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Salta is an area of stunning natural beauty; it's also home to some of Argentina's best wineries. The giant, colorful rock formations and expansive, crystalline salt flats rival those found in the western United States. The wineries in Cafayate, in the south of the province, are known for their Torrontes — incidentally, my favorite white varietal in the world. Pre-Inca ruins at Quilmes and Tastil, overrun by massive cacti, are made even more dramatic by their hilly, desert settings, with commanding views over the surrounding valleys.
Quebrada de las Conchas
Large-scale red rock formations define Quebrada de las Conchas, a river valley in the middle of Salta province. Los Castillos (The Castles), El Anfiteatro (The Ampitheatre), La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil's Throat), and El Oblisco (The Obelisk) are some of the names given to this area's many natural rock formations.
Along the roads, alpacas and vicuñas — two South American species — can be spotted, as well as a variety of other animals.
Salinas Grandes Salt Flats
This may look like snow, but these vast white plains, spanning 212 square kilometers, are actually covered with salt. The 30-centimeter thick salt crust began to form 5-10 million years ago with the gradual evaporation of a large salt lake.
Pre-Inca Ruins at Quilmes and Tastil
Dating back to around 850AD, the large Pre-Inca city of Quilmes was inhabited by about 5000 people at its peak. One of the few populations to resist the invading Inca forces, the Quilmes fell to the Spaniards in 1667. The ruins — a mountainside maze of stone houses that would have originally been covered by cactus roofs — are the largest Pre-Inca ruins in Argentina. The smaller Pre-Inca ruins of Tastil, inhabited between 1360 and 1440, with a peak population of only 2000, afford views over a series of valleys and are even more beautiful than those at Quilmes.
Purmamarca and the Cerro de Siete Colores (Seven Colored Hill)
Purmamarca may be best known for the Cerro de Siete Colores rising behind it, but it is a charming town in itself. Instead of a fountain, the centerpiece of the main plaza is a more environmentally-appropriate cactus garden.
This city of half a million inhabitants is the capital of the eponymous province and a great jumping-off point for visits to the surrounding natural splendors. I enjoyed the teleférico ride up Cerro San Bernando, a large hill that provides a panoramic vista of the city.
La Polvorilla Viaduct
At 4200 meters above sea level, this impressive, steel viaduct is the highest point on Argentina's Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) line.
Along the road between the viaduct and the nearest town, San Antonio de los Cobres, is a very old miners' cemetery.
San Antonio de los Cobres
The small town of San Antonio de los Cobres is cold, dusty, and stark. One of the highest altitude towns in Argentina (3,750 meters), its claim to fame is being the last stop on the Tren a las Nubes. All of the dogs I encountered there were wary of humans.
Surrounded by excellent vineyards, Cafayate is a pleasant town with a wine museum, good restaurants with good wine lists, and multiple gelaterias selling suprisingly delicious wine ice cream.
Bodega Etchart is a relatively large operation, and visiting their premises isn't a completely satisfying experience. Large groups of visitors are herded through a carefully choreographed tour, with barriers maintained between them and anything "real" (the exhilarating experience of being surrounded by fragrant, wine-filled, wooden barrels is not to be had here), and visitors are brusquely chided if they linger while taking photographs. However, Etchart makes very good Torrontes, so they're forgiven.
Bodega El Esteco
This winery, founded by two French brothers in 1892, is a joy to visit. Their wonderful wines have won a variety of international prizes (the first being in 1929), and I was quite taken by their Don David Tannat.
Bodega La Banda
Bodega La Banda was founded in 1857, and the onsite museum provides some fine examples of antique wine-making equipment.
Bodega Tierra Colorada
This is a real family winery, with no fluff or pretense. They don't have a tasting room, but I enjoyed watching the wine production.
Museo de la Vid y el Vino (Museum of Vine and Wine)
Visiting this museum is more an aesthetic experience than an educational experience. Everything is beautifully laid out, but many items lack explanation.
Other Sights and Landscapes in and around the Salta Province
More photos: View all photos in the directory /photos/argentina/.
Eve Andersson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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