1,142km (708 miles) NW of Buenos Aires; 704km (436 miles) S of Salta

As you travel through the province of La Rioja, red desert, sand-blasted plains, and giant cactus may give you the feeling you've wandered off the map. This destination has little history of tourism, but plenty to compel the most adventurous travelers, from cheap wine and a rich indigenous tradition to astounding natural Wild West scenery. It is also the base point to explore two of the most fascinating national parks in Argentina, the former dinosaur playgrounds known as Valle de la Luna and Talampaya.

La Rioja City, founded in 1591, is now an untidy mix of colonial town houses, ugly modern offices, and disorderly neighborhoods. Famous for its orange and jacaranda trees, the city is best visited in spring (Oct-Nov), as midsummer temperatures can reach a wilting 133°F (56°C). Intensely religious people, Riojanos hit the streets every December 31 to celebrate Tinkunaco, the "meeting" of Quechan and Catholic cultures.