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Countryside South Of Molinos

Salta Tucuman Road Trip in 3 Perfect Days

Outstanding. Brilliant. Incredible. Fantastic. Perfect. All adjectives to describe the Salta Tucuman road trip in Argentina. This drive was another one of the highlights of our  trip to northern Chile and Argentina. I’d read reports of other travel bloggers about how wonderful this region is but it has to be seen to be believed.

The Salta Tucuman road trip is only 450 kilometres but most of that is on rough, dirt roads so the going is slow. We pushed it to cover the distance in three days and if I were to do the trip again I’d allow a week. Really!

Updated April 2020. This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Salta Tucuman drive and the countryside 75 minutes south of Salta
Countryside 75 minutes south of Salta

Salta Tucuman road trip – 3 ways to do it

Rent a car – best for flexibility

Renting a car offers the most in flexibility. It’s also a great option if you plan to do a loop and end up back in Salta. We wanted to continue south from Tucuman and avoid retracing our steps so although a rental car was a possibility I found the drop-off fees to be considerable.

If you do decide to rent a car consider choosing a major company like Budget, one of the only ones to even offer the possibility of a drop-off.

The downside to renting a car is the possibility of incurring significant damage on some of the rough roads, enduring car trouble in the middle of nowhere, getting lost (depends if you mind getting lost – that’s part of the adventure) and getting hosed at the end for every nick and scratch.

I highly recommend taking a video or a series of pictures of your car before you leave the parking lot. If you do opt for a rental car in this region I suggest that you carry the following: extra water, pliers, duct tape, chewing gum (to repair leaks) and some wire in case something falls off or a hose-clamp breaks. Do not leave the rental agency without  checking that you have an inflated spare tire and all the tools for fixing one.

Choose a tour

There are lots of tours – single day and overnight – that can be easily arranged out of Salta. Many include a visit to Cachi and some will take you to Cafayate. If you only have one day then at least get to Cachi.

The crazy road on the Salta Tucuman drive after you leave Salta
The crazy road up to the pass after you leave Salta

Hire a guide

The third option is to hire a guide which is what we did. It’s not the least expensive option but you get insider knowledge, the ability to get in and out of the car as you like, and the chance to meet some locals. Nick, the owner-operator of Poncho Tours was terrific.

He’s an English speaking Brit married to an Argentinean woman – and well versed in the Yerba mate ritual. He also got us chewing cocoa leaves and organized a picnic in a National Park that looks reminiscent of hobbit country.

Chewing fresh cocoa leaves
Chewing fresh cocoa leaves
A stop on the Salta Tucuman road trip at the atmospheric Los Cardones National Park
The atmospheric Los Cardones National Park

Day 1: Salta to Molinos in northern Argentina

It was a full day to cover the distance between Salta and Molinos. Leaving Salta you wind your way up the valley until you reach a high point of 3,457 metres. Here’s there’s a church and a place to leave an offering. Overhead we were lucky to see four Andean condors.

Once over the pass you leave the lush green countryside and enter a totally different climatic zone – arid and sunny.

You're warned about the dangerous road at the top of the pass
You’re warned about the dangerous road at the top of the pass
The road to Cachi
The road to Cachi
Drama at the top of the pass
Drama at the top of the pass

We elected not to go to Cachi but to take a less busy alternative. We were rewarded with incredible views.

Interesting geology on the road to Molinos
Interesting geology on the road to Molinos
Huge cacti are everywhere
Huge cacti are everywhere

Before we arrived in Molinos we stopped at a small home where they hand made ponchos. Even the kids were using the loom to weave belts.

Weaving a blanket
Weaving a blanket
The oldest boy in the family could weave a belt in an hour
The oldest boy in the family could weave a belt in an hour

Molinos

Molinos was a treat. It’s a small mountain town with a giant church- no surprise there. But it would be worth spending an extra day here to ride horses or just to relax.

We stayed at the Hacienda de Molinos – home to the last Governor of Salta and a fantastic spot. It features an open courtyard with 18 rooms. Rooms have views of the Calchaqu­ River and the gorgeous red mountains. There’s a very nice sized pool and the food is incredible – the best on the whole trip – which is saying something.

