What to see
Salar de Pocitos
From San Antonio de los Cobres towards Tolar Grande, a stop must be made at Salar de Pocitos (108 km away from San Antonio de los Cobres). It stands next to the town with the same name and represents one of Salta’s wonders; only 15 families live there. The landscape is a blend of various earth tones with a light blue lake that naturally appears during the rainfall season.
Desierto del Diablo
Going through this area is like travelling to Mars. It is one of the most isolated locations in Puna, standing out for its extreme aridity and huge reddish plains. The road trip is 1.3 km long, and runs along Desierto del Laberinto, a winding road spanning through a 10-million-year desert of fossil dunes, with thousands of clay peaks and gypsum crystals. Some 45 km separate this place from Tolar Grande.
The scene turns majestic with the impressive Cerro Macón, a more than 5,600-metre-high hill located 30 km away from Tolar Grande. Every November, the Tolar Grande dwellers climb the hill to make offerings and thank Pachamama (Mother Earth). At the top lies an apacheta (a mound of stones), which is the reason why it is deemed as a “sacred mountain”.
Ojos de Mar
Some 5 km before arriving at Tolar, Ojos de Mar depicts a blend of ochre colours from the Andean plain and the blue-greenish waters. These are 3 volcanic lagoons in the middle of a white salt flat with colours ranging from turquoise to green, depending on the sunlight. It is estimated that the lagoon water is 4 times saltier than the ocean water. This site also bears scientific importance since many studies on the origin of life are conducted there due to the presence of stromatolite communities.
Salar de Arizaro
Tolar Grande is on the edge of the Arizaro salt flat, rich in salt, iron, marble, onyx and copper. Old mule drivers used to travel along this road during the 18th and 19th centuries, guiding animal caravans on their way to Chile.
Cono de Arita
On the southwest end of the Arizaro salt flat, 75 km away from Tolar Grande, lies the enigmatic Cono de Arita, an almost perfect, 200-metre-high volcanic pyramid, made of salt and black lava, in the middle of the plain. Local dwellers consider it a sacred place.
The Arenal and geoforms
3 km north of Tolar Grande, you can visit the Arenal accompanied by a specialized guide. You ascend to a viewpoint with one of the most impressive views of the Puna and visit the Cueva del Oso geoform.
La Casualidad Mine
La Casualidad used to be a mining village located in one of the most remote and incredible places on Earth, surrounded by the highest volcanoes and between mountains of sulphur and salt flats. Miners used to work at 5,200 m.a.s.l. The mine was closed during the 70s and the village today has turned into a ghost town. It is located 130 km southeast of Tolar Grande.
Located 74 km away from Tolar Grande, Caipe (an old railway station) and the Julia mine are the landmarks in the area. Right from the abandoned station there is a panoramic view to the Arizaro salt flat.
Santa María Lagoon
Located 65 km away from Tolar Grande and at the foot of the Incahuasi volcano, solitude in Santa María Lagoon is absolute. This natural environment is filled with an infinite number of pink flamingos, coots and other striking Puna birds. The birdwatching season is between September and March.
Llullaillaco (6,730 m.a.s.l.) and Socompa (6,051 m.a.s.l.) volcanoes are part of the group of summits flanking the border between Argentina and Chile.
Llullaillaco, a finish line for experienced climbers, became famous in 1999, with the discovery of an Inca treasure that harboured the perfectly preserved frozen bodies of three children sacrificed in a ritual. They were called the Mummies of Llullaillaco (or Volcano Children) and are exhibited at the High Mountain Archaeology Museum of Salta.