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Tucumán, Argentina: Exploring the Birthplace of Argentine Independence

Neblina (Cloud Cover) on the Road to Tafí del Valle
Sea of Clouds Over Tafí del Valle, Tucumán

The route between Tucumán and Cafayate takes about five hours; first, the road climbs out of the valley where Cafayate is located, passing through the arid climate of the high Andes, with rolling hills spotted with cacti and sparse vegetation.  From there, the road descends to the province of Tucumán, passing through the small, scenic towns of Amaicha del Valle and Tafí del Valle on the way to the capital, San Miguel de Tucumán.

Views from the Road Between Cafayate and Tafí del Valle Views from the Road Between Cafayate and Tafí del Valle
Views Leaving Cafayate through the Valles Calchaquíes

While northwest Argentina and the provinces of Salta and Jujuy are famous for having a dry climate and lots of sun, Tucumán is located at a lower elevation which invites stormier weather.  July means winter in Argentina, and in Tucumán, this translates to clouds and rain.  Descending through the Valles Calchaquíes, we could see the clouds forming over the Tafí del Valle area.  From afar, it looked like a gorgeous grey-blue lake set amongst the Andes.

Views from the Road Between Cafayate and Tafí del Valle
Clouds above Tafí del Valle, Tucumán

I snapped picture after picture of the clouds from the window of the bus, appreciating the picturesque fog over the valley.  However, as we approached Tafí del Valle, it was clear that the weather was very different within this gorgeous cloud cover.  The beauty of Tafí del Valle was muted by the thick clouds and fog and frigid temperatures.  In 2001, I’d visited this small but touristic town with my study abroad cohort, and I peered out the window looking for details I remembered.  It is still basically a one-street town.

Catedral de Tucumán, Argentina Plaza Independencia, Tucumán Casa del Gobierno de Tucumán
Catedral de Tucumán; Plaza Independencia; Casa del Gobierno de Tucumán

From there, we continued on to the capital of the province, San Miguel de Tucumán, known simply as Tucumán.  Romina and I said our goodbyes as she continued her journey back to her hometown, Córdoba, and I got a cab to my hostel, A La Gurda Hostel.

A La Gurda is a lovely family-owned and operated hostel located in a historic casona (big house) in the heart of Tucumán, and I was immediately welcomed into its embrace upon arrival.  Several guests actually lived there as they did an exchange program or internship, so there was already a core group to hang out with.  It was also the beginning of vacaciones for people from Buenos Aires, so there was a lively atmosphere of people wanting to make the most of their time off.

Almost as soon as I arrived, a group formed to go out to dinner and one of the long-term guests invited us to tag along with him to a house party with tucumanos before heading to a club.  It was Friday night, and when in Tucumán…  We headed to a very trendy club called REcorcholis, where I was taken back about ten years to my life in Buenos Aires, dancing all night surrounded by well-off, fashionable Argentines.

Casa Histórica de la Independencia, Tucumán, ArgentinaI spent the next few days in Tucumán recovering from the all-night party and trying to adjust to the damp winter weather, which chilled me to my bones.  The sun does not reach inside the old casonas, which usually do not have heat, so I basically chased the sun and spent a lot of time reading by the fire.  I toured the historical circuit of Tucumán on a cloudy, cold day, but luckily managed to head back the next day when the sun came out again, which enabled me to capture these lovely pictures of the historical buildings around the Plaza Independencia, the main plaza.

I also checked out the Casa Histórica de la Independencia, where Argentina’s independence had been proclaimed in 1816.  This historic building continues to be painted a brilliant white and is visited by patriotic Argentines, especially on a holiday weekend like this one.

The Pencils Keep Writing - Tucumán, Argentina Hope I'm Useful to You for Something, Tucumán, Argentina
Graffiti in Tucumán, Argentina

Remembering the Disappeared, Tucumán, Argentina

Tucumán is also known for its political and intellectual side, which you can see reflected in the artistic graffiti around the city.  Tucumán has a tragic past; the province was brutally repressed by the military dictatorship from 1976-1983, and tens of thousands of people were “disappeared” by the military, including students, artists, writers, and other intellectuals.  Throughout the city, you see murals and plaques commemorating these losses and asking us to remember the Disappeared.  Answers are still being sought.

The disappeared have not been, and will not be, forgotten.

Dique El Cadillal, Tucumán, Argentina Dique El Cadillal, Tucumán, Argentina
Dique El Cadillal, Tucumán, Argentina
Views from Dique El Cadillal, Tucumán

After a few days of wandering the city and enjoying its cosmopolitan atmosphere, I decided it was time to do something touristic to explore the province beyond the capital.  I joined a tour of the Circuito Chico (Small Circuit/Loop).  Our first stop was Dique El Cadillal, a beautiful reservoir surrounded by green forests.  This is a prime place for water sports during the summer; it has an extensive visitor complex, including a tram to the top of one of the hills where you can get a view of the whole area.  There is also an amphitheater constructed with a chess board in the middle, because why not? 😛

Views from El Siambón, Tucumán, Argentina
Rosary and Roses at El Siambón

After that, we headed to the monastery at El Siambón, where you can buy jams and jellies and natural products made by the monks. From here, you can really get a sense for the green forests of Tucumán; I imagine the scenery is even more gorgeous in the summer.

