Explore El Norte Grande
About 20km south of the junction between Ruta 16 and the Panamericana, the latter passes through the Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal, an extensive plantation of wispy, bush-like tamarugo trees. These are native to the region and are especially adapted to saline soils, with roots that are long enough to tap underground water supplies. While the tamarugos aren’t really interesting enough to merit a special trip, you can take a look at them on your way to the far more impressive Cerro Pintados, with the largest collection of geoglyphs in South America, situated within the reserve’s boundaries.
Extending 4km along a hillside, the Cerro Pintados site features approximately four hundred images (not all of them visible from the ground) of animals, birds, humans and geometric patterns, etched on the surface or formed by a mosaic of little stones around the year 1000 AD. The felines, birds, snakes and flocks of llamas and vicuñas scratched into the rock are thought to have been indicators for livestock farmers. The circles, squares, dotted lines and human figures are more enigmatic, however, and may have had something to do with rituals, perhaps even sacrifices.