From above, this pod of adobe homes looks like a sea of uninspiring brown; once on its dirt roads the view doesnât change much. But despite its lack of color, there is something endearing about the dingy mining town. Whether itâs the friendly folk who populate its streets or the miniature stone chapel that stands just a little bit taller than all other buildings, San Antonio de los Cobres stirs up a little flair amid all that brown.
Andean traditions are alive and well in this primarily Quechua town, and the August festival of the Pachamama is one of the most traditional in the region. August or not, check out the artesanal market, which sells some of the best crafted (and cheapest) regional goods around. And, since February 2008, the town is home to Argentinaâs highest altitude museum. Small it is, but with a big title.
A colony of oddly modern and identical adobe houses beyond the town center is interesting not only because of its disturbing âStepford Wives in the punaâ feel, but also because the nearby satellite dish suggests that this otherwise trapped in time village seems to be modernizing. The next Buenos Aires? Not quite, and hopefully neverâthis quiet puna culture is too enthralling for modernization.
Some travelers like to stop off before heading north, or as a home base for visiting the ruins at Santa Rosa de Tastil. Accommodations are basic and cheap. They are few in number, but it shouldnât be difficult to get a room, unless it is during the Pachamama festival. Restaurants are equally scarce but cozy and friendly, with delicious home-cooking. The salinas grandes (salt flats) are about two hours from town, along Route 40, and from there Purmamarca is just another 40 minutes away.
If headed to the salt flats from San Antonio de los Cobres, a great lunch spot is just about 20 minutes away in El MojÃ³n. An even tinier puna town, it is home to five families and the former title holder for highest-altitude museum in Argentina. The nondescript restaurant has no menu, but whatever they bring to the salt block table is guaranteed to satisfy.
(Altitude: 3,775 m / 12,390 ft, Population: 3,500, Phone Code: 0387)
Services are very basic in San Antonio de los Cobres. A couple cabinas offer telephones but not internet.
The arrival of the Tren a las Nubes brings out folks selling crafts.
HosterÃa de las Nubes (Ruta Nacional 51 s/n, Tel: 490-9059, single $65, double $83
Restaurante El PuneÃ±o (Belgrano s/n)
Restaurante El Ãguila de Julio R Flores (Zabaleta s/n, Tel: 490-9108)
Other places nearby San Antonio de los Cobres: Santa Rosa de Tastil,