After leaving Cachi we continued down the unpaved Ruta 40 through the beautiful Valles Calchaquies to the wine town of Cafayate.
In Cafayate we have been introduced to the Argentinian siesta habit. Not content with the couple of hours of Southern Europe, the shops in Northern Argentina close at around 1pm and don’t reopen for business until 6 or 6.30pm (this includes most restaurants so getting lunch can be a problem). This means there is some serious planning to do when it comes to shopping for dinner – that is if you want to eat at a normal time and not the Argentine standard of 10pm !
When we did finally manage to get to the small supermarket we found there wasn’t much to buy, however the butcher, called Super Pollo, next door was a different story. Two nights in a row we asked the butcher what he would recommend to put on the BBQ. The first night it was the tenderest steaks we’ve had on the trip and the second a gorgeous strip of ribs which were the best ribs we’ve ever tasted. Its difficult to go wrong with Argentinian beef !
For the first time in what seems like ages we took our bicycles down off the roof. There is a hike just outside town to a waterfall and we thought we’d cycle there and do the hike. The ride there was pretty hard, although only 5km, it was all dirt road and all uphill. Once we reached the start of the hike we took a while to actually find the right valley to walk up as the river had a number of branches and there were no signs. Once we were going in the right direction it was really hard going as there wasn’t much of a path and we had to keep crossing the river on slippery rocks. We kept this up for a while but in the end we gave up trying to reach the waterfall and stopped at a crystal clear pool in the river for a swim.
Cafayate is the centre of one of the most important wine making areas in Argentina. Their main claim to fame is the white Torrontes grape but they are also one of the few areas to use the Tannat grape. We spent a day doing some wine tours and tasting and in all visited 4 different wineries. The stand out by far was Bodega Nanni where free English language tour was followed by a leisurely tasting with big glasses and in depth explanations of the wine.
On the road between Cafayate and Salta there is a stunning canyon called the Quebrada de Cafayate which is made of red rock formations much like those found in Utah. We drove up here and visited formations with great names such as the Obelisk, The Devil’s Throat and the ampitheatre.
Just South of Cafayate is Quilmes which has a reputation as being the best set of pre-Colombian ruins in the country and was a city of more than 5000 people in its heyday. With this recommendation in mind we decided to visit. We were actually pretty under whelmed by the site but the lookout fortresses on each side of the city were cool. You could see for miles from them and they were unassailable from below.