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One of the great road trips in northwest Argentina is from the city of Salta to the city of Cafayate via Route 68. On a tour with local operator, Kallpa, we left Salta and drove through the Lerma Valley, where tobacco is the major crop and locals still farm it by hand.
As we continued to drive, the soil began to redden. This is the image of the Calchaqui Valley I had waited to see.
We entered the Quebrada de las Conchas (or “Gorge of the Shells”) — a stunning vista not unlike Utah and other expanses in the western U.S. Here, cactus grows on sloping mountains. Water, coming from mountains, has caused erosion, which has resulted in a multicolored landscape of fascinating shapes studded with fossils.
Though it’s tempting to make photo stops throughout the whole drive, a few formations are especially popular: the Amphitheater, the Devil’s Throat, the Frog and the Obelisk.
Since we were on a time crunch, we stopped at Tres Cruces (Three Crosses), a lookout that is marked — appropriately — by three white, wooden crosses.
Our guide linked the crosses to Argentina’s colonization by Spain in the 1500s. She explained how the Jesuits evangelized the natives and worked to “finish the local belief” and replace it with Catholicism.
That didn’t exactly work out, she told us.
“Saltenos are considered a very faithful people, but they have a big devotion for Pachamama (Andean earth mother),” she said. “Now, both beliefs are living together.”
The DetailsKallpa Tourwww.kallpatour.com