I did this journey at Easter 3 years ago - it was great. I took the bus to Salta (long trip) but my bus was good. Visited Jujuy for a few days. Then bused to La Rioja (the mountains are beautiful) Lots to see in Jujuy. Then bused to San Juan and went to Valle de la Luna. Then bused to mendoza for a few days. heaps to see there. Then took the overnight bus back to Bs As. Since then I've done other trips to San Luis which is nice and Tucuman - it's small but I liked it, lots of history as a former regional capital, cool penas (oops, no spaish n on my keyboard) at night. I'm sure there's lots of other good places, but that's the ones I know. The north is great!
I plan to get a bus, so I will need to be dependent on bus timetables. Is renting a car easy and cheap here? I have a UK license, is that accpeted? Shall def check out La Rioja and Jujuy. I´m so excited, hopefully the weather will be good.
How long are you planning to travel?
To drive in Argentina you'll need an international driver's license (and remember we drive on the right...mostly).
If you have one, you'll see more and will be more flexible. But I wouldn't do it alone, as you may feel lonely. I mean, travelling by bus you'll meet more people.
Mendoza to Salta is where most of the wine comes from! If you're into wine, it can be fabulous.
From Mendoza to San Juan I would go via Uspallata, Barreal and the Calingasta valley. It's gravel road for the most part of it, but the landscapes are just gorgeous. And it is lonely...you won't see more than 1-2 cars. And you can't drive very fast, as the gravel can be treacherous. I did it with a small Corsa and it was ok. Barreal is a nice sleepy town, where you can try some of the local especialities. But forget this route if travelling by bus. In that case take one of the frequent Mendoza-San Juan buses.
Around San Juan there are a few fine wineries, like Augusto Pulenta or Graffigna. There are some tours from San Juan, but I don't know enough to recommend one. It is also possible to visit from there the Calingasta Valley, in case you haven't travelled through. From San Juan you can also take a tour to visit Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna). I met some Germans there who have talked to a taxi driver in San Juan city and he organised the trip for them. At the park entrance he gave them his car and he stayed there sleeping under a tree until the Germans came back
The base for visiting Ischigualasto is San Agustín de Valle Fértil (there is acommodation there too). I don't know if there are buses from there to La Rioja, but it would be great. If you're driving it is easy then. Check on the internet, but Talampaya could also be interesting.
I recommend visiting Chilecito, in La Rioja province. Other than for the wine (they have some very good torrontés riojano) it is a peacefull little city, with superb views to the mountains and a very laid back atmosphere. I love it. Nearby Nonogasta is beatifull too. So different from BA!
If you're driving you can take the road to Tinogasta, in Catamarca province. Otherwise head from Chilecito to La Rioja, and further Tucumán, staying in Catamarca if you like.
I don't like Tucumán city very much (it's like a small BsAs), but there is a wonderful road going from the city to Amaichá del Valle (via the Quilmes ruins) which is one of my favourites. Amazing and changing landscapes. I don't know much about buses going there. You may contact this site (or at least have a look at the pictures!).
Cafayate would be a very nice form to enter into Salta province. Lots of wines to be tasted, including the best torrontés. Salta is a beautiful city, and from there there are lots of minibuses doing the usual tours: Cachi (do it as first) and then San Antonio de los Cobres via Salinas Grandes and Purmamarca (many people get sick on this trip, as it crosses areas which are well above the 3500 m asl - 4200 m I think). From Salta you can also visit on a third day the Quebrada de Humahuaca, which is a must if you are there. The way back across the yungas (jungle) is amazing as you travel across very dry landscapes first to be in a matter of minutes in the middle of a tropical forest!
You may travel from Salta city to San Salvador de Jujuy first, and use it as a base to explore the province. Salta is definitely livelier than Jujuy, but it depends on what you're after.
I wish you a nice trip, it is a beautiful region. (have I mentioned there is lots of wine to be tasted there?? )
I just wanted to give my two cents. I haven't done the drive from Menoza to Salta, but just last December we bussed to Salta, rented a car and proceeded to explore the neighborhing southerly (through the valles to Cafayate--I cannot more highly recommend this drive) to Northern regions (along the ruta de tren de las nubes to the salt flat, then to Purmamarca, Tilcara, and nearly to the Bolivian border).
First, I can say that we did not need an international drivers license. We used our regular Stateside issued licenses with no problems at all. Second, we had an absolutely incredible journey that would NOT have been possible if we had traveled the whole way on busses. Having a rental car (relatively cheap, around US$40 a day) opened up so many possibilities to us--not to mention stopping whenever we wanted, having the freedom to explore and take our time. It was fantastic, one of the best trips I've ever been on. I imagine that driving from Mendoza would be equally incredible.
My husband and I are looking into taking somewhat of a similar trip - this information has been great! We were thinking of renting a car in BA and then driving to Salta and Jujuy - the reason being is that we have a dog that we would like to bring along. I've read its about 20 hours driving from BA to Jujuy - we would obviously stop along the way. We are at the beginning stages of planning this road trip and would love some input. For example - how many days would you say to spend in - Jujuy, Salta, Cordoba, Mendoza, etc. Also, does anyone have an opinion which trip would be better to do - BA to Mendoza, San Juan then Cordoba and back or BA north to Jujuy, Salta, Cordoba and back to BA? What about doing the whole trip - BA to Mendoza, north to San Juan, Salta, Jujuy, Cordoba and Rosario - how many days would this round trip take? Any ideas and general suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Again - we would want to drive from BA because of our dog.
A foreign driver's license is all right as long as the car is rented. Otherwise, US drivers are restricted to Buenos Aires province. Beats me why, but that's the way it is.
Anyway, getting an international drivers' license takes fifteen minutes and fifteen dollars at any AAA office. A cheap price for total peace of mind. If the policeman stopping you looks unfriendly, be sure to hand it open on the Arabic or Russian pages.