The northwest is one of the least visited areas of Argentina, but certainly one of the most fascinating. The dry highland region was once contained within the southern extremes of the Inca Empire, and is the only place in Argentina where you’ll find a multitude of Inca archaeological sites. Culturally, too, the northwest is distinct. The settlements have a mix of Spanish and gaucho culture, creating Andalucian-style cities with indigenous characteristics.
Salta is the main tourist hub in the northwest. Nestled in a valley just east of the Andean foothills, the city is known for its history and its perfect climate. It’s also home to some of the finest and oldest colonial architecture outside of Buenos Aires, much of it on the main square. Notable Spanish constructions include the pink neocolonial cathedral and the 18th century cabildo (municipality building). Also on the main square is the impressive Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, the best Inca history museum in Argentina.
Head directly north of Salta for about 40 miles and you’ll come to Jujuy, another historic city founded by the Spanish in the 1500s. The indigenous heritage of Jujuy is even more obvious than in Salta, and is clearly displayed in the faces of the local Quechua, Aymara and Chiriguano people.
Tourists come to Jujuy to explore the surrounding region, from the high altiplano to the semi-arid lowlands of the Gran Chaco. The entire area is full of divergent landscapes and contrasting colors, dotted with well-preserved Inca ruins.
The tourist trail north of Jujuy takes you to two notable sites: first the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors) and then the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a stunning mountain valley and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ninety miles south of Salta is Cafayate, gateway to the Calchaquí Valley. This area is famous for its varied geography and archaeological sites. Cafayate and its surrounding valleys are also known for their wine production, particularly wine of the torrontés variety. Wine tours are available from the city.
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