Courtyard at the Hacienda de Molinos
Courtyard at the Hacienda de Molinos
Fantastic empanadas
Fantastic empanadas
The church and square - directly across from the Hacienda de Molinos
The church and square – directly across from the Hacienda de Molinos

Day 2 – Molinos to Estancia de las Carreras near Tafi del Valle

The second day ended up being even longer on the road then the first day. Again we started off the day by driving through fantastic countryside. We ended up with a flat tire before lunch so our time in Cafayate was cut short. Cafayate is worthy of several days especially if you’re interested in spending some time wine tasting.

We only had time for one wine tasting, which we did at the Bogega Nonni. Then it was off to the Ruinas de Quilmes (remains of the largest pre-Columbian settlement in the country) where again we had just enough time to climb the trails and get a bird’s eye view of the ruins and the valley.

Countryside south of Molinos
Countryside south of Molinos

Salta Tucuman road trip – stop at Ruinas de Quilmes

We only had time for one wine tasting in Cafayate, which we did at the Bogega Nonni. Then it was off to the Ruinas de Quilmes (remains of the largest pre-Columbian settlement in the country) where again we had just enough time to climb the trails and get a bird’s eye view of the ruins and the valley.

On the Salta Tucuman road trip stop at Ruinas de Quilmes
Ruinas de Quilmes

Estancia de las Carreras

After the ruins we drove across the valley and then switch-backed our way again up into the mountains, looking for the Estancia de las Carreras, another fantastic small hotel bear Tafi del Valle. Rooms were well appointed and the place oozed history. It was built by the Jesuits in 1718 and the common room is filled with artifacts. Again meals are excellent and it would make a terrific base for a few days of hiking or horseback riding.

On the Salta Tucuman road trip spend a night at Estancia de las Carreras
The Estancia de las Carreras
Dramatic hummingbird seen at Estancia de las Carreras
Dramatic red-tailed comet seen at Estancia de las Carreras

Day 3: Estancia de las Carreras to Tucuman

Our last day passed in a blur. We drove through the lush, green hills surrounding Tafi del Valle. We had just enough time to visit some standing stones before we drove on through the jungle and down thousands of feet to reach the humid and not very pretty city of Tucuman.

Lush, green countryside around Estancia de las Carreras
Lush, green countryside around Estancia de las Carreras
Salta Tucuman drive takes you through dramatically different landscapes
Dramatically different landscape from the start of our Salta Tucuman road trip

And so ended our altogether too brief visit to this section of Argentina. Nick dropped us off at the bus station and a few hours later we were on a night bus to Mendoza. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

Further information about the Salta Tucuman drive

Tour costs were approximately $US225 per person – included Nick and the car.

Both haciendas were roughly $US140 per night.

Lunch and dinner are extra.

Further reading on things to do in Argentina

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A 3 day road trip in Argentina - Salta to Tucuman

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Hey Leigh..really loved the pics of Salta to Tucuman. Partof our around the world cycling tour was UP from Ushuaia the lenghth of Argentina. We cycled thsi very route in reverse..Tucuman to Salta then on into Bolivia. Travel is the greatest MIND OPENER available to man and by bicycle it dramatically improves the access to local people and marvelous like those in your pictures.

    1. @Pat and Cat – First a big thank you for stopping by. And I totally agree about travel being a mind opener. It would be a very different world if people realized we share more in common than we do in our differences. What a grand adventure your trip would have been too.

  2. Wow, it looks so gorgeous there, Leigh! As you have probably figured out I love mountains. I would actually like to rent a car (me driving – just a Mike thing) but also have a personal tour guide with me! The boy weaving a belt in day – would take me a year! And the vegetable quinoa – yes please 🙂

    1. @Mike We were thrilled to have Nick along as he really knew the lay of the land and that way it felt more like a holiday. I passed on the llama empanadas in favour of the quinoa dish – a memorable one at that.

  3. Hey…love your photos and tips. My wife and I are planning to rent a car and self-drive around the Salta region as well next month. Do we need to get a 4WD for that or are the roads ok with a normal car? Thanks!

    1. @KJ I think we had a normal car but we did get a flat tire – a common occurrence. You could probably get by with a normal car if your stuck to the main dirt roads but make sure you have a spare tire and the tools for a repair. We did have some locals help us but it wouldn’t have been fun without them.

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