Tolar Grande is a small mining village in Salta Province of northwestern Argentina. Long in decline, it has only recently become the object of government attention through efforts to encourage tourism in the area.
It takes its name from tola, Baccharis incarum, an indigenous plant species found in the region.
What is the history of Tolar Grande?
Tolar Grande was established by Spanish settlers and reached its apex in the 1940s with a population of about 5000 people. At the time the town was an important railroad link joining Argentina and the local mines to Chile and the coast, and most of the people were employed by the railroad.
At that time La Casualidad Mine worked at full capacity turning out flourite for sale on world markets. Mina Julia produced sulfur. Minerals were transported to the Tolar Grande railway station, and from there sent on to their final destinations.
The closure of the mines, interruption of the railway project and then the total closure of the railroad branch led to depopulation of the region, with consequent deterioration of living conditions for the few residents who remained in the town.
By 2001 the population had declined to just 120 people.
A plan to strengthen the town through rural tourism has been put in place to benefit local residents and the region.
What is there to see in Tolar Grande?
Ojos de Mar Provincial Wildlife Refuge A protected natural area including a handful of vivid blue ponds with unique habitation by stromatolites. The environment is fragile and caution is advised.
Laguna Socompa Provincial Wildlife Refuge A protected natural area including a shallow lake of about 500 acres surface area. This refuge is the highest stromatolite locality in the world. The environmental conditions are fragile and extreme. Caution is advised.
Tunnel of the Dead Man (Túnel del Hombre Muerto) A cave, about 180 meters in length, in which you can see stalactites, columns and other strange salt formations.
Llullaillaco A volcano on the on the border between Chile and Argentina. Famous as the place where the bodies of the Children of Llullaillaco were found.
Eyes of the Sea Rare stromatolites, which are some of the oldest species of life on earth, live at 4000 meter altitude around Tolar Grande.
Annual Events around Tolar Grande
On the third Saturday of November each year, residents of the town ascend Cerro Macón (elevation 18,044 feet) where they make offerings to Pachamama, an Inca goddess revered by indigenous peoples of the Andes.
The local people consider this peak a holy place. An Inca apacheta, or stone cairn, can be found at the summit. They are used to mark the place of transit for important mountain passes through the Andes.
How can I get to Tolar Grande?
Tolar Grande is located 380 km from the City of Salta and 214 km from San Antonio de los Cobres.
There are three ways to reach Tolar Grande from Salta, Argentina.
Tolar Grande is an 8.5 hour drive from Salta via national route 51 west through Olacapato Chico, continuing from there towards Salar de Pocitos on provincial route 27, and finally from there to Tolar Grande on an unnumbered route.
Another way to get there is a 13.5 hours drive from Salta via national route 51 and provincial routes 27,17 and 43, connecting to an unnumbered route at GPS location 25°39’15.2″S, 67°14’00.1″W towards Antofalla and eventually Tolar Grande.
Do not travel either of these routes without carrying extra fuel and emergency supplies sufficient for the trip.
Buses are available weekly. Travel time 12 hours. For information and reservations, call: +54 (0)3874317638.
Taxis for hire in Salta. Expect to pay up to $150 US.
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