Tag Archives: canyon

Day Two: Tupiza to Quetena Chico

After looking into our options, we organised our trip with Tupiza Tours. We left early in the morning in a convoy of four jeeps, each loaded with food, water and fuel. We had to be self-sufficient as our accommodation was very basic. So, in our car we had our guide (Alberto) as well as a cook (Veronica) and we were joined by Claire from Ireland and Tyler from Canada.

The crew. Pic taken near Palala Village.

We started out by covering the same ground as the previous day's mountainbike ride to El Sillar. This time we visited the top of the ridge, which gave us a great view on either side.

Looking down to the Rio San Juan del Oro.

At roughly 11:30 am we passed near San Vincente, the alleged site of the killing of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This was and still is mining country and Butch was in the neighbourhood staging robberies… but that's a whole story on it is own so we will try and get back to it later.
We stopped for lunch in Cerillos, the largest in a cluster of hamlets that largely exist because of the mining industry. Although this was the largest hamlet, it was not much more than a tiny shop and a few mud brick houses. We took some notes on this hamlet out of curiosity, which is covered in the next post (we won't make a habit of it though).
The day was long, dusty, and due to the altitude, cold. Several people in other cars were suffering pretty badly from altitude sickness. We were ok but hadn't realised how important it was to acclimatise first. Fortunately the scenery was dramatic and kept changing at every corner, so it wasn't taking away from the trip.
About midway into the afternoon we came across a truck that was bogged in an icy river. For some reason that did not inspire caution with our drivers and one of our jeeps was bogged too. Our guide stopped so we could get out and lighten the weight of the jeep, then he got across and tried to help his mate. Then another jeep from the same company came up behind us and also got stuck…shambles. Eventualy we all got out…
Shortly after this we passed a small convoy of trucks loaded with cars. We thought they were crazy to be trying to cross through this country while the rivers were freezing over but our guide informed us that they were using these backroads to avoid the police…those cars were stolen and this was basically a smugglers route.
The scenery was stunning the entire day. We were constantly in awe as the landscapes changed every few hours. We ended the day watching the sun set on Uturuncu Volcano (6,008 metres).
Later in the evening we arrived at the first nights accomodation at Quetana Chico. We know its winter, but there is nothing that could prepare us for how unbelievably cold it was, and without any internal insulation or heating, it was difficult to get warm. The lady in the office at Tupiza told us that it would get down to around negative 30 degrees celcius overnight, and around negative 15 degrees inside. We managed to distract ourselves with card games, music and wine but went to bed fairly early to keep warm and get some sleep before the next day of adventures!

That was a long night and it was the coldest on the tour.

 

 

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Day One: Tupiza Triathlon

Crossing the border from Argentina was relatively straight forward. We caught a bus from Tilcara to La Quiaca, walked a few kilometres, then got our stamps and crossed into Villazón. From there we jumped straight into an overcrowded mini van with a crazy driver who delivered us safely to Tupiza. The town itself is nothing special, but the surrounding landscape is exceptional!

Most people seem to stop over quickly in Tupiza on their way to the Salt Flats, but we wanted to get to know the countryside a little better so we stayed for a few days. One activity offered is the Triathlon, which involves a combination of a 4x4WD jeep tour, horse riding and mountain biking. We decided that this was the best way to cover the area in a short amount of time and have a bit of fun along the way!

 

Jeep Tour
The off road four wheel drive experience took us north of town into a wide valley. We drove past amazing rock formations, through dry river beds, past wandering llamas, goat herders and through tiny villages made up of adobe mud brick houses.
We then came back south of town to visit a popular river spot surrounded by stone mountains. In summer the whole river is flooded but it hardly rains at all in winter, so it was almost empty. A picnic lunch consisted of the staple ham and cheese sandwiches, with llama tomales, a local specialty. Despite asking for vegetarian food, they forgot to pack it, so Mark ate all the tomales (he was stoked!), and I got an exciting cheese sandwich!
 

Horse Riding
We spent a couple of hours after lunch riding through Quebrada Palmira to Canyon del Inca, via Puerta del Diablo (Devil's Gate) and Valle de los Machos (Valley of Men). Apparently the route through the canyon was an old trekking trail for the Incas.
The scenery was stunning and we had a great time riding horses through Bolivia's wild west!
 