Views from El Siambón, Tucumán, Argentina Views from El Siambón, Tucumán, Argentina
Views of the Hills Around El Siambón

Views from El Siambón, Tucumán, Argentina

For me, the most interesting part about this stop was our guide’s tales about this statue of Mary.  As you can see from this photo, Mary’s skin is darker that you might expect in Argentina, and her face clearly has indigenous characteristics, reflecting the true heritage of this region of the Andes.  Religious pilgrims visit this statue and leave offerings like the rosary and roses in the above photo.

Views from Cerro San Javier, Tucumán, Argentina
Views of the Green Hills around Cerro San Javier

From El Siambón, we headed to Cerro San Javier to appreciate the views of Tucumán from above.  After spending the past few weeks in the northern deserts, I couldn’t get enough of the greenery.

Views from Cerro San Javier, Tucumán, Argentina Views from Cerro San Javier, Tucumán, Argentina Views from Cerro San Javier, Tucumán, Argentina
Hills of Cerro San Javier; Statue of Christ; Posing at Cerro San Javier

Cerro San Javier is well known locally for its statue of Christ.  There’s even a diagram of some of the most famous Christ statues around the world, comparing their size and shape!

Views from Cerro San Javier, Tucumán, Argentina Views from Cerro San Javier, Tucumán, Argentina
Comparing the Christ Statues Around the World; The City of Tucumán from Above

The views of Tucumán from Cerro San Javier really helped me to understand just how large the city actually is.

Views from Cerro San Javier, Tucumán, Argentina
Views from Cerro San Javier

I loved the visibility of the surrounding valley, with several crests visible in the distance.  Unfortunately, it was too cold to stay for the sunset, and we still had one more stop, to visit the chapel at Villa Nougués, which is surrounded by highly exclusive mansions and is also impossible for commoners like us to visit. 🙂

Parque 9 de Julio, Tucumán, Argentina
Casa del Obispo Colombres, site of the Museo de la Industria Azucarera

On my last day in Tucumán, I decided to visit Parque 9 de Julio, the largest park in Tucumán.  Both Buenos Aires and Mendoza have similar giant parks; their style is distinctly Argentine.  I visited the Casa del Obispo Colombres, an old house which pre-dates the construction of the park, and its Museo de la Industria Azucarera, a museum about the sugar industry in Tucumán.  Did you know that Tucumán province has a great climate for growing sugar cane?  I didn’t!

Parque 9 de Julio, Tucumán, Argentina Parque 9 de Julio, Tucumán, Argentina Parque 9 de Julio, Tucumán, Argentina
Views fom Parque 9 de Julio

Submarino y Factura, Tucumán, ArgentinaAfter a cold walk through the expansive park, I decided to head back towards the hostel.  I found a café and treated myself to my favorite Argentine drink, a submarino.  A submarino is hot chocolate, Argentine style: you receive a glass mug of hot milk and a chocolate bar, which you submerge in the milk until it melts.  Then you add sugar to taste and enjoy your hot chocolate.  I also decided to get a factura instead of the traditional medialunas; a factura is a pastry cream-filled flaky pastry.  I enjoyed both while reading outside in the late afternoon sun.

Making Empanadas @ the Hostel, Tucumán, ArgentinaFinally, I headed back to the hostel to hang out until my bus left much later that night.  I ended up making empanadas from scratch, improvising a cheese and corn filling, and putting the skills I learned in Salta to use!  After a year without an oven in Peru, it was fun to be able to bake things.  It is also a lot warmer when you sit next to the oven in a small kitchen. 🙂

As an illustration of the nice people I met in the hostel, two of the guests accompanied me to the bus station, as my bus was leaving around 1AM and I was nervous about being a target as a solo foreign woman at that hour of the night.  I had decided to take a late bus to La Rioja because the trip was only five or six hours and I wanted to arrive as close to dawn as possible.  I really appreciated their kindness, humor, and patience as they waited for me to get on my bus.  Like I continue to say, I was blessed with awesome companions during my trip, and Tucumán was no exception.

Recommendations for Tucumán, Argentina:

  • Stay at A La Gurda Hostel!  The family that owns the hostel and the staff are super accommodating and friendly.  The hostel has very nice bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a terrace for handwashing your clothes and hanging them to dry.  There’s also a laundry service and grocery store nearby.
  • If you’re vegetarian, there are quite a few vegetarian Chinese restaurants in Tucumán!  They have salad bars where you can get all kinds of delicious food priced by the pound. Fon Restaurante is just down the block from A La Gurda.  I also enjoyed Lotos.
  • You may want to take a tour of the Circuito Chico, but I suggest figuring out public transportation and doing it yourself.  You won’t be able to get to the monastery or see any of the additional stops, but you can easily visit Cerro San Javier and Dique El Cadillal using public buses.
  • You should absolutely visit Tafí del Valle and/or Amaicha del Valle on your trip to Tucumán province.  There are several affordable hostels in Amaicha del Valle.  I wish I had known about this town before leaving Cafayate, as we passed through it on the way to Tucumán!  Alternatively, you could do a tour around the Valles Calchaquíes to see these towns and also visit Quilmes, some of the most substantial and most interesting ruins in Argentina.  I did not revisit Tafí del Valle and Quilmes because I was there in 2001.
  • Try to visit Tucumán in another season besides winter.  There are lot of interesting outdoor activities to do in warmer seasons, and the greenery around the area would be much more impressive.
[Tucumán, Argentina: July 19-23, 2013]

Six Weeks on the Road in Chile and Argentina!

