun to rise. As the light increased, the colours of the mountain got more intense, revealing the greens, reds and orange layers of minerals and metals that gives the mountain its name. The town was very peaceful and beautiful in the morning light, especially as there was nobody else around except a couple of gauchos on an early morning horse ride.

Serranias del Hornocal

Although our tours were a great way to see the surrounding sights of Jujuy, we felt they were a little rushed. Because of this we had missed a sight we were really anticipating: the 14 Coloured Mountain, or Serranias del Hornocal, about an hours drive north of Humahuaca. The only way to get to the mountain from Humahuaca is by tour van or jeep, meaning we had to get a bus back to Humahuaca first. After some negotiations with locals and a bit of luck bumping into people we’d previously met on our trip, we managed to get a spot on a jeep. We drove along a bumpy, dusty road until we reached about 5000 metres above sea level. Two of us had to sit in the back, which was definitely the more fun and picturesque option!

On arrival we were met with a jaw-dropping view of the 14 coloured mountain. It was incredible, and definitely the most beautiful mountain we’d seen around the Jujuy province. We decided to walk another 10 minutes down hill to the ridge where you get the best view. Coming back up hill was definitely a struggle with the altitude, but well worth extra effort. After a good half an hour of taking photos and gazing in awe at the view we jumped back into the jeep and descended back towards Humahuaca, before getting a cab to Purmamarca.

We really warmed to the city of Salta, and found it to be a perfect base to see the sights of the Jujuy region. It was also a treat to stay in a hostel for more than just one night, allowing us to focus on enjoying the surroundings without packing up our bags so frequently. Although a little rushed at times, the tours were a relatively economic option that allowed us to explore the surrounding mountains, viewpoints and towns that we may otherwise have missed. The colourful landscapes of Jujuy were spectacular to see, and accompanied by the peaceful towns, local traditions, food and clothing, we felt that we'd really started to experience a much more traditional way of Andean life.  

Patagonia — Vistas and Volcanoes

After the W trek we needed a few days to recover, launder clothes and plan the next stage of our journey. We had a lot of distance to cover and a few strategic points to visit in a relatively small window of time if we were to keep the trip on track. We'd researched the areas between Southern and Northern Patagonia, and knew there were some exciting things to do and see. Our route took us up the Andes, weaving in and out of Argentina and Chile, stopping at key cities and sights along the way.

El Chalten

Our first destination was the small town of El Chalten, 420km north of Puerto Natales, and home to the famous Fitz Roy mountain. There were no direct buses from Puerto Natales so after crossing the border into Argentina we had to make an over night stop back in El Calafate and catch an early bus to El Chalten. El Chalten’s mountains are visible from the town and so you instantaneously feel the rewards. With vast valleys, rivers, lakes, circling condors, autumn trees and towering mountains: it's Patagonia at it’s best.

Seeing as it was a beautiful day we dropped our bags off in our hostel and got our (still recovering) knees back into action. We’d arrived late afternoon so decided to do a short hike to the Fitz Roy Mirador before dark. We stopped off at various look-out points along the way and had great views of the surrounding landscapes. As we reached the look out for Fitz Roy, even though it was a clear day, a cloud had perched itself on top of the iconic peaks! Despite the obscured mountains, the setting was beautiful, and being so close to the town felt like a complete luxury. 

The following day we set off for another hike to Laguna Torre in hopes of seeing the iconic Torre massif. The hike was around 3 hours each way but it was relatively flat, and without heavy bags it felt easy in comparison to Torres del Paine. Unfortunately the clouds descended again as we arrived at the lagoon and the epic mountain view wasn't visible. As it started to rain we powered back to our hostel to have a quick shower and dinner before boarding the night bus to our next destination: Bariloche, Northern Patagonia. 


After a pretty uncomfortable 30 hour coach ride from El Chalten (with bumpy roads and very few breaks) we were relieved when we started to pass the amazing lakes and lush mountains of Bariloche. Feeling a little sleepy from the journey we slowly made our way up to our hostel, Penthouse 1001. The hostel was located in a converted 10th floor apartment block, giving great views of Lago Nahuel Huapi, the largest lake in Bariloche. We cooked up some much-needed roast vegetables for dinner and watched the sun set, excited to explore the area the next day.

Unfortunately it was raining the following morning, so we took the opportunity to catch up on our admin from the last few weeks in the comfort of the lovely hostel. By the afternoon the weather perked up so we caught the local bus to the base of the chairlift to see the famous 7 lakes view. From the top it was easy to understand why Bariloche was so highly rated; the blue lakes surrounded by tree-covered hills and jagged mountains, the dramatic scenery reminded us a bit of Rio! After taking in the views we headed back to our hostel to try out the industrial-style kitchen and cook up our favourite recipe, chicken a l'orange! We had a lovely evening drinking with fellow travellers in a hostel that had definitely positioned itself as one of our favourites. 

The following day brought rain once again, so we begrudgingly canceled our kayaking plan and explored the town instead. Bariloche itself is a lovely Swiss-style town with wooden alpine architecture, great restaurants, Saint Bernard dogs(!) but also amazing artisan chocolate shops! We felt it would be culturally irresponsible to not try out the local specialities, and we were not disappointed. The chocolate was ridiculously cheap and very good, and after stocking up, we made our way back to hostel to pack and devour our treats. 

