The road 52 in the Purmamarca valley is give you the opportunity to see all the wonderful colors of the valley that are not only in the village itself : a variety of yellow/purple hills, red cliffs... And then the road climb up (a lot of zigzag) to the top of the Cuesta de Lipán (4140 m.) to cross the high area and to arrive on the other side,... to the altiplano, a high plateau covered in the beginning with stones and grass, and then by salt : the Salinas Grandes!
The show of the Salinas Grandes is fabulous! A giant white surface (12.000ha) with an very far horizont and mountains in the background !
The feeling of immensity is so intense! And the sun which has cracked some angular forms on the ground covered by salt is really beautiful! I could have spent there hours...the sun was shining and the wind was quite strong...
Riding 126 km (from Purmamarca) was really worth!
The salt deposits come from the evaporation of an interior sea or lake, under the effect of the drought. The water lies under a thin (about 10 cm) "crust" of salt!!!
The activity of the operator of the "salinas" is more important in winter, since in summer, rains regain the salt marsh of water. Water doesn't interrupt all activity however, since the moment is auspicious for the harvesting of the " new " salt: a part of salt dissolves itself and recrystallize in surface, cleaned of all foulness. No need to treat it, it is directly edible!
Beyond Purmamarca the road climbs steeply through the remote highlands to the Chilean border pass at Paso de Jama (4230m). Four months after first visiting Purmamarca, we did this journey in reverse, from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile all the way down to Salta, before we turned north again for Bolivia.
The scenery along the way was spectacular, but the journey took far longer than planned as our bus broke down near the border and we had to wait 5 hours for a replacement. We stopped for dinner at a hostel in the remote town of Susques, then passed by the beautiful Salinas Grandes (Salt flats) close to midnight. Even at night the whiteness of the salt flats made them visible in the darkness. This would be a great journey to do by day should you have the time.
The best views of the seven coloured mountain are from lookouts on the hill across the road from the town. The only map we had of Purmamarca was the one given to us by the man who hired us the bikes, and he calls this hill Cerro Verde, so I'll do likewise.
A fairly obvious path leads up the mountain, and climbs steeply to the first of a couple of lookouts over the town. Purmamarca is of course at over 2000 metres altitude so if you're feeling short of breath, climbing high may not be the best idea. However, views along the way to the lookouts are excellent so even if you don't fancy the getting to high, it's worth doing a short section.
We hiked past a group of Colombian musicians recording a video with the seven coloured mountain in the background. Watch out for it on MTV!
We hiked as far as the second lookout which seemed to be the highest point on Cerro Verde, but the trail continued beyond this point towards other mountains behind so if you have the time, it would probably be a great hike. Unfortunately, neither the tourist information nor any guidebook I've read has information on hiking in these hills, but there are paths (probably used by the locals) which you can follow.