In Argentina we did another great road trip. The Puna is the Argentinian highlands, not as high up in the Andes as in Bolivia, but equally as impressive. It is easily possible to find overnight places below 3500m. The volcanic origin of these landscapes is glaringly obvious. During the two days driving from Antofagasta de la Sierra to the Salar de Arizaro we did not cross a single car on that 200 km stretch.
First we went down to Salta to get a few things organized. We took the RN51 down from San Antonio de los Cobres and then the RN68 further on to Cafayate which leads through a number of beautiful rock formations.
Driving up to El Peñon is where our exploration of the Puna began.
This large field of white rocks is of volcanic origin and shaped through erosion.
Carachi Pampa sports a wide black volcano, whose lava field we drove through, and another laguna that changes its color to reddish depending on the position of the sun.
This is also the place where we managed to get stuck in muddy terrain. Luckily only one wheel was affected, thus the problem was quickly resolved with the right equipment.
We spent a night in Antofagasta de la Sierra, the last village with supplies of fuel and food before heading into the remote part of the Puna. The road to Antofalla goes through the Quebrada de Calalaste and across a pass of 4635m altitude before reaching a viewpoint of the impressive Salar de Antofalla.
Antofalla is a small village a two hours drive away from anything else. Eight families live here, thus roughly 40 inhabitants. They mostly live from agriculture and and livestock farming. One guy works for the generator which is operated every day from 5pm to midnight to generate electricity for the entire village. It is also during this time that a satellite internet connection becomes available.
Ojos del Campo
One of these nicely shaped waterholes near Antofalla once had a bright orange color. Why this is no longer the case is beyond our knowledge.
Salar de Arizaro
We then took the road that goes along the Salar de Antofalla through Antofallita, a tiny hamlet consisting of a couple of houses, and across another pass at about 4000m altitude.
The Cono de Arita is not of volcanic origin. This perfect cone was created through erosion.
The Salar de Arizaro is hard to walk on and impossible to drive on in its original state. But unlike other places in South America the Argentinians maintain good roads across the Salar. The reason is that many mines are located in different corners of this high altitude region and obviously the various extracted materials need to be transported.
Ojos de Mar
After passing through Tolar Grande, we reached these blue eyes. Age-old bacteria still live in these waterholes.
Desierto del Diablo
This small red desert surrounded by red hills made for a great overnight spot.
More mountain passes
The next day we drove through Los Colorados, across the Salar de Pocitos and across the Abra del Gallo (4660m) back to San Antonio de los Cobres.
The final stretch led us along the Ruta 40 and across the impressive and sometimes steep and narrow Abra El Acay (4995m) down to La Poma, Cachi, Angastaco and Cafayate again.