Deep red jagged rock formations with golden highlights compete for our attention as we drive from Salta to Cafayate in Argentina. Over a million years in the making, the highlight of this road trip is the 80 km section called Quebrada de las Conchas (Shell Ravine).
Here, we find northwestern Argentina’s most stunning drive, a display of nature so unique and spectacular you will wonder why it isn’t more popular.
Of course, the lack of crowds is part of Quebrada de las Conchas’s attraction.
Uncommon geography carved out by tectonic movement, wind, and rushing water, this nature reserve is also called Quebrada de Cafayate. The area encompasses 25,784 hectares of protected landscape.
First, let Argentina inspire you …
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Stunning stops along Quebrada de las Conchas+−
- Where is Quebrada de las Conchas?
- Will you drive from Salta to Cafayate?
Stunning stops along Quebrada de las Conchas
Devil’s Throat (La Garganta del Diablo)
(141 km from Salta, 47 km from Cafayate)
Devil’s Throat was our introduction to the massive rock formations of Quebrada de las Conchas. The rocks were eroded several million years ago by cascading water. The images are a bit of an optical illusion. Like other photos we have seen, ours appear as if we are looking down into a canyon, but the reality is that we are looking up. (We saw a vastly different “Devil’s Throat” at Iguazu Falls.)
The Amphitheatre (El Anfiteatro)
(142 km from Salta, 46 km from Cafayate)
Another massive wonder of nature, the tall walls of the Amphitheatre contribute to its acoustic properties. As a local musician filled the cavern with both guitar and pan flute melodies, this quickly became my favourite stop of the day.
Three Crosses (Tres Cruces)
(147 km from Salta, 41 km from Cafayate)
Serving as a landmark, the three crosses offer a stunning view of Quebrada de las Conchas. While many people opt to hike here, we enjoyed the views from the road.
Toad (El Sapo)
(153 km from Salta, 34 km from Cafayate)
Unlike the next stop, it doesn’t require much imagination to see a giant toad in this rock cluster. Situated roadside, it’s a quick photo stop.
The Friar (El Fraile)
(155 km from Salta, 33 km from Cafayate)
Similar in theory to the toad, the Friar is a rock formation resembling something familiar to people. However, this one is both farther away and difficult to make out. In fact, even with the signage, we had trouble identifying a Franciscan priest wearing a tunic and standing with crossed arms. Therefore, I increased the Friar’s highlights with Adobe Lightroom in the image below to help you see it.
House of Parrots (Casa de Loros)
(155 km from Salta, 33 km from Cafayate)
Practically across the road from the Friar, sheer cliffs dotted with small cave-like indents form ideal nests for parrots. The holes also protect the parrots from predators.
Yesera (La Yesera)
(161 km from Salta, 27 km from Cafayate)
La Yesera is an area best known for fossils and for Los Estratos, stripes created by stratigraphic plates. We were prepared for the 40-minute walk to Los Estratos but found no signage or a trailhead marker. We believe this image to be La Yesera but can’t confirm it.
The Obelisk (El Obelisco)
(165 km from Salta, 23 km from Cafayate)
Standing approximately 26 meters tall (85 feet), the Obelisk is just a tall rock. A roadside feature, we almost didn’t stop for a photo.
The Windows (Las Ventanas)
(168 km from Salta, 20 km from Cafayate)
While Las Ventanas was the reason we stopped, it was the full landscape with the mountains that captured my attention. Check out the colours of the backdrop.
The Castles (Los Castillos)
(168 km from Salta, 19 km from Cafayate)
Erosion created columns in the sandstone reminiscent of the towers in a castle. Heading south, this was our final stop before Cafayate.
Where is Quebrada de las Conchas?
Located in Northwestern Argentina, Quebrada de las Conchas is an area south of Salta and near Cafayate. On the second map, it runs from Garganta del Diablo to Los Castillos.
How to explore Quebrada de las Conchas
Here we present four ways to see the area. We rented a car and drove ourselves, and recommend it. However, if you are not comfortable driving in Argentina, prefer a more active option, or simply want a guide with you, we highlighted three tour options: one on bicycles and the other two a mix of driving and short walks.
Self-drive Salta to Cafayate
Whether you drive from Salta to Cafayate, as we did, or do a Cafayate excursion, you will need a vehicle. We rented ours using RentalCars.com, and we were glad we did. They are a conglomerator providing comparative pricing alongside the ratings for local and international rental companies.
Importantly, their excellent customer service is available in English. So, when our automobile’s air conditioning stopped working during our drive from Salta to Cafayate, we needed to make one phone call, and a new car was on its way. Reserve your car at RentalCars.com here.
