Catamarca province

Most of the population of this large province lives in the capital, leaving the stunning countryside to the north and west virtually empty of people. Catamarca city is hot and quiet, livening up each July for the hugely popular Poncho festival, an excuse for a big
forlclore
music festival, food and dancing. There is a great tradition of weaving - wool, alpaca and llama - throughout the province of Catamarca, and while you can find them in the handicrafts centre in the city, you might want to explore the wild remote villages to the west, where you'll find many local weavers.

The small towns of Belén and Andagalá are animated oases on the way to the
puna
, where the tiny hamlets of Fiambalá and Tinogasta are fascinatingly remote last outposts, and possible bases for climbing Mount Pissis in the highlands to the far west. The province has one really impressive archaeological find: the ruined Inca town of El Shincal, close to Londres, but accessible on a tour from Belén. With evidence of extensive Inca conquest and a sophisticated infrastructure, this is well worth visiting. From Belén, a lonely road leads north across the
puna
to remotest Antofagasta de la Sierra, surrounded by a vast expanse of salt flats. Catamarca's most appealing place to stay is the
charming hilltop town of El Rodeo; a popular weekend retreat for Catamarqueños, with its refreshing
microclimate and good walks. Further north, on the border with Tucumán, is the delightful village of Santa María, a lovely place to rest on the way to Salta, near the spectacular ruins at Quilmes.

The province is not the northwest's most accessible and the infrastructure can be frustratingly basic, but you'll be warmly welcomed in the remotest reaches; and you'll want to stuff olives, walnuts and superb woven textiles in your bag to bring home. For more information, see www.catamarcaguia.com.ar (in Spanish).

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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