We chose Poncho Tours for 2 reasons. One, it has garnered rave reviews in TripAdvisor based on reasonable sample size and time span. Two, it offers private tours (usually of no more than 2 or 3 people) tailored to specific interests. Nick, who runs Poncho with his wife Alicia, always responded quickly to our questions while we were still finalizing our itinerary. As we sit down to write this report, we can say without any reservation that Poncho has delivered admirably in all aspects of our trip making it one of the most enjoyable in years.
Our trip for two was a 4 day passage in April 2013 to various parts of North West Argentina. Starting in the city of Salta, we traveled in a Renault SUV with our guide (more about him later) traversing the regions of Salta, Jujuy and Tucumán provinces. With input from Nick, we chose boutique hotels for our stays and all of them were fantastic, clean and comfortable. We visited wineries around Cafayate, tobacco fields around Salta, ruins of Quilmes, an ancient native settlement, in Tucumán province. Passed through many charming little towns and indulged in delicious local food. We were totally mesmerized by the awe-inspiring landscape wherever we went, particularly in Quebrada de Humahuaca valley and at the top of Serrania de Hornocal (4374 metres above sea level). The final destination of our trip was the salt flats of Salinas Grandes. To reach it we drove along National Route 52 (a paved asphalt road) over a mountainous section called Cuesta del Lipán (Lipán Slope). This is a steep slope carved out of the side of the mountain with many hairpin turns and stunning view. At the top, it reaches an elevation of about 4000 metres. On the descent, we could see the pure white salt flats like a mirage over the horizon.
We never cease to marvel at the dramatic difference in scenery between Patagonia (which we visited a week earlier) and NW Argentina. In one case it was glaciers and snow capped mountains and in the other arid desert and bare mountain ranges with strange and colourful rock formations. This contrast is what makes our trip that much more captivating.
Mariano, our guide, is one of the best we have ever come across in our travels. His knowledge of the region is immense as he has camped or hiked in almost all the spots he took us to. You can engage him in serious conversation in almost any local subject from wildlife, bird-life, plant life, geology, culture, customs, wine, folklore, economy to politics. He is an exceptionally good and safe driver who knows every country road and the streets of every town we visited – not to mention the friends he knows in each. He would take mental note about our idiosyncrasies during casual conversations and then make subtle adjustments to the itinerary to make our trip more interesting. Travelling with him is like having a friend showing you around his own neighbourhood - no pressure, always cordial, relaxed, informative and thoroughly enjoyable. It was a pleasure to have him as our guide.
Thanks Poncho Tours (Alicia, Nick, and Mariano) for 4 memorable days in NW Argentina.
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