We left the north of Chile through the gorgeous Paso de Jama towards Argentina.
The scenery should have stayed equally gorgeous, but the closer we got to our destination for that day, the less we could see. Argentina welcomed us with rain & fog, so the supposed-to-be scenic canyon drive remains a mystery for us. This is the most clear picture we could take.
As we already booked our flight home from Rio de Janeiro, we knew that we had no more than 3 weeks left. Three weeks in which we wanted to do this road trip in Northwestern Argentina, find new owners for our car, settle all the paper work & hopefully fly a few days earlier to Rio to see a bit of the city. So this time we were not traveling with an “We can wait a day for the weather to change” attitude but with an “We have to keep moving” attitude. Every day that we won in Argentina by going faster, was an extra day to sell the car, or in the best case an extra day in Rio de Janeiro.
This meant we visited the area of Humahuaca, Tilcara & Purmamarca, famous for its rainbow mountains & colorful rocks, in weather conditions that made the amateur-photographer-in-me sad. In order to see the colors vividly you need blue skies & late afternoon light. We didn’t get a perfect picture, but we must admit that even in grey weather it was impressive to see.
Did you know?
El mirador del Hornoal is an observation point from which one can see the streaks of colors and the triangular shapes of this unique rainbow mountain. Some assure that you can distinguish 33 hues. It is an example of strata sedimentation, where colors are formed from a type of limestone, ranging from ochre, to green, yellow and even white.
We drove 200km more south towards Salta in the hope we would meet the Argentinean sun that we had in mind when planning this last road trip. But guess what, Argentina was not really gentle on us and again no sun … We didn’t let it eat our heart out, but took it as an opportunity to enjoy the other good things Argentina has to offer: a delicious medium-cooked Argentinean steak! In the last months we had more overcooked meat as tough as shoe leather than juicy meat, so we were very happy to actually be in Argentina again.
Travel books describe Salta as “the beautiful one”, and it is surely not an ugly city, but it did not give us this instant crush that we later had when we arrived in Mendoza. But we’re not there yet… When we wanted to leave Salta, the car was making a weird sound and we saw there was some oil leaking from the motor. Just now that we wanted to move fast to sell the car in a few days… Murphy’s law?!
It turned out not be a big problem (fieuw!) and 2 mechanic hours later we were ready to hit the road again. A 3-hour drive was going to lead us to Cafayate. We knew we needed to take enough time for the last 70km as this was supposed to be a beautiful road through a canyon with lots of miradors (view points). This time, the drive did not disappoint, on the contrary, it took our breath away every turn we took. And the sun was finally there, we couldn’t feel more happy! This is definitely among the most beautiful roads we’ve driven on this trip.
Cafayate is a small but pleasant town in the middle of a wine valley. We did our first wine tasting the same day. I liked the white Torrontés, Benjamin was more convinced by the Malbec.
Did you know?
Torrontés is a white wine produced only in Argentina, and the region around Cafayate is most known for it.
Late afternoon we drove out Cafayate towards the canyon again for the sunset and to find a camp spot. We ended up in this one: nice views, quiet, a campfire, marshmallows, … Perfect!
The morning after we did a “goodbye hike” at the borders of Rio Colorado in search for 7 cascadas. The waterfalls were not that impressive, but it was a fun hike walking in a canyon and crossing the river many times. On the way back we were passed by a herd of over 200 goats, only guided by a dog! They clearly seem to move more easily and faster on the rocks than us.
We deserved another wine tasting!
In the afternoon we left Cafayate in the direction of Mendoza. 1000km in total so we didn’t arrive until the next evening. The drive was mainly straight through desolate landscapes. It reminded us how huge this country is! You could look around, 360 degrees, without seeing any house, any car, any person. Amazing!
Also amazing was the temperature, in the afternoon it kept on rising and we recorded the highest temperature ever during our trip! There was this warm wind, that when you put your head through the window it felt like a hairdryer blowing in your face (although Benjamin will definitely say it felt like the heat that is coming out of the oven when you open it, but you know he likes to exaggerate from time to time ).
