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Tolar Grande 3 days / 1 night

Saltando en el Salar de Arizaro

Let’s travel to the heart of the Puna (Northwestern Argentina high-altitude desert) and visit one of its smallest andean towns, a tiny oasis born from the mining industry and train workers. This three days tour will allow you to enjoy both the local’s kindness and the mindblowing landscapes such as El Desierto del Diablo (The Devil’s Desert), the amazing Ojos de Mar, the sand dunes, the impressive Arizaro salt flats and the mysterious Arita cone.

Duration: 3 days / 2 nights
Distance covered: aprox. 950 kilometers
Dates: All year round with groups of, at least, four people and favorable weather conditions. If you are travelling alone, ask to join one of our groups!
Pick-up: 7:30am at the passenger’s accommodation
Drop-off: around 6pm on the third day
We can also arrange returning to Salta via Salinas Grandes and Purmamarca. Ask for prices for this optional trip.

First part of the trip: arriving at the Puna

Climbing next to the tracks of the worldwide famous Train to the Clouds through the impressive Quebrada del Toro (The Bull’s Gorge) we travel from Salta to San Antonio de los Cobres.

We will also make a visit to the archaeological site in Santa Rosa de Tastil, enjoying its museum which is part of the Qhapaq Ñam project; the old Inca roads.Desierto del Diablo

The real mystic roads into the Puna will appear between San Antonio de los Cobres and Tolar Grande. Breathtaking salt flats, mountains, volcanoes, deserts and tiny andean villages will appear next to the road until we get there and visit it along with some of its locals. We will enjoy a typical andean dinner in one of their restaurants and learn more about life there and the products they make and sell for a living.

Some of the activities include visiting the Ojos de Mar (spring of very salty water in the middle of the desert), the enormous Arizaro salt flats and climb El Arenal, where we can enjoy the view of 5500 meters high mountains such as Aracar, Macón, Llullaillaco, Socompa, among others.


Main highlights of this tour

  • The best conserved archaeological site in Northwestern Argentina: Santa Rosa de Tastil;
  • The tracks of the most famous train in Argentina: the Train to the Clouds;
  • Argentina’s biggest salt flats: Arizaro;
  • One of the oldest living organisms in the world: the stromatolites in the Ojos de Mar;
  • Meeting the most numerous native population in the Puna: the Kollas;
  • One of the most colorful desserts;
  • An almost perfect natural cone;
  • And many more surprises!

Schedule

Day 1: 07:30 hs: We start our trip from the city of Salta through the Quebrada del Toro making a stop in Santa Rosa de Tastil. After a lunch stop in San Antonio de los Cobres, we continue towards Tolar Grande. We will cross the Alto Chorrillo pass at more than 4500 meters above sea level (maximum height during this tour) and enjoy the immensity of La Puna and its beautiful and impressive desserts and volcanoes. After a short walk around the Devil’s Dessert, where the sunlight and shadows beautifully play with the mountains, we continue towards Tolar Grande where we will enjoy our first dinner at a family restaurant. Accommodation is provided at the public shelter or a family house.Bienvenidos a Tolar Grande

Day 2: 09:00 h: After eating breakfast at the family restaurant, we continue our tour with a visit to the Ojos de Mar and El Arenal, where we will walk for around two hours, making several photo-stops to appreciate the seven Andean volcanoes: Llullaillaco, Socompa, Aracar, Guanaqueros, Pulares, Salin and Arizaro.
We will make a stop in the town again for lunch, using the restrooms and collecting some water before heading to the biggest salt flats in Argentina (the 3rd biggest in America): el Salar de Arizaro (5500 square kilometers).
After crossing the enormous, white sea (ideal for taking beautiful pictures), we will arrive to the Cono de Arita and hike for about 30 minutes to its base. It is not allowed to climb this natural formation for it is considered sacred by the local people.
We will then have some free time and finally a short visit to a local mine.

Day 3: After two days of immersing into the impressive nature of the area and getting to know some of the locals and their friendliness, we begin our journey back to Salta hoping you collected many memories and enjoyed your days here.

Duration of each day’s activities

Day 1: 12 hours
Day 2: 8 hours
Day 3: 12 hours
Covered distance by car: 950 kilometers

What does the tour include?

  • Accommodation at the local mountain shelter AFAPUNA or a family house with breakfast, bed linen and towels, transportation, registered guide (in Spanish. Ask for other languages), insurance.

What does the tour NOT include?

  • Food or drinks, museum tickets, tips, any other extra stop or activity not described here.

What should I bring?

  • Small or medium size backpack, comfortable clothes and coat, flashlight, sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, comfortable hiking shoes, water (2 liters per person per day), sleeping bag

What temperature should I expect?

From October to March: it is usually quite nice during the morning, around 12 degrees. The temperature starts rising and it can reach up to between 20 and 30 degrees. After 7pm, you should expect lower temperatures which can get to 0 by midnight.
From April to September: The day starts a bit later in order to let the sunrays heat the environment a little bit. Expect cold temperatures in the morning (-8 or -10) that will reach around 10 - 15 during the day. At night, the temperature will go below 0º again.
Check the forecast before starting your adventure!

What services can I find in Tolar Grande?

Heating: Water for showering is hot but it is more complicated to heat it during the winter. We always recommend taking a shower around midday. Heating is mainly achieved by burning wood, gas tanks or electric heaters. The three methods are quite expensive in this area, so they are basically used during winter time.
Accommodation: There are three basic options; family houses, the municipal hotel (6 rooms with private bathroom) and the public mountain shelter (36 beds distributed in two large rooms).
Eating: There are two family restaurants that cook menus usually consisting in soup + main course (beef, chicken or pasta) + dessert (they offer a variety of local recipes). There are also at least two shops where you can find drinks, cookies and other snacks. Some families who provide accommodation also offer meals.
If you have any food restrictions because of your cultural, religious or health situation, we advise to bring your own food since not all of the places will offer a suitable option.
Communications: there is only one mobile phone antenna in the area and which also provides an internet service (quite slow and sometimes not working, though). Expect Whatsapp not to work, you can communicate via SMS. The best option is to let everyone know that you will not be able to communicate during your stay in Tolar Grande so that no one is worried if you don’t reply. San Antonio de los Cobres and Olacapato have much better reception and landlines. If you are planning on traveling by yourself, make sure you carry some sort of satellite phone.

Thanks to Maria Emilia Roncheti for your recommendations and pictures!