Having worked as a photographer in Argentina I got to see the far reaches of this incredible country – including deserts, mountains and miles upon miles of flat pampas. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my insider knowledge on the country’s best and most photogenic locations, from the altiplano to the ice fields of Patagonia. This week, here are my recommendations from the country’s vast North:

Calchaqui Valley, Salta Province (Christophe Boisvieux/Robert Harding)

CALCHAQUI VALLEY, SALTA PROVINCE, ARGENTINA

Salta Province

They don’t call it Salta la linda (Salta the lovely), for nothing. This north-western province has relaxed, traditional pueblos, indigenous crafts and traditions, and parched, other-worldly landscapes. Head first to the relaxed, low-rise capital, Salta City (you can get there from Buenos Aires via air or overland by bus). Here you can absorb Argentina’s rich musical heritage in the folklore bars of calle Balcarce, photograph the jovial street-life and the unique cathedral.

Street food stall selling peanuts, Salta City, Argentina (Yadid Levy/Robert Harding)

Street food stall selling peanuts, Salta City, Argentina, South America

The entrance to Salta’s cathedral situated on the main square, Salta Province (Still Pictures/Robert Harding)

South america, argentina, salta. Dec 2003. The entrance to saltas main cathedral situated on the main square.:

La Casona del Molino Bar, Salta City, Argentina (Yadid Levy/Robert Harding)

La Casona del Molino Bar, Salta City, Argentina, South America

This is prime road-trip country, and if you don’t have a car you can also take buses or hitch hike to explore the winding Andean roads, desolate, cactus strewn vistas and traditional villages. The white adobe pueblo of Cachi makes a charming stopover, with tranquil streets giving way to breathtaking mountains that provide unending photo opportunities.

If you can drag yourself away, head through the wine country to Cafayate, another sleepy town heavily influenced by Quechua indigenous culture, where you can sample the region’s tasty cuisine, including corn tamales, roasted goat and a heart-warming bean and meat stew called locro. Wander down streets that time forgot, where artisans carve wood and weave Andean clothing from alpaca and llama wool. The trip back to Salta City takes you past a red, Martian landscape of ravines and amazing rock formations, one of my favourites being el Anfiteatro, a naturaly formed Amphitheatre. Stunning.

Photography tips: The light here can be extremely bright, especially in the highlands, so you may benefit from using a neutral density or a polarising filter. When photographing the city life, try and include people to give a human angle.

Landscape from the Valles Calchaquies on the road between Cachi and Salta, Salta Province, (Yadid Levy/Robert Harding)

Landscape from the Valles Calchaquies on the road between Cachi and Salta, Salta Province, Argentina, South America

Houses in Cachi, Province of Salta, Argentina (Eduardo Dreizzen/Robert Harding)

Houses in Cachi, Province of Salta, Argentina.

Quebrada de las Conchas, Cafayate, Salta (Heeb Christian/Robert Harding)

Argentina, South America, Red Rock Canyon, Quebrada de las Conchas, Cafayate, Salta, South America, erosion, landscape. Argentina, South America, Red Rock Canyon, Quebrada de las Conchas, Cafayate, Salta, South America, erosion, landscape

Quechua woman weaving at the market of Cafayate, Salta Province (Yadid Levy/Robert Harding)

Quechua woman weaving at the market of Cafayate, Salta Province, Argentina, South America

Geological formation called ‘The Amphitheatre’ near the city of Salta, Argentina (Eduardo Dreizzen/Robert Harding)

Geological formation called 'The Amphitheater' near the city of Salta, Argentina.

Ischigualasto, or Valley of the Moon, San Juan Province

While the crowds head to Mendoza’s wine regions, neighbouring San Juan Province gets left behind, but it has one of the most photogenic National Parks in the country, a strange wonder of nature in which you still feel as though you are still in the presence of the dinosaurs that left their footprints here. Ischigualasto, or Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is a bit harder to get to than Argentina’s crowded hotspots, but it’s worth the effort.