When we arrived in Mendoza, we learned that this is a wind typical for this area, Viento Zonda.
Did you know?
Viento Zonda is a hot dry wind that occurs on the eastern slope of the Andes, in Argentina. The Zonda wind most commonly starts during the afternoon (between 12 and 6 PM), and tends to last between 1 and 12 hours.
Mendoza is a very enjoyable city, lots of green, wide avenues, not too crazy traffic, … and full of bars and eateries. Such a beautiful warm evening asked for a dinner out. Unfortunately, 2 days of driving & the fact that you don’t go to a restaurant in Argentina before 22PM, we didn’t make it to the bars anymore and went straight to bed after dinner.
Did you know?
Argentineans are loco! Restaurants really only open at 21PM, and bars only start to fill after midnight. And don’t even think about going to a club before 3AM. Although the food, the wine & the landscape in this country is fantastic, I don’t think I could live here. I would be tired all the time 😉 . Or could I get used to the siesta from 15-18PM?
The day after we explored the city, had -guess what- another wine tasting but with the tight schedule we decided to not stay another night and already drove out in the direction of the border with Chile again.
In the meantime, we were having contact with a Slovenian travelers couple who saw our “car for sale” advertisement and they were waiting for us in Santiago to see the car. They promised us that if they got an approval from the mechanic they would definitely buy the car, and we promised them to return to Santiago as soon as we could. Mechanics & administration offices close during the weekend, so for both of us it was better if we could settle everything before that.
Between Mendoza & the border with Chile, you pass the high mountain circuit, with small towns that turn into ski towns during winter. We spent the night at the border of an artificial lake in Potrerillos, where we again found a perfect, and our last, camp spot. We finished our last bottle of wine, last marshmallows and concluded this was a great place to end our road trip and camping adventure, after 9 months driving around in South America. It was perfect!
We only had one more thing to do the next day before crossing the border: seeing Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain, not only in Argentina but in the entire Americas. This is the highest mountain outside the Himalayas. We walked to a viewpoint from where we could see it. Although we knew it is the highest one, we must admit we were not equally impressed as like with Cotopaxi, Chimborazo or Sajama. Solitary picture perfect volcanoes seem just too good to be true .
After a border crossing, 2 long hold-ups due to road works and more driving kilometers we entered Santiago at rush hour, hooray! Not the best goodbye drive, but the last days made up for that.
We gladly accepted the invitation from friends where we stayed earlier through Couchsurfing to come over for an asado (BBQ). The beers and super delicious meat made us easily forget the traffic! And how nice it is to come “home” to a city that a few months earlier was unknown territory for us and now we had even friends to visit!
The day after we even went on a baby visit. Since we left Santiago, our previous AirBnB hosts Rodrigo and Soledad welcomed baby Noel in their family.
And of course we met the Slovenian couple, Nadja & Branko, who we will nominate for the most enthusiastic car buyers ever! They were immediately in love with The Beast, and the mechanic gave a green light so we were ready to sell. That Nadja & Branko were so happy with the car, made it easier for us to say goodbye, knowing he’s in good hands! We drove 35.000km in South America, that is almost like driving around the world 😉 .
Now that everything was settled, we could book our flight to Rio and it turned out that we have more time left than we thought we would have. Next to 5 full days in Rio de Janeiro we still had time left to return to Huépil (a 7 hour bus drive from Santiago), to the house of Iza & Manuel, where everything started 9 months ago. We couldn’t think of a better way to finish our stay in Chile! We had a good weekend together with Iza, Manuel, their children Ricardo & Carlos and their visitors from Europe: Ella, the mother of Iza was visiting from Poland together with Julien & Suzy from Belgium. It is nice to go home, knowing that we also have a home in Chile now! Su casa es mi casa .
I’m writing this blog on the bus back to Santiago, and when I look outside the window, I see the endless mountain range that separates Chile from Argentina, with snow covered peaks & smoking volcanoes. Chile, you keep impressing us with your beauty, we will definitely miss you!