Puerto Varas

The following morning we took a 6 hour bus from Bariloche, which included a very lengthy border crossing back into Chile, and arrived in the picturesque town of Puerto Varas mid afternoon. After checking into Casa Azul hostel we did a short self-guided walking tour of the town, walking past the Iglesia Sagrado Corazón church and the many protected traditional German-style wooden houses.

We ended up at the lake front at sunset where we could see the snow-topped Osorno Volcano in the distance, as well as Calbuco Volcano, the third most active in Chile. Not wanting to miss the opportunity we decided to book a tour to the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park for the following day where we could visit Osorno up close.

The following day we got picked up by our tour guide for a full day of exploring the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. Half an hour into the drive we took a quick stop to feed some llamas at a local farm which was (according to one of us) the ‘best dollar ever spent!’. Needless to say the food was gone in seconds.

We continued along the lakeside road until we arrived at the Vicente Pérez Rosales park entrance. We walked past a few small lakes (and even spotted a baby southern river otter!) and then took a short catamaran ride around the Todos los Santos lake, taking in the beautiful scenery. We even docked the boat up to next a small waterfall where we could fill up our bottle with fresh spring water.

We then moved on to Petrohué Waterfalls, an incredible mass of water that had found it’s way through cracks in the volcanic rock after many large earthquakes. You could really start to see the effects that the volcanoes and tectonic activity had on the surrounding ash-covered landscape. We spent half an hour looking out over the walkways at the various viewpoints of the prehistoric waterway.

After the waterfall it was time to make our way up the Volcano Osorno. The best way to see the volcano is getting two separate chairlifts (used for skiing in the winter months) and then walking as far as you can go from there. It was a surreal experience being on a chairlift without snow, and seeing the ash-covered landscape with patches of red rock and cold mist rising from the sides of volcano. 

At the summit we were treated to breathtaking views of the lake and of the Andes mountain range that shot up around us. Walking further up the steep path we could feel the awesome energy and power of the sleeping volcano beneath our feet, and as clouds floated around us we both felt incredibly glad we'd made the effort to visit.

The following day we wanted to rent a kayak, but as we’d just hit low season it was near impossible to find availability. Determined to find some kind of water-based activity, we asked the local tourist information office who explained that we could visit a thermal spa in a nearby forest. As our options were pretty low we decided to go along, and after being picked up from our hostel we arrived at the small retreat. The location was beautiful and we could hear the river nearby as we sank into the secluded thermal baths surrounded by forest. After 10 minutes in the tub we would race up the steps to the sauna, repeating the process for 2 hours. It was very relaxing, although it did feel a bit indulgent for a couple of travellers!

Even though we had been met with a few minor frustrations on this leg of our trip, it put into perspective about how lucky we'd been up to this point. This was our first time travelling really long distances, and with quite short stops in between we had little margin for error. It helped us remember that it's better to dedicate a bit more time to get the best out of each place we visit. We rounded up our trip in Patagonia with an amazing fish dinner at Casavaldes and looked forward to continuing our journey north to Chile's capital.

Patagonia — Glacier Perito Moreno

El Calafate

After 10 brilliant days in Buenos Aires we decided to take our first inland flight south, and within three hours of leaving the vibrant, bustling capital we landed amongst blue skies, snow-topped mountains and dazzling turquoise lakes. We had arrived in El Calefate, Patagonia! A short bus ride later we were dropped at our hostel America del Sur, sat high on a hill overlooking the small town. It was a great mix of contemporary architecture and rustic hostel living, and gave fantastic panoramic views of the Lago Argentino. The hostel staff were very helpful and got us booked up on our exciting trek for the following day.

Glacier Perito Moreno

After a 2 hour bus ride through incredible Patagonian landscapes we were dropped at our first stop: the Balcony. We were given a few hours to walk around the various glacier viewing platforms, taking in the epic mass of ice from all angles. It was truly amazing; neither of us had ever seen anything like it before.

At 5km wide and 70m high it's sheer size is astounding, and it's surroundings equally impressive - it was hard to get your head around the scale! Every so often large chunks of ice would break off and crash into the freezing water below, and for 20 minutes or so we patiently waited and listened to see if we could catch one before it hit the water. We had a quick packed lunch we'd previously prepared overlooking the amazing glacier.

The Glacier Trek


After returning to our coach, we could hardly believe that the best was yet to come. We boarded a catamaran and set off for a hike on the glacier itself. The approach was spectacular, and as Moreno grew in size so did our excitement! After getting off the catamaran we walked along boardwalk through a small stretch of woods and stopped at a row of wooden huts to prepare for our trek.

After getting our crampons (spiked shoe attachments for grip) on our feet and a quick lesson in walking on ice we were off. Less than 5 minutes into the trek it felt like we'd entered another world. Huge mountains of white and mineral enriched blue ice towered around us as we snaked through the truly awesome landscape. It felt like we were on another planet!

The trek was rounded off with a lovely touch of whisky on the rocks, where of course, the ice was chipped straight off the glacier in front of you - it tasted amazing! The trek had been one of our most expensive days on our travels, but one in which we both agreed had been an experience of a lifetime. It jumped right to the top of our list as the highlight of South America so far!