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Cafayate, Argentina: Relaxing in the Sunshine of the Argentine Northwest

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina
Quebrada de las Conchas, Cafayate, Salta, Argentina

After several days in Salta, I was looking forward to visiting Cafayate. I had been to Cafayate on an overnight tour in 2002, and spent only a few hours in the sleepy town, looking at artesanía while my tour companions went wine tasting. This time around, I planned to stay a few days to soak in the relaxing atmosphere.

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina
Quebrada de las Conchas, Cafayate, Salta, Argentina

To get to Cafayate, you can take one of the frequent buses from Salta; the journey takes about four hours and includes a rest stop along the way. I took an early bus as I knew just how gorgeous the scenery was along Ruta 68, which passes through the Quebrada de las Conchas in the Valle Calchaquíes. I parked myself next to the window and snapped shot after shot after shot of the red rocks, my favorite type of desert scenery.

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina
Quebrada de las Conchas, Cafayate, Salta, Argentina

After arriving in Cafayate, I found my way to my hostel, El Almacén, a more mature version of a backpacker’s hostel with an attractive, simple design. All of the other guests were Argentine, as my visit fell during Argentina’s winter vacation period. My dormmates were also around my age, which meant I immediately had friends to chat with, and, most importantly, drink mate with! We headed to the park in the plaza to take in the gorgeous sun and enjoy mate, a typical Argentine pastime.

La Casa de las Empanadas, Cafayate, Argentina La Casa de las Empanadas, Cafayate, Argentina
La Casa de las Empanadas, Cafayate, Argentina

I convinced my new friends to come with me to La Casa de las Empanadas because I knew they offered several different types of vegetarian empanadas.  Here, we enjoyed an Argentine Torrontés as we got to know each other and admired the graffiti wall singing the praises of this delicious restaurant.

Morteros near Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina Hiking near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina Hiking near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina
Morteros Near the Rio Colorado; Waterfalls on the Rio Colorado; Cacti on the Hike

Determined to explore Cafayate both independently and actively, Romina, my Argentine hostel buddy, and I decided to go trekking near the Rio Colorado, where there are several waterfalls.  We got a ride from the guys working in the hostel, and they took us to these morteros, or ancient mortar and pestles carved into the rock.  Afterwards, they dropped us off at the entrance to the Rio Colorado, which is managed by the indigenous community El Divisadero that still lives in this area.

Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina Hiking near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina
Hiking near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina
Hiking near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina

As it turned out, hiking in this area wasn’t as simple, budget friendly, or straightforward as we originally thought. Some of the local guides waiting by the entrance were aggressive to the point of rudeness and unwilling to negotiate prices that Romina was comfortable with. We decided to try it on our own, but soon discovered that there were no signs pointing the way and no clear path. We ended up giving up and hiring a guide who was returning with other tourists; he was talkative and supportive, so it ended up being a good decision.

Hiking near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina Hiking near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina
Views of Cafayate from Above the Rio Colorado

This hike is also a little confusing. The reason people go on this hike is that there are a certain number of waterfalls along the way, but since they are no signs anywhere, you have no idea if you are actually seeing a waterfall or just a small cascade of water. You have to trust your guide, but you get the feeling that they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear to squeeze a little more money out of you. For example, “If you want to see the next waterfall, it’s another 10 pesos per person, since it’s farther.” When we went back to the hostel, the owners looked at our pictures and told us that we hadn’t actually seen all of the waterfalls.  In the end, I didn’t really care. I enjoyed climbing around the pretty scenery, surrounded by all the cacti, and even doing a bit of rock climbing while scrambling up rock faces (which was scary but also fun!).

On the way down, we stopped at the viewpoint which gave us a nice view from above of Cafayate and the surrounding landscape. We stopped in at the little artesanía shop, where I bought a wooden matero and bombilla for drinking mate, and a sun weaving that is currently hanging on my bedroom door. 🙂 We ended up hitching a ride back to Cafayate from a Paraguayan. I think that was the first time I have ever met someone from Paraguay, and the accent is very distinctive!

Church in Cafayate, Argentina
Helado in Cafayate, Argentina Bodega Nanni, Cafayate, Argentina
Cafayate’s Picturesque Church; Helado (Ice Cream) in Cafayate; One of Cafayate’s Many Wineries

The next day, I decided to take it easy.  I had wanted to rent a bike and explore the wineries around Cafayate, but I was still sore from horseback riding AND the hike.  I needed a day to write emails, research my next stop, and sort through pictures.  I also just wanted to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Cafayate, walk around a bit, and eat some ice cream!  I used to be obsessed with Argentine helado.  I decided to try Heladería Miranda, which is known for its wine-flavored ice cream.  I opted for the Malbec, which was not particularly tasty, along with dulce de leche and chocolate con nueces, which were much better.  That evening, Romina and I had dinner in the hostel with the guys who worked there, and then I polished off my wine while reading a book by the fire.

Vineyards Outside Cafayate, Argentina
Vineyards Outside Cafayate

The next day, I decided to move on to Tucumán, a city I had yet to visit.  Before leaving, Romina and I tasted wine at a few of the local bodegas (wineries), a must when visiting Cafayate.  We bought some more empanadas to take on the five hour bus journey, and said goodbye to our hostel buddies before leaving the warmth and sun of Salta province for the rain and clouds of Tucumán.