How time flies when you’re on the road!

I’m currently revisiting Arica, Chile, after a 32-hour bus ride from Santiago. In a few hours, I’ll leave for the Peruvian border once again, crossing over to Tacna to begin another 21-hour ride back to Lima. From Lima, I’ll leave for the part of my journey I’m most excited about: exploring central and northern Peru, regions I have yet to visit!

I thought I’d be able to keep up with my blog and upload photos on a much more regular basis, but the truth is, when you’re traveling, you’re focused on the moment. Access to the internet is plentiful, but a lot of hostels I’ve stayed in only have a good signal in open courtyards, and since it’s winter, I usually don’t have the stamina to sit outside for a long time. Even when I’ve had good access to the internet, I’ve spent my time looking for hostels and deciding on my next destination; it feels like a waste to spend too much time on the internet! On top of that, I take so many pictures that I’m still behind in selecting the best, though I’ve been using these long bus rides to catch up as best I can!

In the last six weeks, I’ve covered a lot of ground! I started with a few days in Arica to get to know the area and visit Parque Nacional Lauca. From there, I headed to San Pedro de Atacama, a place I’ve wanted to visit for over 10 years. And it is still the highlight of my trip; there are so many gorgeous things to see in the Atacama. After San Pedro, I crossed the border to Argentina, heading directly to Salta, Argentina, historically my favorite city in the world. I spent a few days in Salta enjoying the ambiance and people, and then I headed to Cafayate, known for its wineries and amazing scenery. Most people spend a day or two there, so it was nice to take a couple more days to get to know it better. It’s changed a lot since I visited in 2002.

From Cafayate, I headed south again to Tucumán, a city I’d never visited, and the birthplace of Argentine independence. Tucumán is known for its nightlife, and I took advantage of this, heading out to a super-club almost as soon as I arrived with the awesome people at my hostel. I saw some of the sights and then headed on to La Rioja, another small city I’d never visited. I lucked out and managed to join a group to visit Parque Nacional Talampaya in La Rioja province and Parque Nacional Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) in neighboring San Juan, two interesting and scenic parks which are not frequently visited by foreign tourists. Then I headed to Mendoza, where I spent a lovely week recovering from so much travel, tasting all kinds of wine, riding horses, relaxing in thermal baths, and meeting wonderful travelers.

After much internal debate, I decided to skip Buenos Aires on this trip, since it is just too far away from Peru, therefore too expensive to fly from. Instead, I headed back to Chile to spend nearly a week in Santiago visiting former students turned friends! Santiago was fascinating to me, as it has a lot in common with both New York and various Californian cities, especially when you take into consideration the neighboring cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso! I loved my time in Valparaíso, especially, and have to spend more time there at another moment. I still love capital cities, though most travelers prefer to skip them, so I am a fan of Santiago.

And today I’m en route back to Peru. I definitely feel like six weeks won’t be enough to see everything I want to see in this amazing country, but I’m going to do the best I can! 🙂

Below are quite a few selected pictures from my trip so far, with more details and more information to come, all in due time, of course. 😉

Sunset in Arica, Chile
Sunset in Arica, Chile

Laguna Chungará and Volcán Parinacota, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile
Laguna Chungará, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile

Valle de la Muerte, San Pedro de Atacama
Valle de la Muerte, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sunset from Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama
Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Chaxa/Salar de Atacama
Salar de Atacama/Laguna Chaxa, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Salar de Tara/Aguas Calientes, San Pedro de Atacama
Posing at Aguas Calientes, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Miscanti, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Miscanti, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Ojos de Salar, San Pedro de Atacama
Ojos del Salar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama
Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Merienda on the Plaza, Salta
Merienda on the Plaza, Salta, Argentina

Horseback Riding in Chicoana, Salta
Horseback Riding in Chicoana, Salta, Argentina

Near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate
Hiking near Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina

Neblina (Cloud Cover) on the Road to Tafí del Valle
Sea of Clouds, near Tafí del Valle, Tucumán, Argentina

Sunset in Tucumán, Argentina
Sunset near Tucumán, Argentina

El Hongo, Valle de la Luna, San Juan
Valle de la Luna, San Juan, Argentina

Wine Tasting at Clos de Chakras
Wine Tasting, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Posing at Termas de Cacheuta, Mendoza
Termas de Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

View from Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Flowers Near Santiago, Chile
Flowers near Santiago, Chile

Posing at Viña del Mar
Viña del Mar, Chile

Posing on top of Cerro Santa Lucia
Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile