Argentina 7: Quebrada de la Conchas, Multi-Coloured Mountains and Pumice Formations



From Cafayate we took Ruta 68 through the Quebrada de las Conchas – a road through interesting sandstone mountains and formations of different colourings.

The day ended for us wild camping at the old rail station Alemania underneath the railway bridge along the river surrounded by inquisitive Criollo horses, dogs and cows.

After Valle de Lerma we turned off and circled around the large hydro dam Embalse Cabra Corral on the RP47, all ripio (gravel road) and almost no traffic with beautiful landscapes.

Finally we reached Salta. Here we again tried to find a handbrake cable for the landcruiser at Toyota, no luck. In the city center we bought a SIM card from Movistar to get connection to internet – useless in Argentina, as we found out later. Claro was expensive but possibly a better choice, locals later told us that for the south of Argentina Personal has better coverage – all in all seldom 4G although advertised as such.

Salta has a number of plazas, churches and pedestrian zones which we enjoyed.


Then we drove out of town to Camping Papi Lalo where we arrived after dark, let us self in, but the banõs were locked. Being the only campers at this rudimentary site it did not pose much of a problem. Along the stream plenty frogs delivered a free concert and 10 horses chased each other around us. At 6am the owner collected her camping fee and opened the loos.

We returned to Salta in the hope of finding a place to sell us the compulsory insurance we could not get in Brasil – by luck we met a representative of Triunfo Seguros who promptly arranged insurance for all the countries we were going to cross on the remainder of this trip. It also is possible to arrange this insurance with them up front via internet – if only we had known this beforehand. Their head office is in Mendoza. (Another company future travelers can try is Speiser Seguros.)


Next we followed the RN9 northwards, narrow and curvy, and passed two dams, the Embalse las Madeiras and La Ciénaga, skirted around San Salvador de Jujuy and Tumbaya and along the Rio Grande until we reached Purmamarca.

Purmamarca ist best known for its 7-coloured mountain. We found a spot to camp in the grounds of Hosteria Bebo Vilte – dusty and with inadequate ablutions. In the evening we went to local pub/restaurant La Diabala where Ariel Ramirez performed local folklore music – he is a son of Zamba Quipildor, a revered singer of the Jujuy province – a very enjoyable evening ,especially because a visiting women choir gave a joint impromptu performance of Quipildor songs.

Early in the morning we climbed a koppie in the town to photograph the seven coloured mountain (Cerro Siete Colores) during sunrise.

Since there is another spectacular 14-colour mountain range further north, we pushed on towards Humahuaca via Tilcara, where we took a stroll to the Garganta del Diabolo, a waterfall inside a canyon, not too spectacular. At Humahuaca we met Marcello from Punta Arenas in his self-built vehicle and trailer – an unusual overlander!

Outside the town we took the ripio RP73 to the Mirador del Hornocal (at 4350m elevation) to view the 14-coloured mountain range – the view,both in colour and formation, it is a worthwhile visit, best photographed in the late afternoon. Back in town we found no decent camping site so we wild camped along the Antigua RP 73, a road almost never used and were rewarded with a splendid night sky.

We returned to Purmamarca along the Quebrada de Humahuaca and found better camping just outside town at Camping los Colorados de Chabelita, clean and with very friendly owners also catering often for motorbikers in their rooms.

Following the RN52 the road followed a mountain pass down to the Salinas Grande –a large salt lake, somewhat disappointing if you had visited Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.

Asphalt road up to Susques, then ripio RN40, plenty of curves through mountains and along the Rio Pastos Chicos with the beautiful volcano Tuzgle  5544m high.

The area is known as Sierra del Cobre due to the copper mining in the past.

We passed through the steel construction of Viaducto de la Polvorilla, well guarded, which transports water to the cities.

We left San Antonio de los Cobres behind us and continued along the Ruta 40 south past a few high peaks all above 5000m. We were now in the Sierra de las Grandes, the dirt road wound up to 4937m and Karin felt the effects. A lot of ice was still on the ridges, we were fortunate that the road dipped down to 2800m. We drove up a dry rivulet in 4×4 and wild camped below stunning sandstone formations with a clear night that allowed some photographing.

A short stop in Cachi after a 195km stretch of a dusty winding road allowed us to refresh before we continued to Molinos, the start of many wine farms to come. Following the Rio Calchaguies in the valley with the same name we passed many crazy sandstone formations until we finally returned to Cafayate, camping again Luz y Fuerza, but not before we sampled some more wine ice cream , flavours Torrentes and Cabernet.


The Swiss couple Peter and Sylvia told us about the Piedras Pomez – white pumice rock formations that could be reached by turning off at Hualfin towards El Peñon. However, our departure was delayed after we met the eccentric overlander Klaus from Dortmund, who has a wooden blockhouse on the back of his truck – complete with flowerboxes!


As we had to pass through Amaicha del Valle again we had a second chance to visit the Pachamama museum- and lucky we were – definitely worth a stop to see the geological exhibits as well as the art and the building by Hugo Cruz.

At Nacimientos de Arriba we took a little 4×4 track up to the west to reach the remote Aguas Termales with its 37 deg C waters – ideal. We wild camped at this spot, locals drove up by bike to take a bath in one of the 4 private baths. Truly a wonderful place, just rudimentary.

After a further morning soak we aimed for El Peñon via a desolate, but stunning landscape.

At Nacimientos de San Antonia we turned off on to the RP43 after passing Laguna Blanca.



After El Peñon we turn onto RP34, only 4x4s were permitted towards Campo de Piedra Pomez, a large pumice field that originated after an eruption of Volcan Carachi Pampa (3393m) and then was eroded through wind and water.

From here we returned to the Laguna Blanca (3200m) and pitched our camp with Guanacos and Flamingos.

The morning greeted us with a 0deg C temperature and we took the RN40 via Belén, San Blas to Chilecito, however too early to pitch camp. So we continued to Nonogasta, turned off on a new tarred road to Puerto Alegre, then 20km ripio to the RN76, extremely dry and the road lined with the odd cow cadaver. We finally reached the entry gate to Parque Nacional Talampaya.


This blog covers 24th Oct – 1st November 2017

Author: Dieter

A passionate traveller and photographer with an urge to share the beauty of our planet.

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