Recommendations for Cafayate, Argentina:

  • I enjoyed staying at El Almacén Hostel and Bar.  The atmosphere is relaxed and mature, there is a cozy, stylishly designed bar which doubles as a breakfast cafe in the morning, and there is a lovely central patio with an outdoor kitchen which must be perfect in the summer (I went in the winter, and it was cold).  Just note that the in-person dorm price is cheaper than what you see on the internet; it pays to reserve by phone or email or double check the prices when you get there.
  • Eat at La Casa de las Empanadas, especially if you are vegetarian, as they offer a variety of vegetarian empanadas besides cheese!  This place is so delicious that I went three times in the four days I was in Cafayate.
  • Try the wine-flavored ice cream at Heladería Miranda, but opt for the Torrontés flavor over the Malbec.
  • If you decide to go on the Rio Colorado hike, negotiate your price with the guide before beginning the trek and make sure he is very clear with you regarding how many waterfalls you will actually see.  Go early enough to see all of the waterfalls if that is important to you.  Don’t forget to bring some money to shop at the little artesanía stall at the entrance.
  • You can get on and off the buses that pass between Salta and Cafayate, which enables you to explore the Quebrada de las Conchas at your own speed.  Romina rented a bike, took it with her to one of the main stops along the route, and biked back to Cafayate.  Ask around to figure out the best way to explore the Valle Calchaquíes.
[Cafayate, Argentina: July 16-19, 2013]

Six Weeks on the Road in Chile and Argentina!

How time flies when you’re on the road!

I’m currently revisiting Arica, Chile, after a 32-hour bus ride from Santiago. In a few hours, I’ll leave for the Peruvian border once again, crossing over to Tacna to begin another 21-hour ride back to Lima. From Lima, I’ll leave for the part of my journey I’m most excited about: exploring central and northern Peru, regions I have yet to visit!

I thought I’d be able to keep up with my blog and upload photos on a much more regular basis, but the truth is, when you’re traveling, you’re focused on the moment. Access to the internet is plentiful, but a lot of hostels I’ve stayed in only have a good signal in open courtyards, and since it’s winter, I usually don’t have the stamina to sit outside for a long time. Even when I’ve had good access to the internet, I’ve spent my time looking for hostels and deciding on my next destination; it feels like a waste to spend too much time on the internet! On top of that, I take so many pictures that I’m still behind in selecting the best, though I’ve been using these long bus rides to catch up as best I can!

In the last six weeks, I’ve covered a lot of ground! I started with a few days in Arica to get to know the area and visit Parque Nacional Lauca. From there, I headed to San Pedro de Atacama, a place I’ve wanted to visit for over 10 years. And it is still the highlight of my trip; there are so many gorgeous things to see in the Atacama. After San Pedro, I crossed the border to Argentina, heading directly to Salta, Argentina, historically my favorite city in the world. I spent a few days in Salta enjoying the ambiance and people, and then I headed to Cafayate, known for its wineries and amazing scenery. Most people spend a day or two there, so it was nice to take a couple more days to get to know it better. It’s changed a lot since I visited in 2002.

From Cafayate, I headed south again to Tucumán, a city I’d never visited, and the birthplace of Argentine independence. Tucumán is known for its nightlife, and I took advantage of this, heading out to a super-club almost as soon as I arrived with the awesome people at my hostel. I saw some of the sights and then headed on to La Rioja, another small city I’d never visited. I lucked out and managed to join a group to visit Parque Nacional Talampaya in La Rioja province and Parque Nacional Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) in neighboring San Juan, two interesting and scenic parks which are not frequently visited by foreign tourists. Then I headed to Mendoza, where I spent a lovely week recovering from so much travel, tasting all kinds of wine, riding horses, relaxing in thermal baths, and meeting wonderful travelers.

After much internal debate, I decided to skip Buenos Aires on this trip, since it is just too far away from Peru, therefore too expensive to fly from. Instead, I headed back to Chile to spend nearly a week in Santiago visiting former students turned friends! Santiago was fascinating to me, as it has a lot in common with both New York and various Californian cities, especially when you take into consideration the neighboring cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso! I loved my time in Valparaíso, especially, and have to spend more time there at another moment. I still love capital cities, though most travelers prefer to skip them, so I am a fan of Santiago.

And today I’m en route back to Peru. I definitely feel like six weeks won’t be enough to see everything I want to see in this amazing country, but I’m going to do the best I can! 🙂

Below are quite a few selected pictures from my trip so far, with more details and more information to come, all in due time, of course. 😉

Sunset in Arica, Chile
Sunset in Arica, Chile

Laguna Chungará and Volcán Parinacota, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile
Laguna Chungará, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile

Valle de la Muerte, San Pedro de Atacama
Valle de la Muerte, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sunset from Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama
Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Chaxa/Salar de Atacama
Salar de Atacama/Laguna Chaxa, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Salar de Tara/Aguas Calientes, San Pedro de Atacama
Posing at Aguas Calientes, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Miscanti, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Miscanti, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Ojos de Salar, San Pedro de Atacama
Ojos del Salar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama
Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Merienda on the Plaza, Salta
Merienda on the Plaza, Salta, Argentina

Horseback Riding in Chicoana, Salta
Horseback Riding in Chicoana, Salta, Argentina

Near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate
Hiking near Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina

Neblina (Cloud Cover) on the Road to Tafí del Valle
Sea of Clouds, near Tafí del Valle, Tucumán, Argentina

Sunset in Tucumán, Argentina
Sunset near Tucumán, Argentina

El Hongo, Valle de la Luna, San Juan
Valle de la Luna, San Juan, Argentina

Wine Tasting at Clos de Chakras
Wine Tasting, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Posing at Termas de Cacheuta, Mendoza
Termas de Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

View from Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Flowers Near Santiago, Chile
Flowers near Santiago, Chile

Posing at Viña del Mar
Viña del Mar, Chile

Posing on top of Cerro Santa Lucia
Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile