NORTH ARGENTINA AND WINE REGION HIGHLIGHTS
Salta, Cafayate and Mendoza
What does Argentina's North West have to offer? Some of the world's finest wines? Charming little colonial towns? Seemingly endless stretches of landscapes you never even knew existed? Yes, yes and yes! We spent 3 weeks exploring (drinking) our way around Salta, Cafayete and Mendoza and got a real taste of the local lifestyle.
Not so fresh from our 3 day stay in the Uyuni salt flats we made our way to the border town of Villazon for a remarkably simple border crossing out of Bolivia and into La Quiaca, Argentina. From here to Salta we used Balut bus company for the 8 hour bus ride, which cost 360 pesos. Like most long distance bus rides in Argentina this is not one you want to take at night. The mountain backdrops are incredibly beautiful and not to be missed.
Salta is an enchanting little city with Spanish colonial architecture surrounded by mountains. The streets surrounding the central plaza are dotted with cafes and artisanal markets. There are also many cathedrals, churches and museums to visit. Be warned though, sleepy Salta is a huge advocate of the siesta which is where most businesses close during the hottest hours of the day, typically 13:30-18:00. A mild annoyance at first but who amongst us couldn't use a midday break?
A short distance from the city centre is where you'll find Cerro San Bernardo. You can take the teleferico (cable car) to the top for 100 pesos or, if you're up for the challenge, take the stairs. Once at the top you'll enjoy panoramic views of Salta and its surrounding mountains. There is a restaurant, bar and a few market stalls to check out as well as some pretty cool water features.
If this isn't high enough for you then you could always pay Salta's most famed attraction a visit - Tren a las Nubes (Train to the clouds). Leaving from the central station this 11 hour journey takes you up to 4,220 metres. Only snag is the 185 USD cost!!
Driving south from Salta on route 68 takes you through Las Conchas Ravine with either side of the road eclipsed by dusty red cliffs. After 100km you will arrive in the town of of Cafayete, the main vineyard region of the area. In and around the town are dozens of bodegas and vineyards for you to see the growth, harvest and production process and obviously sample some of the end product. Some of the more popular Bodegas are Domingo hermanos, Nanni and Vasija secreta. Prices range from free up to 70 or 80 pesos and you normally get to sample 3 or 4 different wines.
Once you've had your fill of wine (and wine ice cream) you can set about exploring the rest of Cafayete. Rent a bike and head 7 km out of town to the sand dunes, Los Medanos or take a bus to the impressive devil's throat gorge on the famous Route 68. There are also a number of mountains and hills surrounding the town, we made the 2 hour climb up Cerro San Isidro to the highest point in Cafayete. Our reward was a beautiful sunset over the town and vineyards.
Our top recommendation for Cafayete is to head to the Rio Colorado waterfalls. Allow yourself a good half day or more for this as you first need to navigate a 7 km hike through the canyons and gorges to the north of town before making your ascent over the hills to the waterfalls. It is possible to pay one of many guides waiting at the start of the trek to take you the simplest routes but we liked the adventure and did some exploring by ourself. One of the town's highlights for us and definitely worth the effort. P.s. After you've worked up an appetite from the hike, head to El Hornitos for some of the best empanadas you'll ever have.
World renowned for it's Malbec and red wines, Mendoza is the beating heart of Argentina's wine country. From Cafayete you first need to take an 8 hour bus to Tucuman (435 pesos with Aconquija) and then 14 hours to Mendoza (1,665 pesos with El Rapido). Many of the city's wineries offer tours and tastings. Bodegas Tierras Altas, La Azul and Rica Malen are amongst some of the most highly rated. Not that we endorse or encourage drink riding but renting bikes and touring the wineries is a very popular (and comical) activity.
The city itself is very cosmopolitan with plazas and parks dotted all over. After 6pm the city hall opens its roof top observatory to the public which offers great views of the city. Most visitors to Mendoza use the city as little more as a base to explore the surrounding areas. Most wineries are located in the outer parts of the city and there are many activities to take part in the the mountains such as horseback riding, hikes and rafting in the Mendoza river.