A FEW PRACTICAL INFORMATIONS
Lartge scale map of the area, just to give an idea..
It is not easy to find good maps : all the roads are not shown. For instance, there is an excellent dirt road from Abra Pampa to the laguna de Pozuelos. Two dirt roads go from the laguna to La Quiaca, one East, and one West of the laguna. The Eastern road goes through the village of Pozuelos (two or three houses - and school N°114...) and the Western road goes through the village of Lagunilla.
In the first place, it is important to note how nice and friendly the Argentinians are, not only in the villages, but also in the cities. Those we have met were always ready to help us a maximum, with a smile. If you speak spanish, don't hesitate to converse with the taxi drivers and the restaurant waiters : these conversations are always very friendly and instructive.
This is very nice !
And be ready to explain what you like in their country : they are always very anxious to know, and always ask the question.
Most favorable period of the year :
North-West Argentina lies in the tropical area : it is very hot in the summer - and, furthermore, there may be huge rainfalls. The time to go is then definitely winter (our summer) : June to August. It is then very cold up on the altiplano (and quite cool lower down), but a down jacket solves the problem nicely. And the weather is excellent : we have seen very few clouds.
One should also remember that the Argentinians go on winter vacations in the weeks following their National Holiday (July 9) : we were told that a lot of Argentinians tourists come to the area after that date. The vacations last for 2 weeks, but the period lasts for a month, as all provinces don't go on vacation at the same time. Most tourist in the North West come from the Buenos Aires Province : if you must go during the Argentinian vacation period, try at least to avoid the Buenos Aires vacation period.
At the time when we were there (June 23 to July 8), we always were absolutely alone in the hotels and campings (Laguna de Pozuelos and Tilcara), except in Salta - and even then ! The number of "good" hotels is limited, and it may be difficult to find good accomodations during the vacation period.
A few books :
- Guide du Routard "Argentine - Chili - 2001/2002". In French. Stille uncomplete : the area is not visited very often.
- Lonely Planet: "Argentina - A travel survival kit" - (Unfortunately, we only had an older copy)
- Footprint Argentina Handbook (2nd edition) : excellent
- YPF Road Guide (Fuel company) : excellent, but very difficult to find ! (in spanish)
Photo book :
- "ARGENTINE - De la pampa à la Terre de Feu" (Minerva 1999): Good pictures (in French)
The expenses :
Note that the prices may vary : on one hand, we were there during a slow period, and we could negociate the prices in all the hotels. On the other hand, Argentina is presently (July 2001) going through a period of economic troubles : a devaluation of the Argentinian peso (presently on par with the US dollar) may be possible...
The airfare from France (Nouvelles Frontières : the best price we found) : Paris - Madrid - Buenos Aires (Iberia) and back : 3795 FRF + 387 FRF airport taxes + 50 F fixed charges = 4207 FRF (approximately $525, at the present exchange rate. Note that prices increase significantly with the start of the tourist season, after July 1st)
Airfaire Buenos Aires - Salta. Reservation and purchase made on the Internet, on the Aerolineas site : the price ($310) is significantly lower than in a travel agency, either in France or in Argentina. The ticket is to be picked up at the Aerolineas desk, on the day of departure. No problem. But remember that the financial problems of Aerolineas may lead to changes in the very near future...
Car rental in Salta : There are several agencies. We went around to compare prices and look at the conditions of the cars. We chosed Rent-a-Truck (tel (0054-0387)4310740/4312097), in the lobby of the SALTA hotel, on the corner of the main square. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The reception in the agency is specially friendly. We rented a 2 door GOL (1,6 litres), in perfect condition (less than 10 000 km) for $730 for 11 days (unlimited mileage - maximum penalty $900, in case of accident - but the insurance on our VISA card took care of that). For this car, the official price is $90 per day, $250 for 3 days, $480 for 7 days and $1500 for a month. The tyres were in excellent condition (to be checked, as well as the condition of the spare tyre). The agency also rents 4W drive cars, and they were ready to concede a special price ($1100 for 11 days), but we could verify that, at this time of the year, a 4W drive is not necessary - and it would not have been nearly as comfortable. Gazoline costs about $1 a litre, but this car uses little gaz. We have driven a little less than 2000 km in 11 days.
