Hitting the trails less traveled in Argentina’s northwest corner.
TRAVELERS ARE JUST starting to appreciate Catamarca for what it has to offer. The Argentine province, located in the country’s far northwest, isn’t on many travelers’ must-see lists. None of the many people I talked to while planning my whirlwind trip there, Argentine or otherwise, could say anything more specific about the region than “I hear it’s pretty” or “It’s very hot there.”
With 80% mountainous terrain, the province is just waiting to be trekked. We made the 16-hour pilgrimage by bus from Buenos Aires to hike around one of Catamarca’s best-known towns, El Rodeo, in the middle of the Argentine winter.
1. Located in the mountains of Ambato about an hour from San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca, El Rodeo is a popular weekend getaway during the summer. Like the capital, the town is developing into a hotspot for outdoor activity; horseback riding and hiking are especially popular.
2. El Rodeo has an astonishing number of footbridges for the arid region, courtesy of several small streams that criss-cross the town. Many residents take advantage of the brooks to irrigate their gardens, rerouting the flow of water through miniature canals dug into their lawns.
3. Like most buildings in El Rodeo, La Casa de Chicha doesn't have an address, a fact that can make it a bit difficult to find. Along with the Hosteleria Municipal, the bed-and-breakfast is one of the few hotels open year-round.
4. One of the most popular hikes in El Rodeo is the climb to the Cristo Redentor, a large statue of Christ built on nearby Cerro del Huaico. With no street numbers, the statue also serves as a handy reference point: at least one local gave us directions by telling us to head toward Jesus.
5. The statue, which was completed in 1964, is perched on an outcropping jutting out from the top of the hill. Visitors leave rosaries and wooden crosses woven into the chain-link fence surrounding the statue, and a small shrine sits just down the path.
6. At altitudes of over 5000 feet above sea level, the mountaintops around El Rodeo experience drastic shifts in temperature. With little to no tree cover to provide shade, days are parched and searing hot, even during the winter months.
7. By late afternoon, temperatures drop enough to let hikers pause and watch the sunset in comfort. The lack of light pollution and distance from the city leaves the skies clear for magnificent sunset-watching and stargazing.
8. If I had to pick two words to describe El Rodeo's bird life, they would be "colorful" and "loud". The parrots, in particular, are as obnoxious as they are beautiful: you could track flocks by their squawking alone.
9. The trails' nocturnal wildlife is much quieter, not to mention more leggy.
10. Like everywhere else in Argentina, soccer is king in Catamarca. Children play pickup games in the street or on improvised pitches, such as this one on a farm on the edge of town.