Los Cardones National Park

Located in northern Argentina, Los Cardones National Park awaits you with its austere and towering beauty. Giant cacti rise in a landscape of dazzling mountains and valleys, harboring a variety of unique wildlife in the region. We invite you to explore and uncover this hidden treasure of nature.

Introduction to Los Cardones National Park

Los Cardones National Park

Los Cardones National Park, also known as Los Cardones National Park and Reserve and in Spanish as "Parque Nacional Los Cardones", is a vast sanctuary of Argentine biodiversity and natural heritage, covering an area of 64,117 hectares (about 641.17 km²) of spectacular desert landscapes in the province of Salta. Its centennial cardon cacti stand as silent guardians amidst the solitude of valleys and mountains.

Geographical Location and Access

Located in the central-southern region of the province of Salta, Argentina, near the town of Payogasta. It is situated approximately 100 km from the city of Salta.

How to Get to Los Cardones National Park by Car?

To reach Los Cardones by car, the best option is to depart from the city of Salta and take National Route 68 and Provincial Route 33. The journey covers a distance of approximately 97 km to the park’s eastern entrance, known as Piedra del Molino, and 147 km to Payogasta, where the park’s administrative headquarters are located. It can be geographically located at coordinates: 25°07′31″S 66°10′54″W / -25.12533333, -66.18166667 and at the address: RN40, Payogasta, Salta, Argentina.

It’s important to note that during the journey, there will be an ascent in altitude from the Lerma Valley, which is at 1200 meters above sea level, to over 3000 meters above sea level. The road passes through a hilly area, so it’s necessary to drive with caution.

Other Means of Transportation to Arrive

In addition to the option of arriving by car, there are other transportation methods available. The city of Salta offers bus connections from different parts of the country, as well as daily flights from Buenos Aires and Córdoba. It’s also possible to reach the park by rental car, through remis services, or by buses that offer daily services to Cachi, a town near the park.

Another alternative is to turn to one of the 90 registered travel and tourism agencies, which can provide transportation options and organize guided visits to the park.

Neighboring Cities and Towns

The nearest towns to the park are Cachi and Payogasta. These small towns offer accommodation and basic services for visitors.

History and Creation of Los Cardones National Park

Established on November 20, 1996, through Law No. 24.737/96, Los Cardones National Park was established with the objective of protecting and preserving the unique ecosystem of the monte and altimonte in the region. This protected area is home to exceptional biodiversity, including endemic and migratory species not found anywhere else.

The creation of the national park was carried out through National Law No. 24.737, enacted on November 20, 1996, and promulgated on December 13 of the same year. Through this law, the National State accepted the transfer of jurisdiction over the park area.

The law declared the lands included in the national park as being of public utility and established the acquisition or expropriation of these lands. Furthermore, the protected area was divided into a national park and a national reserve, both under the generic name of Los Cardones National Park.

Before the park’s creation, most of the land belonged to the Viñuales estate. At that time, there were 116 people living within the park area, distributed among 31 family households, with land tenure almost without property titles. These individuals used around 33,660 hectares for cattle grazing. By the year 2007, when a census was conducted in the area, the population had reduced to 98 people belonging to 25 families, who used between 33% and 50% of the park’s surface for their cattle grazing.

Description of the Ecosystem and Biodiversity

Iconic Species of the Park

The Andean flicker or yasto (Colaptes rupicola) is a large woodpecker bird frequently present in the area. This bird is primarily terrestrial and moves by hopping on the ground or among rocks. Its vocalizations are audible from a distance, making it a distinctive sound of the park. It mainly feeds on ants and other small invertebrates, which it captures with its strong beak. The Andean flicker nests in self-excavated caves on cliffs and dwells among the stones of the high steppes. Its unmistakable song adds charm and life to the environment.

The cardon cacti or pasacanas (Trichocereus atacamensis) form the emblematic landscape of Los Cardones National Park. These cardon cacti are large cacti that can reach almost 15 meters in height. They have evolved leaves that transformed into spines, allowing them to reduce water loss through transpiration and providing protection against predators. The trunks of the cardon cacti perform photosynthesis and have the ability to store water in their tissues. Besides their resilience and adaptation to the desert environment, these plants astonish with their enormous and beautiful white flowers that open at dusk and last only a few hours. The cardon cacti hold special importance in various cultures that have inhabited and still inhabit the region, being a symbol of cultural and ancestral value.

Both the Andean flicker and the cardon cacti contribute to the identity and beauty of Los Cardones National Park, representing the diversity of fauna and flora present in this natural treasure.

Flora of the Park

It houses abundant and diverse flora, with the presence of the cardon cactus being particularly notable, as it is the emblematic species of the park. These enormous cylindrical cacti with tree-like stature hold cultural significance for the various communities that have inhabited the region.

In the high Andean communities, steppes with grasses and low shrubs can be found. In areas where water springs occur, high-altitude meadows known as "vegas de altura" form – small oases surrounded by dense green grass in the midst of the desert.

In the Prepuna region, the presence of churqui forests (Prosopis ferox) at an altitude of 2,600 meters is surprising. These forests are found in areas where groundwater allows their development. They serve as gathering places for both native fauna and human communities with their domestic animals. However, due to overexploitation, these forests have suffered significant deterioration over time.

In the Monte zone, the diversity of cacti stands out, making it the area with the greatest cactus diversity in the country and one of the highest in the world. Some notable species include the natural hybrid Trichomoza roseinflora, which is almost exclusively found in this park, and the cardoncito Trichocereus smirzianus, endemic to the high grassland of the Calchaquí valleys. However, it’s important to note that other species in the area, such as Lobivia walteri (endemic and threatened), are not protected within the park.

