Guides and maps
We used web pages by Stefan Roman and Ulises Luna, and an out of date copy of the Footprint guide. There are no decent topographic maps.
Food and drink
Food is generally quite good, but too meaty and too cheesy. Salads are a doubtful proposition in the north west, but the ice creams are good.
We get increasingly bored by the red wines, which are pleasant for glugging but overcooked, overalcoholic and almost indistinguishable regardless of grape. At least those of the nearby Cafayate region are seldom if ever overoaked.
The whites by contrast are varied and delicious. All those grown locally are from the Torrontés grape, which will appeal to those who like Alsatian wines and viogniers. The base flavour is rosewater, often with hints of grapefruit (including the pith), sometimes other citrus fruits, sometimes boiled sweet zinginess. The delicious Don David (£3 retail) tastes of coconuts and limes.
We didnt drink much beer. The Salta brand do a black beer which is less sweet than Cusqueña but still too sweet for Tracey.
Coffee is a disappointment. Good places may have mediocre arabica, but elsewhere you will get robusta if not Nescafé. Even some good places serve robusta for breakfast.
Bottled water is widely available. Plastic bottles are commonest, and Kin the commonest brand, but still Kin has a slightly unpleasant flavour while all carbonated waters in plastic bottles are too fizzy to drink on their own.
Cartons of peach juice are widely available and make a delicious alternative.
Credit cards are not widely accepted. Cash may be withdrawn from ATMs, but in a piece of profiteering the banks have limited the size of withdrawals to 300 pesos, charging a fixed fee for each transaction. We made 10 withdrawals over 2 days prior to heading off to San Antonio.
Prices are embarrassingly low. Hotel prices on the internet are generally quoted in pesos, and seem less of a bargain if you misunderstand them as dollars.
Summer (JanMar) is the rainy as well as the hot season. More rain seems to fall in the Quebrada de Humahuaca than on the puna. At times the temperatures in November were higher than even we find ideal, so since October would also be drier it would probably be a better bet.
There was no haze during our visit.
Winds start off blowing down the Quebrada de Humahuaca and change direction some time during the day; perhaps during the morning, perhaps not until the evening. I dont know what causes this.
Winds on the puna have a westerly bias, and apart from this blow up the valleys gaining strength during the day.
All of which sounds fair, but we had a predominance of headwind. The wind blew viciously down the Quebrada de Toro as we struggled up it and never paid us back.
Direction of circuit
SaltaCachiSan AntonioSalta makes a natural and popular circuit. Most riders seem to follow it clockwise, which has aesthetic merits since the Cuesta del Obispo is an impressive climb with no counterpart on the San Antonio road, and the Abra del Acay is more striking from the south.
However many practical advantages lie on the other side. A clockwise circuit will necessitate camping at least twice, while we made no use of our tent in the other direction. More importantly an anticlockwise circuit allows progressive acclimatisation, with the Abra Blanca, Abra de Chorrillos and Abra del Acay evenly spaced (4000m, 4400m, 4800m), and with San Antonio providing a high-altitude rest station (3600m). Im surprised people dont run into problems going the other way.
Wind may be a factor favouring a clockwise circuit. In our experience it was circular, blowing up the valley from Salta to Cachi and down the valley from San Antonio to Salta. This sounds too perverse to be credible, but Matías Obregón also faced headwinds when climbing to San Antonio.
We took full camping gear for the Acay circuit but used none of it. Wed been doubtful about finding accommodation at Santa Rosa, and had not expected to cross the Abra del Acay, nor to ride from Cachi to Chicoana, in a single day. But it might be rash to leave camping gear behind.
You will need protection against sun and blown sand.
GPS is not particularly useful. The following readings (in lat and long, WGS 84) may be of some interest.