The new year brought us a return to an old favourite country where one of our most memorable completely off-the-beaten path destination was waiting for us: La Rioja in Argentina. We ventured on an epic journey from Chile to the north of Argentina.
Epic journey to La Rioja in Argentina
It took us 3 days to travel from Santiago de Chile to Cafayate in Argentina, because we chose taking the bus instead of a plane. (If you look at our map, you’ll see that it’s a pretty solid 1500 km distance.) We opted for travelling by night on 3 consecutive nights and spend the days chilling in the cities.
Visiting La Rioja in Argentina
One of the days we stopped at La Rioja in Argentina (which sadly has nothing to do with the wine in Spain). It’s the capital of the province of the same name, a less frequently visited place compared to big or even medium hits of Argentina such as Patagonia, Buenos Aires or Aconcagua.
As a destination off the beaten track or the so-called gringo trail (did you know that it actually exists?), it was an authentic local place but a bit boring to visit, I have to admit. The city was completely shut down between 12 and 4 pm for the siesta to that extent that hardly any business was open (including cafes or museums), there were no people on the streets, and even the central fountain on the main square was switched off!
Travelling off the beaten track
Being on a long trip in South America probably raises the question in many travellers: how much should I go off the beaten track?
We want to experience authentic, local life to understand something deeper about the country and their current issues. And when to do it if not now, when we have time, we are not rushed by our return ticket date and anyway, it’s nice to slow down, have a rest on a long trip. Seeing only the tourist traps gives the feeling that our look of the country is shallow.
Manage your expectations!
Having said all this, we have to be aware of what it might mean (but not necessarily) to go off the beaten track:
- It can be hard to get there – some remote areas have no regular access to public transport (for example we were considering going to the Parque Nacional Lauca in the northern tip of Chile, but there was no public transportation)
- Hard to find some commodities, such as vegetarian food in our case
- Need to make a significant detour because it’s out of the way
- And after all, it might be boring, not much to see and do there (there might be a reason why it isn’t a popular place…), like it happened to us in La Rioja in Argentina
- Locals can either be happy to see you or stare at you (because they don’t often see tourists)
Of course we all wish and imagine off the beaten track experiences as connecting with locals, getting very local experiences. But sometimes it just simply doesn’t happen.
Off the beaten track, but for how long?
Nowadays when there is hardly any country which is not touristy or bidding to catch tourists, it’s hard to find actually off the beaten track places which still offer some sort of interest or beauty.
La Rioja region in Argentina for example advertises its scenic surroundings: visit the magnificent red rocks of Parque Nacional Talampaya, see some dinosaur fossils in Parque de Dinosaurios Sanagasta or marvel at the stunning rock formations at El Sitio Los Colorados. I don’t know how much we can believe the photos but especially in the setting sun the red rocks look beautiful.
And what about mother Earth?
Another question that we read about from time to time is over-tourism. From the perspective of our Earth, it would be good to leave some places which remain off the beaten track instead of trying to lurk masses of crowds. Unfortunately, in many countries, tourism is an important income source and local authorities don’t want to give up on it. La Rioja in Argentina is also trying to strengthen tourism, but for now travellers crowds haven’t reached it.