Fauna and Endangered Species

The park harbors a wide variety of fauna species, some of which are endangered. Among these threatened species are the pampas cat (Leopardus pajeros), the montane seedeater (Poospiza baeri), and the culpeo fox (Pseudalopex culpeus).

Regarding the typical fauna of the park’s different environments, one can find the puna tuco-tuco, the Andean flicker, the Andean snake, and the rock frog. Additionally, the presence of guanacos, Andean condors, gray foxes, skunks, guaipos (or copetonas), and viscachas stands out.

One of the emblematic animals of the park is the Andean flicker or "yasto" (Colaptes rupicola), a bird species known for its presence and distinctive song. The variety of fauna species in Los Cardones National Park contributes to the richness and importance of conserving this ecosystem.

Climate of Los Cardones

The park experiences a mostly arid climate with significant temperature fluctuations. During the winter, average temperatures hover around 11°C, with minimums that can drop below freezing. In the summer, average temperatures are around 18°C, with maximums reaching up to 30°C. Rainfall is scarce, with an annual average of up to 150 mm, primarily concentrated between November and March. Snowfall is exceptional in the lower areas.

Geology and Physical Characteristics of the Park

Mountain Formations and Valleys

The park is located in the Andes Mountain Range, with altitudes ranging from 2,700 to 5,000 meters above sea level, in the eco-region: Monte de sierras y bolsones, Selva de las Yungas, Puna, Altoandina.

The Río de los Conchas

This river winds its way through the park, forming impressive valleys and canyons along its course.

Main Activities and Excursions

In Los Cardones National Park, there are several trails that offer the opportunity to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Valle Encantado Trail (Enchanted Valley)

Located at Km 62 of Provincial Route No. 33, at an altitude of 3225 meters above sea level. Currently, vehicular access is closed, but you can enter by walking the same path. The trail is approximately 4 km round trip with a slope, taking about 2 hours. It’s recommended to bring water, a hat, trekking shoes, and sunscreen.

Ojo de Cóndor Trail (Condor’s Eye)

Located at Km 80, in the "Tin Tin" straight of Provincial Route No. 33, at an altitude of 2700 meters above sea level. This trail has low difficulty and can be completed in about 20 to 30 minutes. It’s advised to stay on the marked path and bring water, a hat, trekking shoes, and sunscreen. This is where you’ll find the iconic figure of the area, the cardon cactus.

Camino del Pasado Trail (Path of the Past)

Located at Km 90, in the "Tin Tin" straight of Provincial Route No. 33, at an altitude of 2700 meters above sea level. This trail also has low difficulty and takes about 20 minutes to walk. It’s recommended to stay on the marked path and bring water, a hat, trekking shoes, and sunscreen.

These trails offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in the park’s nature and enjoy its unique beauty. It’s important to follow recommendations and respect guidelines to ensure a safe visit without negative impact on the environment.

Piedra del Molino (Mill Stone)

With an altitude of 3,348 meters above sea level, it’s a historic landmark in the region and an important reference point in its history.

Cachipampa and Laguna El Hervidero (Cachipampa and El Hervidero Lagoon)

These places can be admired from Provincial Route No. 33. They offer panoramic views and the chance to enjoy the natural beauty of the lagoon and its surroundings.

Recta del Tin Tin (Tin Tin Straight)

From this point, you can appreciate one of the largest cardon cactus areas in South America, covering about 10,000 hectares. You can also observe churqui (algarrobo) forests. Additionally, Cerro Tin Tin allows you to learn about the geological history of the area.


It’s a picturesque town with charming colonial architecture. Its thick adobe walls, high sidewalks, and paired corner doors transport you to the past. It’s worth visiting the church and the Archaeological Museum, which houses interesting historical pieces.

Pre-Columbian Ruins of La Paya

Located 14 km from Cachi, these ruins offer a fascinating glimpse into the pre-Columbian history of the region.

Las Pailas

Situated 12 km from Cachi, this location offers magnificent views of Nevado de Cachi, an imposing mountain with an altitude of 6,720 meters.

These points of interest allow for a deeper understanding of the history, culture, and natural beauty of Los Cardones National Park and its surroundings.


At night, the park offers an unparalleled stellar display, perfect for stargazing and astrophotography.

Practical Information for Visitors

Best Time to Visit

It’s recommended to visit the park between the months of April and November, as the dry season provides more favorable weather conditions.

Opening Hours and Contact Information

The park’s opening hours are from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM, giving visitors ample time to explore and enjoy the various attractions and activities it offers. It’s important to keep this schedule in mind when planning your visit to ensure you have enough time to explore the trails, enjoy panoramic views, and fully experience the park.

  • Opening Hours: 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM.
  • Phone: +54 3868 49-6005.
  • Address: RN40, Payogasta, Salta, Argentina.


Entrance to the park is free of charge.

Rules and Recommendations

It’s important to remember to respect nature and follow the instructions of the park rangers. Carry enough water and sunscreen with you.

Available Services and Facilities

The park offers basic services, including a visitor center, restrooms, and picnic areas. However, there is no accommodation within the park.

Conservation and Future Challenges

Current Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts are focused on protecting the park’s unique ecosystem and educating visitors about its significance.

Threats and Conservation Challenges

Threats include climate change, the introduction of invasive species, and human pressure.

Los Cardones National Park in Popular Culture

Local Festivities and Events

The park hosts several local festivities and events throughout the year.

  1. Mountain Races: Mountain races and marathons are organized in the park, where participants challenge the trails and natural terrain while enjoying the breathtaking views and landscapes of the park.
  2. Music Festivals: Live performances, festivals, and music concerts in different areas of the park, where local artists and special guests present live music shows. These events offer a unique combination of music and nature in an exceptional setting.

Photo Gallery