Travel from El Penon to Tolar Grande in Puna de Atacama, Argentina
April 22nd, 2016
After having explored El Penon, the tour to Puna de Atacama continues driving towards Tolar Grande, a tiny mining and railroad town in the heart of the Andes, in Argentina. The trip from El Penon to Tolar Grande is not a simple transfer, but a fantastic expedition through breathtaking landscapes dominated by an high altitude desert with salt flats, ancient lava flows, colourful mountains and remote traditional villages.
After spending two full days in El Penon, the trip to Argentina continues towards Tolar Grande, in the heart of Puna de Atacama, crossing magnificent landscapes dominated by high altitude deserts.
Despite the great isolation, due to almost impenetrable mountain ranges and roads not always in good conditions, visitors may be still surprised to find small towns in the middle of nowhere, where the extreme altitude makes the daily life even more challenging. In these photos, the village of Antofagasta de la Sierra (Argentina), which counts a few hundred of inhabitants, mainly dedicated to a limited agriculture.
Antofagasta de la Sierra is home to a small, but interesting museum, housing some mummies found on the nearby mountains.
The tour continues crossing a pass at over 4000 meters of altitude.
The top of a pass at 4600 meters.
In the vicinity of Vega Colorada, you can admire beautiful coloured mountains, at the foot of which a stream allows some vegetation to grow. The area is used seasonally by shepherds to feed the animals.
From the top of another pass, visitors can observe a magnificent view onto the extra-terrestrial landscape dominated by a high altitude desert hosting salt flats, ancient volcanic cones and flats of different minerals.
Crossing a salt flat with a coloured pond.
The village of Antofallita in Argentina, is located in the heart of the Andes at an altitude of 3400 meters and counts a few dozens of people, living predominantly in sheep farming and agriculture.
One of the main agricultural products that can be cultivated in the Puna de Atacama are the Andean potatoes, counting many varieties in different shapes and colours.
The journey through Puna de Atacama proceeds from Antofallita to Tolar Grande, crossing a Martian landscape from 3000 to 4000 meters of elevations.
A low hill covered with glittering minerals that recall broken glasses. These are just large crystals of calcium sulphate, arranged in thin layers that break off easily, letting the surface to glow in the sun.
Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere and far away from any volcano, there is a strange lava flow: nobody knows from where such lava was erupted.
Meanwhile, donkeys, lamas and ostrich graze near a spring, where the grass is more lush.
Arita Cone is located near a mining center and consists of a nearly perfectly conical structure that rises from a salt flat.
In the photo on the left, the Cone of Arita, a curious volcanic formation in the middle of a salt flat at 3500 meters of elevation. In the photo on the right, a mining center from where agate and gold is extracted.
Stones and minerals at the mine at Arita Cone.
The journey to Tolar Grande continues through the Salar de Arizaro, a salt flat over 80 kilometres long, offering a beautiful view onto Arita Cone and the surrounding mountains.
Just off the Salar de Arizaro, the track to Tolar Grande track passes through curious formations created by erosion.
Tolar Grande is a village located in Argentina at an altitude of 3500 meters and has about 200 inhabitants by 2016. The village's economy consists essentially of providing logistical support to the various mines in the region and to the railway line that connects Salta (Argentina) to Antofagasta (Chile).
Where to stay in Tolar Grande? The village of Tolar Grande is a good base for day trips among the beautiful attractions in the region, such as Salar de Arizaro, Arita Cone, Mina Casualidad, Mina Julia, Ojos del Mar, Laguna Santa Maria and more.
The small hotel Casa Andina offers a few rooms with all the usual amenities, such as heating, hot water, electricity and private bathroom. To appreciate all the beauties that the region offers, we recommend two or three nights stay at Tolar Grande.