North Argentina Travel and Tourism Information
Situated in the far northeast of Argentina, the region is the border among three countries: Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. It is packed by many tourist attractions like the amazing Iguazú falls in the national parks of Brazil and Argentina, Itaipu, the world’s largest hydroelectric and the Jesuit Missions.
a) Iguazú Waterfalls – Foz de Iguacu- Cataratas de Iguazu
Subtropical climate is the reason for the lush vegetation and the region’s flowing rivers in this small but miraculous territory. The fabulous Iguazú falls formed by the unification of the Iguazú and Parana rivers consist of 275 different falls almost five kilometers along the Argentina – Brazil border. The highest and most famous fall, the “Garganta do Diabolo” reaches a height of 64 meters (200 foot), while the others reach a height of about 30 to 40 meters (100 foot).
The falls can be visited from the The northwest of Argentina includes the provinces of Salta, Jujuy, Tucuman, Catamarca and La Rioja, a region larger than Italy, though only 5% of the Argentinean population lives here.
The Iguaçu falls are the tallest and the widest falls in the world, and undoubtedly one of the most spectacular sites within all of South America. The river feeding the falls defines the border between Brazil and Argentina, so the two most practical bases for exploring this majestic site are either Foz de Iguaçu on the Brazilian side or Puerto Iguazú on the Argentina side. The city of Foz de Iguaçu is much larger and has more options for lodging, dining and shopping, but is also considerably noisier. The Argentine side is calmer, more centralized, and more easily negotiated on foot, but is more primitive. Neither side has many nightlife options, but you will find many restaurants with world-class grill-houses and excellent service, and the presence of tourists from all points on the globe lends a friendly and cosmopolitan ambiance.
The falls along the Brazilian side are much less extensive, so visitors who arrive into Foz de Iguaçu by air may easily visit the Brazilian park on day they arrive or depart, since the park entrance is only about five miles from the airport.
Once inside the National park, there is a bus from the park entrance to the beginning of a paved path that leads to the falls via a series of viewing platforms. The entire circuit is scarcely a mile, so take time to appreciate the full majestic splendor of the topical scenery, the mist and rainbows, the lizards and monkeys in the trees, the exotic butterflies that flutter around, the tropical birds that fly overhead, and the hypnotic roar of the falls. Near the end of the trail, there are several walkways that allow you to approach the Santa Maria falls at the edge of the chasm that drops into the Iguazú River, and there is another station literally at the base of Salto Floriano, the largest cascade on the Brazilian side. You will feel the exhilarating spray of the falls on your face at both of these posts.
An entire day is required to visit the Argentine side, where the vast majority of the falls lie. Although the trails in Argentina’s National park are much more extensive, the park area is also much better developed and serviced than the Brazilian side. There is a small passenger train that leaves from just inside the park entrance and services two stations within the park: the Devil’s throat and the Cataratas station, which is the starting point for visiting the lower and upper circuits. Use of the rail system is included in the price of park admission. The upper circuit passes above the top of the falls along a flat walkway, and takes about an hour to cover. The lower circuit, which leads to the base of the Dos Hermanos falls and to the edge of the Iguazú River, is considerably longer. At the end of the circuit, visitors may take a free ferry across the Iguazú River to San Martin Island and/or a high-speed raft tour to the base of the magnificent Barnabé Mendez falls and then up the Rio Iguazú towards the Devil’s throat as far as the Two and Three Musketeers falls. The cost of the high-speed raft tour is NOT included in the park admission, but is well worth the extra money, since passengers receive an exhilarating baptism at the foot of the falls (you will get wet!!!!).
The highlight of the Argentine side is a visit to the “Devil’s Throat”, the most rapidly flowing portion of the falls. As you follow the suspended walkway that leads away from the train station, you will cross the river past the original walkway, which washed out during a flood in the 1990’s and was still being used as late as 2000. The roar of the falls gradually becomes louder as you approach the final viewing platform, heightening the sense of anticipation. The platform is perched at the very edge of the falls, just across from the Devil’s throat, and you can watch the water plunge beneath you into a misty abyss. Through the mist and rainbows, you will see small birds darting through the falls, and feel a cool, exhilarating rejuvenation as the misty spray from falls refreshes your face and further enhances a truly magnificent and transcendent experience.
Full moon tours to the top of the Devil’s Throat are offered five nights each month, and visitors may also arrange helicopter tours, which offer the most spectacular view of the falls. In addition, there is a jungle tour, and several other trails within the park that may be visited. For example, the Macuco Trail to the seldom-visited Salto Arrechea is an excellent option for “off-the-beaten track” adventure.
Visitors will want to plan their visits carefully, since lighting conditions and crowds vary considerably by season, and throughout each day. Check with park officials or your guide to determine the best time to visit the Devil’s Throat and the lower circuit. Although visitors may bring packed lunches into the park, there are several restaurants near the Central Station/Park Entrance and an excellent restaurant at the top of the Lower Circuit (Dos Hermanas) with live music and a festive atmosphere.
Many guided tours to the falls include a visit to the three borders lookout, and excursions to the Itaipú dam in Paraguay, the world’s largest hydroelectric project, are also popular. Ideally, visitors should plan to stay more than two days in the Iguaçu area, since there are many other interesting excursions to enjoy. Just across from the road from the Brazilian park entrance, there is also a spectacular bird park where you may view toucans, macaws, parrots, parakeets, Flamingos, and other exotic birds. Most of these are allowed to roam freely within the aviary, and the rest (i.e. the endangered species such as the macaws) may be viewed at close range. Take some time to relax and work yourself into the surroundings, since your viewing experience will be enhanced as the birds become accustomed to your presence. Toucans will calmly approach and pose for photographs, or even perch on your hat or camera, if given adequate time to feel comfortable.
b) Jesuit Missions
The Mission province was home of 12 Jesuit missions which are today ruins but an interesting tourist destination. The Jesuits came to Brazil in order to teach Christian Faith to the native Indians. For more than 150 years Jesuit priests and Indian families lived together in a social and political organization. Under the protection of Missionaries against the violent behavior of the Spanish and Portuguese settlers, Indians learned agriculture, reproduction of animals and handicraft. But the removal of the Jesuit priests caused the end of the Missions complexes, as nobody cared anymore about the buildings and they turned into ruins.
The oldest and best preserved mission ruin – “San Ignacio Mini” – is located between the waterfalls of Iguaçu and the town of “Posadas”. Founded in 1631 it was built of red sandstone with priests´ quarters and baroque style churches. The ruins of “Santa Ana” and “Loreto” are also near to “San Ignacio Mini”.
The northwest of Argentina includes the provinces of Salta, Jujuy, Tucuman, Catamarca and La Rioja, five different geographical regions larger than Italy, though with only 5% of the Argentinean population. It consists of an enormous plateau at an altitude of 3,500 meters (12,000 meters) reaching from Argentina to Chile and Bolivia.
On the western border of the Sierra Pampeanas the region includes the natural parks of “Ischigualasto” and “Talampaya”, revealing a complete sequence of fossil sediments. Stunning formations made by wind erosion are the main attractions in both parks. It was declared world Heritage by UNESCO representing the entire Triassic Period (245-208 million years ago), pre-Hispanic rock paintings and many sites of archaeological significance.
Various pre-Columbian cultures have lived in this region but the greatest influence was caused by the northern “Puno” culture. Thanks to this long pre-Hispanic history, this area offers a rich inheritance of the past with diverse indigenous ruins. Today its inhabitants still proudly maintain the habits and customs of their ancestors like singing and dancing traditional folkloric music; making weaved blankets and ponchos, from vicuñas, sheep, and llamas; and talking in Quechua, the language of their forefathers. Beside of these pre-Hispanic historical relicts the region also possesses beautiful colonial architecture with many churches and other historical buildings.
As a whole the region, which is not yet discovered by mass tourism, preserves a unique charm with its centuries-old customs, spectacular mountain shapes and the intensive variety of colors of the earth, deserts and mountains.
Located in a fertile valley “Valle de Lerma” at 1187 meters (4,200 ft) above sea levels, Salta is a wonderful place to enjoy historical, architectural and environmental beauties.
It was founded in 1582 by the Spanish and is still filled with well-preserved age-old architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. The region offers unforgettable trips like the day trip “Train to the Clouds” of 350 kilometers (215 miles) passing through amazing sceneries with deep valleys and mountain chains.
Another interesting trip goes to “Villa San Lorenzo” located 10 km (6.25 miles) from Salta which offers beautiful views of the gorges and prairies of the “Lerma Valley” and the Andes.
The traditional lifestyle of Northern Argentina is still very much alive in Salta, and may be witnessed on the faces of the noisy street vendors and ice-cream salesmen, with their old-fashioned carts and bicycle freezers; in the bustling city market and the colorful city streets that are dreamily silent during afternoon siesta and later come to life during the evening promenade; and in the delicious regional cuisine that is carefully prepared in the many family restaurants scattered throughout Salta’s neighborhoods.
