After a couple of weeks in Argentina’s two largest cities, we were excited to be heading north to the smaller town of Salta and the surrounding regions. The area is known for its amazing rock formations which Rod was excited to see (and photograph) as well as sensational wines which were a major draw for me!
The town of Salta itself was much more our speed than the larger cities in Argentina. After seven months of traveling, we weren’t afraid to admit that the iconic churches and museums that are a ‘must see’ in EVERY city just don’t captivate us as much as they might have earlier on in our trip.
Instead, we’re loving being able to explore smaller cities on foot, stumbling across local markets, lounging in parks and deciding where to eat by our sense of smell alone. And our first couple of days in Salta were spent doing exactly that, wandering down streets and through markets, stopping for a spot of people-watching in the town’s main squares and picking dinner based purely on our grumbling stomachs and the friendliness of the waitresses as we approached each restaurant.
The big draw to Salta though was the regions surrounding it, from Humahuaca and its Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours) to Cachi and a national park dedicated to centuries-old cacti. Saving the best for last, I was impatient to visit Cafayate, Argentina’s smaller wine region known for a kick-ass white called Torrontes and amazing wine gelato.
Our first day exploring took us to Humahuaca, almost up to the Bolivian border. The area is home to the Quebrada de Humahuaca or Humahuaca Valley which is famous for amazing colours that weave along the mountains. We stopped off in the tiny town of Purmamarca to check out the Hill of Seven Colours up close, and Rod and I ignored our guide’s directions towards the town’s marketplace in favour of climbing even closer to these stunning colours that swirl and weave along the rocks.
Bucket-list item checked off, our afternoon was spent exploring more of the valley, stopping here and there to see tiny gold-leafed churches left there by the Spaniards, ancient Incan ruins (which we found out afterwards had actually been reconstructed in the 70s and weren’t ancient at all) and stopping off at a traditional ceramic shop, which earned its place on our day trip thanks to some four-legged friends.
Our second day trip took us to Cachi, a small town on the other side of a massive valley. Sometimes its not about the destination as much as it is the journey and our day trip to Cachi definitely fell into this category. The town itself was tiny with only a smattering of cafes and handicraft shops surrounding the main square.
Instead, what made this day trip worthwhile was the huge valley we passed through, with its own microclimates and spectacular views. Along the way we passed misty hills before moving on to dry, craggy rocks with condors soaring overhead.
In the afternoon, we stopped off at Los Cardones National Park where we could get up close with some of the thousands of Cardon cacti which populate the area. With their unforgiving surroundings, these cacti only grow a few centimetres each year, making the three or four metre cacti pretty impressive. Even more exciting was the fact that we had unwittingly visited during cacti flowering season which meant we were able to see the short-lived flowers that bloom for only 24 hours each year.
Our third and final day trip from Salta was my most highly anticipated one of all as we were headed towards Cafayate, Northern Argentina’s wine region. We set off early to try to beat the heat of the day and give us enough time to check out the unique rock formations without compromising any wine time.
Along the way, we stopped off to admire the bright red, jagged rocks that lined the valley we drove through. Instead of the rolling, colourful hills we saw in the North, the area south of Salta featured so any different rock formations, created by two tectonic plates meeting and forcing each other out of the way.
Here, we spotted rocks that looked like rabbits or the Titanic or people, each changing as we shifted perspective on our way towards Cafayate. Perhaps the most famous of all of the rock formations was the Devil’s Throat which looked like it has beed carved out by a waterfall but was now bone dry.
As lunchtime approached, we found ourselves getting closer and closer to Cafayate and my first sip of the area’s famous Torrontes wine. We first stopped at a winery on the outskirts of the town before settling in for long lunch at Bodega Nanni – one of the more well-known (and deservedly so) wineries in the area. Our afternoon was deliciously lazy as we enjoyed Argentinian steak and local wine in the winery’s shady garden. The expectations were high for the bottle of wine we ordered, knowing more about Malbec and Argentinian reds than the whites Cafayate is famous for. But after just one sip of Bodega Nanni’s Torrontes white I was hooked and happily sat in the shade enjoying slow sips as I tried to make each glass last.
Finally our long lunch was done and there was only one item left on my Cafayate to-do list: try wine gelato. Every blog post I’d read about the region raved about this dessert – probably because it is the perfect treat for the hot weather but also because its another way to enjoy the signature Torrontes wine, although this time in frozen form. We happily relaxed in the gorgeous park that made up Cafayate’s main square while I polished off a cone of tangy, wine-flavoured gelato.
At last our week in Salta was almost up, which meant a much-deserved sleep in after our three big days exploring the surrounding areas. It also meant it was time to meet up with a few friends from home as we headed further north to Bolivia and its famous Salt Flats.