To travel in the Puna (High Altitude Desert)
Geography and Climate
The Puna is a high altitude plateau with interior mountains at an average altitude of 4000 meters above sea level. The temperature in the Puna is low all year round and under zero during the night. The dryness of the environment makes that cold weather more bearable because is dry. In winter extreme temperatures can be registered, even -30 degrees Celsius. The thermal amplitude is very strong in the region, the daily amplitudes between 20 and 30 degrees are considered normal. The rains are scarce and they produce among the months of December and February, if they are able to cross the mountain barriers. They decrease from North to South with an annual average of 70mm.
Snowfall on the contrary, behave at the opposite of the rains, they are heaviest to the South and West and occur during the months of June and July. Usually triggered very fast and are preceded by strong winds.
The Altitude factor
Given its great altitude, averaging 4 kilometers above sea level, the Argentine Puna is in contact with rare layers of the atmosphere, this is, the percentage of gases mixed in the air (oxygen, nitrogen, ozone and rare gases) is different than that existent in the lower layers of the atmosphere. Therefore, there is a decrease of oxygen that the human body tries to compensate through an accelerated breathing that is compensated after a period of adaptation. On the other hand, there is an important decrease of atmospheric pressure. “A human being at sea level bears a column of air equivalent to a difference of more than 4000 meters more than that supported by an inhabitant of the Puna” (Alonso: 2010). This decrease of the atmospheric pressure can at the same time produce a sensation of nausea, dizziness and deafness.
In consequence, this conditions require an special attention during our trips, of one or more nights in the Puna.
Basic Advise before your Trip
- Start your trip to the Puna only after a period of rest in lower regions (one day is suggested), and don’t travel if you are tired;
- Drink water constantly during the trip;
- Maintain your normal eating habits, avoid eating or drinking in excess, before and during the trip;
- Important: follow the instructions of our guides;
- Our trip with itineraries of one or more nights in the Puna are specially advised against persons with cardiovascular problems and / or high blood pressure.
Suggested packing list
- Water bottle (1lt) to avoid the use of plastic bottles for mineral water.
- Sunblock and sunglasses (protection against UV) All year round.
- Hat. All year round.
- Gloves (made of wool or similar material). All year round.
- Winter clothes (in autumn/winter (May to August), clothes must be reinforced: winter jacket, sweatshirts, polar long-sleeve shirt, scarf, etc.).All year round.
- Windproof Jacket (it’s important because the area is windy). All year round.
- Warm socks (made of wool or cotton). All year round.
- Trekking shoes (comfortable). All year round.
- Moisturizing cream. All year round.
From La Rioja
National Route Nº38, continuing on National Route Nº 60, passing by the towns of Aimogasta and Alpasinche. Then National Route Nº40 driving through the location of Belén (Catamarca) to El Eje, from where you take a turn west to Route Nº43 to El Peñón.
From San Miguel de Tucumán
Drive through National Route Nº38 to the town of Famatina, and then take Provincial Route Nº307, continuing to Amaicha del Valle, where you will find the connection to National Route Nº40, you will drive on this route passing by the town of Santa María (Catamarca) all the way to El Eje, where you will take a turn west to Route Nº 43 to El Peñón.
From Salta City
The National Route Nº 68 all the way to its connection with the famous National Route Nº40. The journey starts in direction South passing by Cafayate, Amaicha del Valle and Santa María, until El Eje the connection point with the Provincial Route Nº43 to El Peñón.
Let's travel with responsibility
Dear traveler: you are about to live UNIQUE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE. For this reason, we invite you to contribute to the preservation of the landscapes you will tour so that they can remain unaltered for your children and grandchildren to be able to travel them in the future, like you are travelling now.
- Don’t drive away from the road or path. Why? The footprints that you leave will take many years to be naturally erased.
- Don’t drive in the sides of volcanoes, coasts of lakes and salt flats. Why? Is the best way to destroy the environment of this fragile ecosystems.
- Don’t leave any type of garbage, even if it is organic. Why? The Puna is a completely isolated place, everything that we leave will remain there forever.
- Avoid driving off road, with vehicles that are not prepare for that. Why? The secondary roads of the Puna, are mostly only apt for 4×4 vehicles, with double extra tires and with satellite communication or radio.
- Don’t leave bottles at the Apachetas. Why? The Pachamama DOES not want trash.
- Always travel with authorized guides and/or local guides that know the area. Why? To travel in this region with total security, to understand the most of the place, to learn how to respect the Puna, its people and its wildlife.
- Don’t leave behind elements such us car tires or writings on the rocks. Why? Because they cause the worse visual and environmental impact.
- Always inform where you will be going and estimate time of return. Why? So that someone can rescue you, is easy to get lost and/or have mechanical problems, among others, you can inform the local police.
- Don’t damage or bother the animals of the Puna. Why? They are wild animals and you will be endangering their existence.
How to take care of the Ecosystems of the “High altitude Andean lakes”
- NEVER TOUCH THE WATER OR DIVE IN THIS LAKES: besides the salt it has an extreme PH (high or low) and many of them have a very high content of arsenic.
- DON’T DRIVE A 4X4 CAR OVER THE HUMID SALT FLATS OR BY THE COLORFUL MUD PATHS: Besides ruining a fragile and unique Ecosystem, you will put yourself in danger of getting stuck, since underneath the salt flats the terrain can also be muddy. You would also be ruining your vehicle’s wheels since the chemical composition of this ambiance is highly aggressive.
- DON’T THROW ANY KIND OF TRASH: the input of organic material kills this ecosystems that survive only under extreme conditions.
- DON’T TAKE A SOUVENIR: this structures are alive, if you take a little part of it to bring back as a souvenir, besides ruining an ecosystem that takes a long time to regenerate, you will have to throw away your souvenir very soon, since the smell of Sulfur and Methane will travel with you and then will only have left mud and salt.
- NEVER TRAVEL ALONE: (we must respect the mountain). For security reasons is suggested to travel to the tourist attractions of the Puna with authorized tourism suppliers or at least with a local guide in case you travel with your own vehicle.