High puna in sunglasses (Lyn Hughes)
List Words : Lyn Hughes | 05 June

30 amazing images from Argentina's High Puna

Wanderlust editor-in-chief Lyn Hughes explores the elemental landscapes of this little visited area of northwest Argentina... shhhh, don't tell anyone about this amazing travel secret

A land of "devil's deserts", otherworldly volcanoes, and a town that feels it's at the end of the universe: north-west Argentina is home to jaw-dropping natural wonders you probably never knew existed. I joined a three-day 4WD trip from the beautiful city of Salta, taking Route 51 out along the Rio Toro gorge. Someone I trust had told me that the landscapes were like those from another planet. Nevertheless I was slightly sceptical but look what I found. 

Our guide, Jorge, had put together a terrific soundtrack to accompany our journey, often matching the mood of the music to the epic scenery. I can't bring you the whole three days, but, if you have a Spotify account, you may like to play the track (right) which accompanied our most memorable sight. 

Taking route 51 through the Rio Toro gorge; trees make a vivid contrast to the rugged rocks as you first make your way through it  (Lyn Hughes)

Taking route 51 through the Rio Toro gorge; trees make a vivid contrast to the rugged rocks as you first make your way through it (Lyn Hughes)

Ascending the Rio Toro gorge, the climate and land soon become noticeably more arid (Lyn Hughes)

Ascending the Rio Toro gorge, the climate and land soon become noticeably more arid (Lyn Hughes)

Many of these magnificent cacti are more than 100 years old (Lyn Hughes)

Many of these magnificent cacti are more than 100 years old (Lyn Hughes)

We stopped at a forest of giant saguaro cacti, many of which were well over 100 years old.
The people of the High Puna are Catholics but also follow traditional beliefs (Lyn Hughes)

The people of the High Puna are Catholics but also follow traditional beliefs (Lyn Hughes)

At 4,560m (14,960 feet) the Abra Alto Chorrillos pass is one of Argentina's highest (Lyn Hughes)

At 4,560m (14,960 feet) the Abra Alto Chorrillos pass is one of Argentina's highest (Lyn Hughes)

Having crossed the Abra Alto Chorrillos a vast yellow-green plain opened up, rippled by the wind (Lyn Hughes)

Having crossed the Abra Alto Chorrillos a vast yellow-green plain opened up, rippled by the wind (Lyn Hughes)

The vicuna was once endangered but has made a remarkable comeback (Lyn Hughes)

The vicuna was once endangered but has made a remarkable comeback (Lyn Hughes)

The landscape grew increasingly wild and windswept. There was little sign of human habitation in these harsh conditions, yet the wildlife appeared to be flourishing, especially the slender, delicate-looking vicuña
A remarkable rail service once came this way. Now this desolate station is long abandoned. (Lyn Hughes)

A remarkable rail service once came this way. Now this desolate station is long abandoned. (Lyn Hughes)

The Salar de Pocitos salt flat is mined for lithium (Lyn Hughes)

The Salar de Pocitos salt flat is mined for lithium (Lyn Hughes)

The twisted tortured surface of the Salar de Pocitos salt flat  (Lyn Hughes)

The twisted tortured surface of the Salar de Pocitos salt flat (Lyn Hughes)

Magnificent red rock formations (Lyn Hughes)

Magnificent red rock formations (Lyn Hughes)

As the sun went down the rock formations glowed a deeper red (Lyn Hughes)

As the sun went down the rock formations glowed a deeper red (Lyn Hughes)

Beautiful rock formations appeared at every turn (Lyn Hughes)

Beautiful rock formations appeared at every turn (Lyn Hughes)

The Devil's desert glowed a deep burnished red in the late-afternoon light (Lyn Hughes)

The Devil's desert glowed a deep burnished red in the late-afternoon light (Lyn Hughes)

A devil is often seen at sunset (Lyn Hughes)

A devil is often seen at sunset (Lyn Hughes)

According to local legend, the shape of a mysterious figure appears on a certain rock in a certain light
The Devil's desert stretched away into the distance (Lyn Hughes)

The Devil's desert stretched away into the distance (Lyn Hughes)

The remote community of Tolar Grande is close to the Chilean border (Lyn Hughes)

The remote community of Tolar Grande is close to the Chilean border (Lyn Hughes)

With its seemingly deserted streets Tolar Grande feels like The Town at the End of the Universe (Lyn Hughes)

With its seemingly deserted streets Tolar Grande feels like The Town at the End of the Universe (Lyn Hughes)

The small salt-water lakes of Ojos del Mar hide a secret (Lyn Hughes)

The small salt-water lakes of Ojos del Mar hide a secret (Lyn Hughes)

The small turquoise saltwater lakes known as Ojos del Mar (‘the eyes of the sea’), are home to stromatolites, prehistoric living organisms
Reflections of the distant volcanoes shimmer in the Ojos del Mar (Lyn Hughes)

Reflections of the distant volcanoes shimmer in the Ojos del Mar (Lyn Hughes)

The Salar de Arizaro is one of the largest salt flats in the world (Lyn Hughes)

The Salar de Arizaro is one of the largest salt flats in the world (Lyn Hughes)

We stopped several times to admire the glittering surface of the Salar de Arizaro (Lyn Hughes)

We stopped several times to admire the glittering surface of the Salar de Arizaro (Lyn Hughes)

The Cono de Arita, a volcano-shaped cone rising out of the salt flat (Lyn Hughes)

The Cono de Arita, a volcano-shaped cone rising out of the salt flat (Lyn Hughes)

“Are you ready?” Jorge asked, “I have something special for you.”
To a soundtrack of Pink Floyd, we emerged from behind the rocks and the hairs on the backs of our necks rose...
We paid our respects to Pachamama, Mother Earth (Lyn Hughes)

We paid our respects to Pachamama, Mother Earth (Lyn Hughes)

There below us was the cone, looking like a giant pyramid and seemingly floating on the dazzling plain (Lyn Hughes)

There below us was the cone, looking like a giant pyramid and seemingly floating on the dazzling plain (Lyn Hughes)