Although not a major tourist destination, Salta offers many pleasant surprises for those who venture to this scenic corner of Northern Argentina. Take your time as you explore the city on foot, since much of its charm is tucked away into side streets, courtyards and residential neighborhoods. The city tourist information center is located on Avenida Buenos Aires, just south of the central plaza, and has excellent resources for helping tourists find lodging, navigate the city, and locate the most interesting points within the lively city center. Plaza 9 de Julio is perhaps the nicest plaza in all of Argentina – this picturesque square has lush, well-tended gardens, fountains, and statues, and is bounded by the beautiful white city hall (“cabildo”) on the south, the lovely City Cathedral on the north, the ornate “Casa del Gobierno” to the west, and the elegant Colonial Hotel to the east. There are cafes and park benches scattered throughout the square for those who wish to sit back and soak in Salta’s relaxed beauty. Only a few blocks away, visitors should not miss the magnificent Church of San Francisco, with its brilliant, cardinal-red church and stand-alone bell tower.
Architectural elegance notwithstanding, the true attraction of Salta is its leisurely pace and traditional way of life. To truly see and experience the traditional charm of Salta, take a leisurely late-afternoon stroll through the city park (Parque San Martin), where you will hear the sounds of children playing old-fashioned playground games, observe the crafts salesmen and their charming folk art, and witness elderly residents playing chess, cards, and dominoes. Be sure to arrive at the base of the aerial tram (Complejo Teleferico) in time to catch a ride on the gondola to the top of Cerro San Bernardo, where you will find a charming park and excellent views of the city, the surrounding mountains, and the entire Lerma valley. The top of Cerro Bernardo is also undoubtedly the best place for viewing Northern Argentina’s glorious sunsets. You may ride the gondola back down or take a stone footpath that descends all the way to Parque San Martin at the east edge of the city center, where you should take time to see the monument to independence hero General Guemes (who’s ashes are kept in Salta’s Cathedral), as well as the traditional mansions that line Paseo Guemes leading from the park back towards the city center.
Almost everything is closed during siesta, so make sure you have eaten and taken care of your daily business prior to 3 pm. In the early evening, a flood of color and activity returns to the city at the end of siesta, as the city’s inhabitants take to the streets to promenade, shop, and socialize. Be sure to savor the many regional delicacies such as empanadas and humitas that are available in the many traditional, family-owned restaurants scattered throughout the city. Most of these offer an excellent selection of wines as well. As in other regions of Argentina, one may also always count on finding first-rate grill houses that offer delicious steaks and other grilled meats (“parrilla”). Dinner is usually taken later in the evening, and many restaurants are not open until after 8 pm. Salta is also renowned for its vibrant nightlife, especially on the weekends. Many good cafes and restaurants have opened on the newly renovated Avenida Balcarce, near Belgrano train station North of Plaza Guemes, now the preferred nightspot for energetic young Salteñas.
In addition to the many urban attractions that draw visitors to Salta, there are a host of outdoor activities to be enjoyed beyond the reaches of the urban center. The surrounding countryside has an elegant and picturesque simplicity, and offers opportunities for horseback riding, rafting, hiking, bird watching, cycling and other pursuits. In addition, the city is a good base for trips to nearby Jujuy, Tilcara, Bolivia, and to the majestic canyons (“quebradas”) to the south near Cafayate. To the North of Salta, just outside of Salvador de Jujuy, Purmamarca’s 17th century church and the nearby “hill of seven colors” are both popular destinations. Further to the north, you may follow the scenic Quebrada de Humahuaca from Jujuy all the way to Bolivia. About halfway up the canyon is the adobe village of Tilcara.
This enchanting hamlet is home to the magnificent Pucara del Tilcara, which was a pre-Inca garrison that later became one of the southernmost Inca outposts. The village also boasts a desert botanical garden, as well as a fantastic artisan’s market and probably the liveliest “pena” in all of Agentina – visitors and musicians come from as far away as Bolivia to dance to “folklorica”, Argentina’s traditional music. If possible, try to stay a day or two in Tilcara to relax, explore and take in the friendly small-town atmosphere. Be sure to visit the Museu Arquelogico Dr. Eduardo Casanova, which has excellent exhibits on the pre-Colombian civilizations that inhabited the regions, including the Incas (admission to the museum is included in the price of admission to the Pucara). Two other villages, Humahuaca and indigenous village of La Quica on the Bolivian border, offer a unique glimpse of the traditional agricultural lifestyle that has survived practically unchanged in this region for several centuries.
b) San Miguel De Tucuman
The colonial city of Tucuman with about 500,000 inhabitants is situated in a beautiful area with green hills and a mild climate the whole year-round.
There are many interesting museums and historical buildings in the city like the “Casa de la Independencia”, where Argentine independence was declared in 1816. Tucuman is surrounded by diverse landscapes. The peaks of “Calchaquíes” and the snow-capped peaks of “Aconquija” are located in the west, while in the east you can find the lowlands that follow the “Sali” river.
Another attraction in the region is the imposing stone exposition “Parque de los Menhires” of Tafi, showing about 117 monoliths with historical important significance.