Condition of the roads : tortuous and bad dirt road between Cafayate and Cachi. Very bad between the campground and the Pozuelos laguna. Asphalted : between Salta and Cafayate, for 30 km between Cachi and Salta, on the most part between Salta and San Antonio de los Cobres, and between Salta and Abra Pampa (this road is brand new). On these roads, the dirt sections are excellent, very wide, and often straight : we can easily drive at 100 km/h (which is best, to prevent the car from vibrating too much).
Hotels in Salta (see "Le Guide du Routard" to get the addresses and phone numbers) :
- Residencial ELENA. $35 a night, for 3 people in the same room. No breakfast. Quiet and clean - hot shower. Room heated with a radiant tube : not quite enough at this time of the year. Probably very nice when the weather is hot, but a bit cool in June.
- Petit Hôtel. Expensive : $45 a night, one or two people per room (negociated price), but modern, clean and comfortable - very hot shower. Breakfast included.
Hotel in Cafayate (see "Le Guide du Routard") : Hôtel ASEMBAL. $35 per room, breakfast included. Clean and comfortable. Room heated with radiant tube. Open fire in restaurant : nice.
Hotel in Cachi : Hostal Samay Huasi (see "Le Guide du Routard"). $38 for a double, and $18 for a single (negociated). Breakfast included. Very nice and calm environment. Fire place in the restaurant, but the chimney is plugged up : too bad... Hence, a bit cool and luke warm showers, but the welcome is very friendly (we had a long conversation with the hostesses, in the evening, but watch out : the hotel does not belong to them, and it may very well be that the hosts/hostesses will be different next time).
Hotel in San Antonio de los Cobres : Hosteria de las Nubes (Rta Nac. N° 51 4411 San Antonio de los Cobres - Tel 4909059 : not listed in "Le Guide du Routard"). On the right, at the entrance of the town. $65 for 3 people (2 rooms). Clean and comfortable. Very hot showers. Central heating in the rooms and open fire in the restaurant.
Camping at the Pozuelos Laguna: free. As a matter of fact, we saw the attendant - guardaparque only on the first night : he was entertaining a few friends for the evening, and went away the next day, taking along his two barking dogs - fortunately ! Minimum facilities : open pit toilets, a table, a water well (we did not drink its water, but used it only for washing), a wind-protected area where an open fire can be made, barbecues. A building (which seems to have been under construction for some time...) can be used as a protection against the wind - but we had no wind.
Camping in Tilcara : $3 per person to camp, and $5 (without bedsheets) for a "cabanita", with electric lighting, well insulated and warm. We took the cabanita, of course (it was nice to be able to read in the evening !). Hot showers and toilets in a clean common building.
Set aside a fair amount to pay for restaurants : a meal will easily cost $15 to $20 per person, in a good city restaurant. But it would be a shame to go to Argentina and not to taste the fantastic meat... not discounting the empanadas and other specialties. Wines are also excellent. But of course, a meal can be had for much less : we paid $5 for two, in Abra Pampa, in a local restaurant. Locro (= stew) is excellent, very nourishing, and available in every restaurant.
For lunch, we ate fruits and bread. I recommend avocado with lemon. On the fruit market in Salta, a pack of 40 tangerines could be bought for $1....
Coffee costs $1 in the small towns and up to $3 in Buenos Aires... (and coffee-shops are a very important part of life in Argentina !)
To eat while camping, we brought along dehydrated food and soups from France. We have had no difficulty in finding gaz canisters in Salta : all sizes and brands are easily available and not expensive : $2 for a small canister. Watch out : it is prohibited - and dangerous - to carry gaz canisters on airplanes. Do not forget to purchase plenty of mineral water, easily available : the air is very dry, and quite warm during the day.
We had taken along US$ notes, which were accepted everywhere. ATM are easily found in Salta (around the main square), but we did not look in other cities. Note that prices (particularly in hotels) are frequently 5 to10% higher if you pay with a VISA card (widely accepted).
To take along :
If you camp : A good tent. But we had neither wind nor rain. A sleeping bag + mattress for temperatures as low as -20°C (-5°F)... A gaz stove (we had a Camping Gaz C206). A down jacket with hood. Etc... If the temperature may be quite low during the night (even in Salta), it is usually very fine during the day, without being too hot (we wore short and sweatshirt on a couple of occasions).
One (or more !) camera and lots of films ! The scenery is superb, and very diversified. If you are interested in wildlife, take along a long lens : at least 300 mm with multiplier. Even llamas, which are domesticated, are not always easy to get near. It is probably a good idea to protect the photo equipement in plastic Ziplog bags : there is quite a bit of dust...