Bike tour of Quebrada de las Conchas with pick up from Cafayate
The massive rock formations make a stunning backdrop for a bicycle ride through the region. This small group tour (2-8 participants) requires a moderate level of fitness. Pick-up is from Cafayate, where you will be driven to the start and given a mountain bike and helmet.
Then, enjoy the 25 km (16 miles) cycling portion of this adventure with your guide. It will take you through the key sites featured here. Snacks and mineral water are included, as is return transport from the other end of your cycling adventure. Tour time: 5 hours. Reserve your Quebrada de las Conchas Bike Tour from Cafayate here.
Quebrada de las Conchas tour from Cafayate
This 5-hour afternoon tour will provide similar colours to what we saw. Beginning at the Cathedral in Cafayate, you will be driven along Route 68 to Quebrada del Rio de las Conchas, stopping at six key sites, many of which include short walks. Reserve your Cafayate excursion to Quebrada de las Conchas here.
Day trip from Salta (includes Quebrada de las Conchas and Cafayate wineries)
Starting and ending at your Salta hotel, this 12-hour tour will explore the highlight of Lerma Valley, Quebrada de las Conchas, and the wine region of Cafayate. A long day, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for exploration. However, it hits the key sites and is perfect for anyone in Salta without a vehicle and with only one free day. Reserve your Day Trip to Cafayate from Salta here.
Where to stay to see Quebrada de las Conchas
You can stay at either end. We did, spending several days in each area. (Longer in Salta, as I landed in a hospital, but that’s a story for another day). While we could give you several options in each region, we are in love with both of our choices and couldn’t imagine staying anywhere else.
Where to stay in Salta
Alejandro 1º Hotel is a five-star accommodation in the heart of the city that pampered us from the moment we arrived. Highlights of our stay include a comfortable bed, beautiful city views, an impressive buffet breakfast, and delicious dinners. It was the helpful staff that outlined our journey on this page. Best of all, the price was reasonable. Reseve a room at Alejandro 1º Hotel.
Where to stay in Cafayate
Altalaluna Hotel Boutique and Spa: Located on a vineyard (need I actually say more?), Altalauna is a quiet piece of paradise. Greeted with a glass of wine, we found this the perfect place to relax by the pool or at the spa. Note that it is outside of town, so only ideal if you have your own vehicle. Reserve your room at Altalaluna Hotel Boutique and Spa.
Tips for driving Quebrada de las Conchas
- Start by reading these travel tips for visiting Argentina – especially if you are a first-timer.
- The main roads in this region are well-signposted and easy to drive.
- The signage for each of the landmarks above is in Spanish. The signs are carved on freeform wood plaques. See the toad above for an example.
- Trust your instincts over Google Maps. We found the app sent us down old roads far too often in Argentina and in the Atacama desert of Chile. The route on this page is all paved roads.
- We found Maps.me to be more accurate than Google Maps in Argentina (and Chile), and it offers downloadable maps that work offline.
- We flew from Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires. Had we taken ground transport, it would have taken us over 17 hours.
- Don’t miss these general South America travel safety tips.
Quebrada de las Conchas was only one small portion of our South America itinerary.
Save on your trip with these resources
These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or VRBO (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
*World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
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thanks, Rhonda, for posting such amazing photos, and giving such good advise. I am myself actually planning my trip, solo, to Argentina in November December and am glad there are tours organized for those sites. I will check the rest of your journey.
I wonder if I should bother with Ushuia. I have read comments that it is fairly difficult to go and expensive.
I am also interested in finding a rancheria where I can explore by horse the pampa. Did you happen to do that?
Merci again. Cloe
We were in South America (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil) in Nov – Jan this past year. Great time of year. We opted not to go to Ushuaia in part for the reasons you mentioned, and also it is much colder and would require different packing. As we travel in carry-on only, this is a consideration. Please check out my travel resources page for our best tips on tours and planning.
These views are breathtaking. I would like to visit one of those areas one day. I feel it can be a journey of my life! Your photos are amazing!
Beautiful photos! It appears to be quite uncrowded so it’s somewhat of a hidden gem. Thanks for introducing me to something new.
Wow – what incredible colours! I love the formations – that toad one is the cutest!
Wow – This is like Geography’s Greatest Hits! The Devil’s Throat – easy to see why they call it that, and it’s stunning. As we were reading along and looking at the photos, we were reminded of so many different areas in the US with similar features – Arches, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Red Rocks (both Colorado and Nevada), Garden of the Gods (okay, so we don’t have el sapo…) – where these attractions are spread over half of the US, it’s amazing that they’re all collected along that drive. Gorgeous! Thanks for sharing, Rhonda!