This historic city, approximately 380 km north of La Rioja, offers a charming and interesting mix of urbane sophistication and traditional culture. San Miguel de Tucuman displays all the vibrancy of a young, developing urban center that refuses to abandon its rich heritage. Chic cafes, bars, and gelatterias are tucked into streets lined with Orange trees and colonial dwellings, and the sleepy afternoon siestas contrast with the busy nights in this youthful university town.
Like other cities in Northern Argentina and Southern Peru, the city has little or no formal traffic control – intersections are either unregulated (those on the right have right of way) or regulated by crossing guards stationed on booths that are elevated 4 or 5 feet above street level on the corners of larger intersections. Although the tourist infrastructure is less well established and developed than that of Mendoza, there are still plenty of options in and around the city.
Tucuman contains some of Argentina’s finest examples of colonial architecture, including the site where a congress declared Argentina’s independence from Spain in 1816. Other popular sites include the Mercado de Abasto, the enormous Parque 9 de Julio, Plaza de Independencia (one of the nicest plazas in all of Argentina), and the European-style city shopping district in the center, and the University, with its beautiful historic quad. The commercial center is noisy and crowded, and the city comes alive each and every night, with plenty of modern and traditional options, including a broad spectrum of hip and cozy restaurants, cafes and clubs.
The city is also an excellent base for excursions to nearby jungles, hills, desert and mountains. Because Tucuman is less visited than other high-volume tourist destinations like Mendoza and Salta, it is much easier to get off the beaten track and find more secluded outdoors excursions. An excellent way to see the nearby jungle is on the fantastic journey to Cafayate, which begins by ascending through the thick jungle to a sub-alpine summit and then down through stark desert before reaching Cafayate, with its dry and sharp hills and scenic nearby canyons, known as “quebradas”.
Jujuy is an interesting city as it still combines Andean Indian spirit with modern ways of living. Every week the colorful Indian market “Mercado del Sur” takes place in the city. It is a pleasant town mixing European-styled buildings with adobe architecture.
Jujuy’s serves perfectly for trips in the gorgeous environment of colored rocks and desert landscape spotted with plenty of llamas. In the northeast of Jujuy you can find the healthy thermal baths of the Rio Reyes called “Termas de Reyes” and the national park “Parque Nacional Calilegua”, which consists of a beautiful cloud forest.
d) Other tourist attractions
Traveling through the northwest means discovering
- pre-Hispanic ruins like the ones in Pucara de Tilcara
- picturesque villages like Purmamarca and Maimara which maintain customs of the pre-Hispanic cultures
- stunning rock formations “El Cerro de los Siete Colores” with seven different colors close to Purmamarca
- traditional festivals like the carnival in Humahuaca
- tiny colonial villages of Casabindo and Uquia
- the charming little town “Cafayate” in the middle of a wine-producing region with imposing red sandstone formation called “La Quebrada de Cafayate”.
This charming village provides a welcome respite from the hustle-bustle of Northern Argentina’s larger cities, but still offers a variety of options for dining, relaxation and recreation, albeit without 5-star comfort.
Popular recreational options include bodega tours (be sure to sample “Torrontés”, the light and delicious sweet white wine that is unique to this region), horseback riding, hiking, biking, and tours of the marvelous canyons (“quebradas”), whose fantastic vistas and multicolored hills rival the spectacular desert scenery of the American Southwest. The magnificent Quebrada de Cafayate, Quebrada del Toro, and Valle Calchaquies are the most spectacular sights in the region, and probably the principal motivation for most visitors who find their way to this isolated point in the Northwest region. There are several tour agencies that will organize tours or rent bicycles to those who wish to see the sights independently. Most tours leave in mid-afternoon in order to avoid the high afternoon temperatures and catch the most dramatic lighting conditions at sunset. While in the quebradas, take your time to marvel at the polychrome juxtaposition of individual red, blue, green, purple, and yellow hills, and the multicolor formations where one color-band is layered directly atop another. There are no trails, so visitors may wander at will or set their own direction. The Quebrada can be visited by van-tour or bicycle. Some of the major formations in the Quebrada include the “Devil’s Throat”, the “Amphitheater”, the “Toad”, the “Friar”, the “Obelisk”, and the “Castles”.
Although it is easy to become distracted by the splendorous natural surroundings, don’t overlook Cafayate’s quaint local culture and hospitality. This charming village is home to a more “indigenous” population, and offers a full palette of traditional regional culture, and cuisine, which you will find in the many restaurants and cultural venues in town. For dining, visitors may choose everything from rustic front porch family barbeque to formal Italian restaurants. However, the true charm of Cafayate is to be found in the traditional, family-owned restaurants that serve delicious regional dishes such as tamales, empanadas, and humitas. There is also an excellent selection of traditional crafts and souvenirs (artesania) available in several shops near the central plaza.
A large portion of this text was written by Traveler – Writer Craig Milroy.