Hire a driver for the day, and you can get a guided tour of rock formations with names like the Sphinx, the Mushroom and the Submarine, as well as a collection of naturally formed spheres of rock, and a flame coloured canyon. The park gives an insight into the earth during the Triassic period, with rocks of up to 240 million years old. Many dinosaur bones were perfectly preserved here and you can see examples at the park’s interpretation centre.

Photographer’s tip: Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to photograph the park, since shadows will be longer and the directional light will show up the rock formations to their best effect. 

Hongo, Pillar Rock, Parque Ischigualasto, San Juan Province (Heeb Christian/Robert Harding)

Argentina, South America, Hongo, Pillar Rock, Parque Ischigualasto, UNESCO, World heritage, Valle de la Luna, near San. Argentina, South America, Hongo, Pillar Rock, Parque Ischigualasto, UNESCO, World heritage, Valle de la Luna, near San

Submarino, Pillar Rocks, Parque Ischigualasto (Heeb Christian/Robert Harding)

Argentina, South America, Submarino, Pillar Rocks, Parque Ischigualasto, UNESCO, World heritage, Valle de la Luna, nea. Argentina, South America, Submarino, Pillar Rocks, Parque Ischigualasto, UNESCO, World heritage, Valle de la Luna, nea

Sand spheres at the Cancha de Bochas, Valle de la Luna, Ischigualasto Park, San Juan (Peter Langer/Robert Harding)

Sand spheres at the Cancha de Bochas, Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), Ischigualasto Natural Park, San Juan, Argentina

Rocks in Parque Ischigualasto, Valle de la Luna, San Juan Province, Argentina (Heeb Christian/Robert Harding)

Argentina, South America, Submarino, Pillar Rocks, Parque Ischigualasto, UNESCO, World heritage, Valle de la Luna, nea. Argentina, South America, Submarino, Pillar Rocks, Parque Ischigualasto, UNESCO, World heritage, Valle de la Luna, nea

Iguazú, Misiones Province

British 1986 film The Mission begins with a compelling scene in which a man, tied to a cross, falls from one of the most spectacular waterfalls you’ll ever see. That waterfall is Iguazú. Ok, so it’s no secret to tourists, but the scale and beauty of this natural wonder on the border with Brazil are completely mesmerising and provide a whole range of unique photo opportunities. Just the sound of the hundreds of cascading waterfalls, stretching around 3km into the distance, is hypnotic, while the sight of the mist rising up, full of rainbows and fluttering butterflies, is a photographer’s dream.

The range of activities I was able to do here was pretty awesome too – from rafting under the cascades to rainforest adventures, monkey spotting and learning traditional Guaraní crafts. When I visited I was also lucky enough to experience a midnight tour of the park, lit only by a bright full moon. You may not be alone here, but the benefits to it being on the tourist trail are a wide range of facilities, as well as lots of accommodation choices, from nice hotels to basic but comfortable hostels.

Photographer’s tip: Protect your gear from spray using a plastic bag or poncho. The falls are vast, but it is often best to pick out a part of the scene to zoom in on – you can try using a human figure in the foreground to emphasise the scale of the waterfalls, or find interesting and dramatic angles from which to frame the falls. 

A man views the thundering cataratas from a nearby rock (Peter Adams/Robert Harding)

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Iguazú falls in dramatic light (Frank Chmura/Robert Harding)

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Toco Toucan, Foz de Iguazu, Puerto Iguazu, Argentina – Brazil border (Thomas Heinze/Robert Harding)

Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), Foz de Iguazu, Puerto Iguazu, Argentina - Brazil border, South America

Iguazu National Park Falls, Argentinian side, Misiones province, Argentina (P. Narayan/Robert Harding)

Iguazu National Park Falls, Argentinian side, Misiones province, Argentina

The Iguazu Falls at the border between Argentina and Brazil: White-water rafting under the cascades (Florian Kopp/Robert Harding)

The Iguazu Falls at the border between Argentine and Brazil: White-water rafting under the cascades

It is best to visit Argentina’s northern regions in the country’s autumn, winter or early spring, between April and September.

See more images of Argentina here

Next week: The South

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