It reminds me a lot of the red rocks in Southern Utah. Love the look of this landscape, so different from the damp and green Pacific Northwest I grew up in and the Denmark I live in now. And the toad really looks like a toad! Very beautiful scenery and somewhere I know very little about – part of why I love learning of new spots to seek out. Thanks for sharing. Cheers from Copenhagen.
Hi Rhonda – I’d definitely love the drive through the area … and spend a bit of time there. It looks an amazing trip … stunning photos … gorgeous colours and yes all the names to identify the rocky deposits – cheers Hilary
Amazing drive through Salta to Cafayate. Beautiful pics.
Thanks for sharing
The road trip along Quebrada de las Conchas is very enchanting, due to all those brownish red rock formations. The view at the Three Crosses is very magnificent. Thanks for sharing tips about where to stay and tips for driving.
Amazing drive through Salta to Cafayate. Beautiful photos. Never knew of this drive before.
Julie Kemp Pick
Rhonda, You constantly amaze me with your spectacular photographs! The formations and landscapes look like they’re straight out of a storybook. Thanks for all of the great travel tips too!
Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
Oh no! Somehow we missed this when we visited Salta a few years ago. Now we’re going to have to go back.
What an extraordinary landscape! I’ve seen red rocks like this in Northern Spain but they remind me more of the landscape in the United States or even Australia. What a great idea for a road trip. I fancy visiting Argentina already… Thanks for inspiring me.
Woooow, look at that. I simply adore rugged canyons like that. I’m completely mesmerized. Thank you for your super helpful and complete guide (as ever!!)
Keri | Ladies What Travel
What a road trip – that amphitheatre looks amazing!
Ivan at mindtheteavel.com
The entire spot looks absolutely charming! Sadly I haven’t been to this part of Argentina yet! Thanks for this post, Rhonda! Quebrada de las Conchas is now high on my list of places to visit!
Ryan K Biddulph
The Devil’s Throat looks so wicked Rhonda. Brilliant. I love it. Dramatic and fitting too.
Wow, this is a very cool outdoor/hike area! Reading about you describing Quebrada de las Conchas reminded me of my trip in Arizona! Thanks for sharing your insight!
I have to agree with you about the backdrop, that’s some pretty cool scenery.
Wow this looks like a stunning a drive! I like to explore less touristy natural sites too when I go away so this really suits me! South America is on my bucket list, I can’t wait to start!
What a comprehensive guide to the area! And love the variety of formations along the way. Great photos!! Thanks for sharing 🙂
The Devil’s Throat sounds like a sight to see! Thanks for including your tips too – that trusting your instincts over Google maps and using the other website for better accuracy!
The names are difficult to pronounce but the places look amazing. I would love to take up this road trip from Salta to Cafayate and explore Quebrada de las Conchas when in Argentina. I must mention, your pictures have come so so good.
I had no idea there was this sort of landscape in Argentina!
The Devil’s Throat is so cool! From looking at the picture I definitely thought it was some kind of ravine, but it is actually a natural optical illusion. We have never been to Argentina, but would love to visit someday. We will have to add this to the list! Thanks for sharing this cool hidden gem.
I never visited Argentina but I have heard about its diverse landscape. However, I didn’t think oine could find such dramatic rock landscapes over there. All these places look absolutely amazing and would definitely love to visit someday, especially Devil’s Throat. Thank you for sharing this article, I really enjoyed every line of it.
Oh, that looks like an amazing place to visit. I especially like the toad =)
We haven’t travelled this part of Argentina. Last year we travelled from Ushuaia to Santiago and the scenery was quite different to this. My favourite is the Castles formation. We will definitely travel this area on our return to Argentina in the next few years.
Quebrada de las Conchas certainly offers scenery that is stunning in its starkness. This road trip looks like an amazing attraction in Argentina, especially if you love the colours of the desert. Wonderful!
The landscape of Quebrada De Las Conchas look incredble. I would love to visit Devil’s Throat. What an adventure!
It looks a bit rugged but quite beautiful. I believe I’m about 30 years past the point where I could do this comfortably. Thanks for letting me see it through your eyes!
Amazing Rhonda. This is a very unusual place but at the same time it is interesting and beautiful. Thanks for showing me something that would never have gone to. See ya my friend.
I would have loved to explore here. My kind of adventure. Out of the big city into the great outdoors. Great shots as always.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
Alex J. Cavanaugh
The Castle is cool. House of Parrots is a funny name, but makes sense. Did you see parrots?