This excursion through the puna to Antofasta de la Sierra (including a stop in the impressive Campo de Piedra Pómez) was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my last vacations.
The first day of the excursion started early in the morning with a good breakfast in Posada Las Cardas, the excellent hotel where we spent the night in Belen. Sergio was our driver and our guide, and we brought mate, cookies, hat, sunglasses and, of course, our cameras with full batteries. We were ready for a 10 hours trip.
We left the town driving along the famous Route 40 to the North and made a stop in the Belen’s Ravine to take a few photos on the Belen River flowing between the mountains. After a few minutes we took the Provincial Route 36, and later, at Puerta del Corral Quemado, we took the Route 43. At this point, some huge and particular rocks along the street caught our attention. It was a geological formation called «Old Port» as the rocks looked like ships. Using your imagination you can «see» there a lot of moored vessels.
After a brief stop at a city shop in Villa Vil we continued the journey. Sometimes the road was paved and sometimes it wasn’t, but as we advanced the landscapes were more and more incredible.
I have to say, Sergio was an excellent guide. While he was driving he explained to us all the details about what we were seeing. He made us notice how the landspace is constantly changing, and how sometimes we could see a mountain full of vegetation, which then, a few kilometers later and from a different angle, showed a completely bare rock wall. There you can see the marks of the water erosion.
But the biggest change happens when you can see something yellow on the ground. After a few curves there are no more doubts: It’s sand. We are close to the Randolfo’s Slope and there are hugh sand dunes that cover most of the mountain. Due to the action of the wind these dunes are constantly changing position.
From this point, everything changes. There is less vegetation: no more trees, but just a few bushes. The weather becomes arid, in this area of the country it hardly rains. You can see how the mountains get farther and farther, until you finally see them on the horizon. Wellcome to the Atacama’s Puna, an amazing and beatiful place where there’s almost no vegetation and the ground is made of stone.
There isn’t much life here, really. But sometimes you can see groups of vicunas which usually are near wetlands, as they need some water to live. While driving you have to be very carefull with the vicunas. They can suddenly cross the road and cause an accident.
In the distance, everywhere, you can see now volcanoes. You can identify them by their dark colors. Around them you can see also little hills: they are secondary volcano’s mouths, which are sometimes more dangerous than the main one. Anyway, Sergio reassures us: The last eruption took place here 12 million years ago so, don’t worry. We can relax and enjoy.
We had lunch in El Peñon, a small town in the middle of the puna. There we enjoyed some regional food before continuing the journey. A few meters away some unbelievable colors made us stop. This is the view you can enjoy from there.
Now we could see lots of volcanic rocks, everywhere. Closer and closer. Two classes can be distinguished: solid stones on the left of the road, and much more porous on the right. Both of them, black stones. Some of them forming true black stone walls.
Once we leave behind those black rocks behind, it’s like magic. The landscape changes completely, again. Now we can see a colourful puna, with greens and yellows around the beatiful Antofagasta Lagoon.
It was late afternoon when we finally arrived to Antofagasta de la Sierra, a quiet and small town in the puna where we would spend the night. It was a very long day. We were tired, but happy. It was really worth it.
The Catamarca’s puna is not famous. Not even in Argentina. But it’s amazing, one of the most beatiful places in the country, I can say now. I really recommend it. And if you want to do this excursion, one of the alternatives is the Chaku Aventuras agency. You can contact them and check the available options. Just choose the one you like the most.