The amazing north of Argentina is a must-visit on any trip to the country. Often overlooked in favour of Mendoza or Iguazu Falls, the northern provinces of Salta and Jujuy offer visitors an unexpected side of Argentina that you won’t find down south. The city of Salta was founded over 600 years ago by Spanish conquerors who intended the city as a military outpost between Lima and Buenos Aires. Salta has many attractions, including a beautiful cathedral, amazing local food and local handicrafts, and you can explore them all before embarking on the train journey, as Salta is the base for most excursions in the region.
A day-long tour to take the Train to the Clouds is available for anyone seeking an all-in-one package that will take care of transport to and from the train station. Leaving from Salta in the morning, most tours include snacks and some free time to explore various stops along the way, and the train is included in the itinerary, with a return to Salta in the evening.
Many visitors to Salta choose to rent a car for the duration of their stay in the area, as it is vast and having your own transport is one of the best ways to see the incredible sights of the region at your own pace. You can follow the route, a typical tour would take you to the train station and embark on the journey from there, making your own way back once the train returns. The station where the train leaves from is San Antonio de los Cobres, 168km from Salta city, and the train leaves at about 12pm, so make sure to allow enough time in the morning to get there before it leaves.
Easily the biggest feature of the region is its incredible rock formations. Salta is known for undulating hills formed from centuries of sediment which give it an amazing layering of colours and textures. Driving through the countryside either on the tour or independently, you will see the ancient upturned earth that Salta is famous for at every turn. And of course this can be appreciated even more from the train, which affords passengers unparalleled views of the surroundings from above.
The train, much like Salta, moves at a leisurely pace. Chugging along at only 35km per hour for 21km, this three hour journey from San Antonio de los Cobres to the end point at Viaducto La Polvorilla and back again takes you through arid landscapes and places of geological wonder, all of which can be appreciated fully thanks to the slow movement of the train.
Do not forget your camera!! Not only does the speed of the train allow you to get some amazing snaps of the Salta countryside, but there are lots of viewpoints along the way to stop at to take photographs. Many are marked as “mirador”, so you won’t miss them. Campo Quijano and Viaducto El Toro are two lookouts on the way to San Antonio de los Cobres where you can stop and take photos, and these points are included in the tour. If you are driving independently, you have the freedom to stop wherever you choose, and no doubt you will find more than enough places to satisfy your inner photographer.
This Andean landscape is part of the Argentine highlands, and the city of Salta itself is located at 1200 m.a.s.l.. However, on your journey to the Train of the Clouds you will climb a further 2500m to reach San Antonio de los Cobres, which lies at 3775 m.a.s.l., and you will need to pop your ears once on the train, as you will climb to the highest point at 4300 m.a.s.l.. So yes, the altitude is high, but how else are you going to get the best views of the region around Salta? The way back on the train is fun as you descend, so wait for those childhood stomach flips!
Salta famously benefits from lovely weather all year round, so the days are usually warm, sunny and dry. If you are going to be taking the Train of the Clouds in summer, which runs from December to February, bear in mind that it will likely be very hot during the day, so bring sunscreen and a hat to protect you from those piercing rays. It usually cools down a lot in the evening thanks to the altitude and mountainous surroundings, so there will be some respite!
While other parts of Argentina have a noticeable European influence, Buenos Aires in particular, the northern regions of Salta and Jujuy are most definitely indigenous in both culture and ethnicity. Perhaps more closely aligned in many ways with neighbouring Bolivia, you are likely to see people in colourful indigenous dress and many of the artefacts and crafts sold in shops are made locally, so you get a truer sense of real Andean culture here than you will anywhere else in Argentina.
Salta has great touristic infrastructure, which is something that attracts many foreign travelers to the area. But it is also heavily visited by locals as well, as Argentines are great fans of traveling within their own country. You’ll notice that a lot of the passengers on the Train of the Clouds are Argentine, you can be sure of a good trip if the locals are doing it!