Previously we visited the small city of Cafayate, northwest of Argentina. A destination that stands out for its beautiful landscapes and high quality wines. Now, as we promised, we will visit one of the biggest attractions in this region of the country: the Quebrada de las Conchas (Shell´s Gorge).
This gorge, also called Quebrada de Cafayate, is 90 kilometers south of the city of Salta, capital of the homonymous province.
Its rock formations of varied colors and its great geological wealth make this place one of the most beautiful on earth.
Las Conchas Gorge is located in the mountain range that separates the Calchaquí Valleys from the Lerma Valley. Along this arid gorge runs the Las Conchas River and the national route 68, which connects the cities of Salta and Cafayate.
In order to protect the place, in 1995 a natural reserve was created that covers an area of 25,784 hectares.
This gorge it was born by the tectonic movements that took place in the last two million years. Along its 70 kilometers in length we can see varied landscapes, rocks and mountains of varied and curious shapes.
Observing the rocks of the Las Conchas Gorge is looking to the past, when this place was very different from what it is today.
Our tour began in the city of Cafayate. After a short drive on the national route 68 we passed near the small airport of the place. If we look to our right, we are struck by the Nevado de Cachi mountain, the highest in the Calchaquí Valleys. Its 6,380 meters above sea level allow us to see it despite being 140 kilometers away from it.
Continuing on our way we passed Los Médanos, an area full of beautiful sand dunes. Little by little we are surrounded by mountains as we enter the Quebrada de las Conchas.
The rock formations and their colors follow one another along the way. In each curve, a new impressive landscape appears before our eyes.
The most visited sites are the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s throat) and El Anfiteatro (The Amphitheater) two geological formations of enormous size.
To reach them you only have to walk the few meters that separate them with the road. In their entrance it is common to see apachetas, mounds of stones made by people as an offering to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and other deities.
When we arrived at The Amphitheater, it seems that we entered the interior of the mountain, and suddenly we were surrounded by vertical walls that surpass 50 meters of height.
Devil’s Throat and The Amphitheater were formed when in the past the climate was humid and in the place there were cascades of water, which little by little were eroding the rock to give them this amazing shape.
The Amphitheater owes its name to the acoustics of the place, thanks to the deep cleft in the mountain. That’s why here we can find musicians singing or playing an instrument.
In Las Conchas Gorge we can also find remains of fossil frogs, different layers of marine and continental limestone rocks and even dinosaur footprints.
Other attractions are the rock formations known as Las Ventanas (The Windows), El Fraile (The Friar), El Sapo (The Toad), Los Castillos (The Castles), Los Médanos (The Dunes), El Obelisco (The Obelisk) and La Yesera (Plaster Mountain).
In La Yesera there are clear and greenish layers with fossil fish dating back some 15 million years ago, when the sea entered the interior of the continent for the last time.
The Quebrada de las Conchas is one of the places in the world where the K / T limit is located, a line that marks the boundary between the Cretaceous with its reptilian fauna (including dinosaurs) and the Tertiary, with the renaissance of a new fauna where mammals reign and dinosaurs no longer exist. This limit happened 65 million years ago due to the impact of a possible asteroid.
The most iconic formations of the ravine are visible from route 68. In some places such as Devil’s Throat and The Amphitheater there are sectors to park and access on foot to the interior of the mountain.
Gastronomy and Accommodation
As in all the places we visit, we help you with the basic accommodation, gastronomy and transport tips that will help you plan your trip through these lands.
Quebrada de las Conchas is an arid gorge between the cities of Salta and Cafayate. The distance that separates them is 180 kilometers.
In any of the two cities you have at your disposal hotels of different categories, as well as hostels and cheaper places.
The city of Salta is the capital of the province and has 555,000 inhabitants, so the offer is much higher there.
Meanwhile, to the south is the city of Cafayate, which for its great tourist activity offers many options in accommodation, restaurants and leisure. You can see the Cafayate guide article published a few days ago.
Getting to this region of Argentina is simple: The city of Salta is the capital of the province and has numerous bus routes to other cities in the country and neighboring countries. Another option is to arrive by plane to the international airport.
Las Conchas Gorge, southwest of the capital, is about 70 kilometers long and the national route 68 runs from end to end.
The bus is the only public transport option. The company Flecha Bus connects the cities of Salta and Cafayate and has several stops in Las Conchas Gorge.
Keep in mind that the scenic attractions are not all together, but are located along the gorge. The names of the places or bus stops that are near the major sites of interest are:
- Garganta del Diablo,
- Tres Cruces,
- Santa Bárbara,
- La Yesera,
- El Paso.
Thus, for example, a trip with Flecha Bus from the city of Salta to the stop “Las Cruces” lasts 3 hours and the cost is around 270 Argentine pesos (6.35 euros) one-way.
Another very interesting option is to hire an excursion in the many travel agencies that exist in the cities of Salta and Cafayate. They usually offer tours where you can visit Las Conchas Gorge and other places of interest such as wineries.
A third option, which gives us more freedom is to rent a vehicle. In Salta and Cafayate there are rental agencies and route 68 is in good condition to drive.