Mountain Biking
We ended the day with a sunset downhill mountain bike ride from El Sillar through the Quebrada Palala. The lighting was fantastic, it turned the grass a golden yellow and the red rocks glowed.

 


Cafayate and Cachi

While we were in Salta, we spent a couple of days doing day trips to explore the surrounding landscapes and towns. We had heard that both Cafayate and Cachi were nice, but didn't really know what we would find. Both trips exceeded our expectations!


Cafayate

Driving out of Salta through the Quebrada de Cafayate towards the town of Cafayate, we were struck by the amazing red desert, canyons and rock formations, which looked like they were straight from the set of an American country and western film.

We stopped at several places along the way, to take in the amazing views and look down over the canyon. The Garganta del Diablo (Devils's throat) was a large crack between the rocks that stretched back several kilometres.

El Anfiteatro (Ampitheater) was probably the most impressive, as it was literally a path that lead to a naturally hollowed out circle in the rock, which used to be a waterfall.

The rocks provided amazing acoustics, and apparently many musicians have recorded albums here. We were lucky to see a local band performing although we didn't stay long as it was freezing!

There were other rock formations along the way such as El Sapo (the toad) and El Fraile (the friar), however they were not as impressive and only looked very loosely like what the tourist guide claimed them to be.

The Devil's Throat

Quebrada de Cafayate


The Ampitheatre

We arrived in Cafayate in time for lunch and were surprised to find a quaint little town with a cute colonial plaza. We ate in the sun, tried some local craft beers and ice cream before heading off to a nearby vineyard for a tour and some wine tasting. Having spent so long in Mendoza, we were not particularly excited by yet another wine tour, however, the local specialty is a white torrontes and that was worth the trip! It was so good that we bought several bottles of torrontes over the next few days to make sure we did it justice. The Argentinean malbec is the pick of the bunch for red wines and the torrontes is definitely the best white wine. Highly recommend it!
 
Cachi
Driving to Cachi we saw completely different scenery from the drive to Cafayate, but it was equally as impressive. We drove through a valley and then steadily climbed up winding roads until we were literally above the clouds.
The area is well known for its geological formations and the colours that can be found in the rocks as a result of different layers of sediment. The scenery was stunning, and along with mountains and rocks, we also saw huge cactus trees, some of which are hundreds of years old!
We arrived in Cachi for lunch,and like Cafayate, it had a beautiful colonial plaza surrounded by a church and white washed buildings. Mark was very excited to find an asado restauarant that was cooking up fresh llama, which he tried for the first time. We wandered around town, bought some more local wine and enjoyed the sunshine. The drive back to Salta was just as beautiful, and wellworth the effort!

 


Atuel Canyon

While we were in San Rafael we wanted to see the Atuel Canyon, which we had heard was amazing. We spent one day at Valle Grande, which was easy enough to get to by catching a bus from town to the dam wall. However, we didn't realise that none of the activities would be running, it was too far to walk to the top of the dam, and that the bus only had one return time – 7pm, when it was dark and cold, and all the cafés were shut!

After our first failed attempt, we decided to hire a car for the day so that we could have the freedom to explore in our own time. This proved to be the best option! We took a wrong turn coming out of San Rafael, and ended up driving a different route to El Nihuil, which turned out to be a spectacular drive across desert plains with mountain peaks in the far distance.

 
 
 
Eventually, we turned off the main road and headed towards the village of El Nihuil. There is not much to this dusty little town, but we did find one restaurant that was open, so we had lunch and then continued on our way. The canyon starts here and provided hours of epic scenery.
There are several huge dams used for hydroelectric power. The last is at Valle Grande, where there are also a lot of activities that you can do (mostly in Summer) such as kayaking, rafting, trout fishing etc. However, there was pretty much no water in the river as it hardly ever rains, and the dam holds the main flow.
The dramatic landscapes and colours in the rock were incredible. Add a dash of Autumn, and it was just beautiful. We had a great day and would highly recommend anyone around the area to check out the Canyon!
 

El Nihuil

Dam wall at Valle Grande