Cafayate, Laid Back Town With Beautiful Canyon
Many of the locals like to compare the Quebrada de Cafayate to the great national parks in the United States such as Zion, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and others. Even though Cafayate does not compare to the scale of the Grand Canyon the geology is very similar. The windy road from Salta runs through this colorful and windy canyon. There are many interesting rock formation carved out of the soft stone from the wind and occasional rain. This region used to be under ocean so there are lot of salt pans around.
The town of Cafayate is a quaint, relaxing town with nothing to do but check out the local Bodagas (winearies) and read a book. There are some nice restuarants and cafes around. The icecream here is quite good too.
If you want to shot some pool and enjoy a beer there are a couple of good pool halls to accomadate you. This small town has enough to keep you occupied for a few days as you relax and recoperate from those long Argentine bus rides.
There is abundant accomodation that is cheap and good. There are several tour agents that can hook you up with a day trip to see the Canyons and near by waterfalls. You can also hire a bike and ride out on your own. You can take a bus up the canyon and bike down as well to save yourself time and energy.
It is very easy to get here from Salta. Buses leave Salta early in the morning and take about 4 hours to reach Cafayate.
Check out my travel log of the Northwest for more pictures and information.
After spending a tough day hiking the Rio Colarado we took it easy the following day and did nothing more strenuous than visit a few of Cafayate's bodegas. Stamina of a different sort is required for these tours as the bodegas are very liberal with their tasting sessions.
We started off in Vasija Secreta, just outside the centre of town. This bodega is one of the largest in Cafayate and a popular stop with bus tour groups. We visited just as a tour was starting, and as most of the tour group were Spanish speaking the tour was in very fast Spanish. We didn't get everything the guy said but it was still fairly clear what was going on.
I was less impressed with Vasija Secreta than with the other two bodegas we visited, Bodega Nanni and Transito. We were given 4 glasses of wine in the tasting at Vasija Secreta, so I can't complain too much, but the wine was far inferior to what we had in Nanni and Transito. It's also less enjjoyable to visit as part of a big tour group.
A town of Bodegas
I'd never heard of Cafayate before coming to Argentina but as we travelled through the country we bumped into many travellers who recommended a visit to the town. As often happens while travelling, it's the places you don't know about initially but discover along the way that can turn out to be the most memorable.
That was certainly the case with Cafayate, where four fantastic days were spent hiking in the countryside, visiting family owned vineyards, enjoying excellent wines, and in general just relaxing and enjoying life.
Cafayate is the second most important wine growing area in Argentina after Mendoza, but the vineyards and bodegas in Cafayate are far more traditional, welcoming and interesting than the larger ventures in Mendoza. Cafayate is well known for its excellent Torrontes wine. I'm not normally a white wine fan but after tasting a torrontes in Cafayate, I almost gave up red wine for the duration of our stay!
The town is at altitude of 1683 metres and enjoys an excellent climate with plenty of sunshine. The population is about 10,000 but despite its popularity with tourists it still retains a small town feel and charm.
There is good hiking very close to the town, especially around the Rio Colarado a few kilometres to the west, while further afield the the rock formations on the road from Salta are a very popular attraction.
Cafayate, For the Wine and Colorful Canyons
Cafayate is a charming little town with about a dozen bodegas all within walking distance and is a great base to explore one of the most beautiful canyons in the country. Bodega Etchart and Bodega La Banda are good wineries to get a tour and to sample wine, but there are many other good ones around that do tours. Cafayate is known for its white wines that are grown from a Spanish grape. However, I think merlots are much better.
The Quebrada de Cafayate is the name of the stunning canyon. The years of rain erosion have exposed many layers of sedimentary strata in the quebrada, making it technicolored landscape. The wind has also made its mark here and many interesting structure stand like in a Dr. Sues book. The locals have names for all these formations like El Sapo (the toad), El Obelisco (the obelisk), and Los Castillos (the castles) to name a few. There is also a Garganta del Diablo (they love this name) here, which is an interesting canyon. The town is about 150 kms south of Salta and about a 4 hour bus ride. There is plenty of accommodation here, some good markets, and excellent restaurants.
The Garganta del Diablo is a good place to begin your exploration of the Quebrada. You can hire a bike in Cafayate and take the bus towards Salta, getting off here at the Garganta. It's all down hill to Cafayate and you can explore other intresting rock formations.
Having a guided tour is another way to go. These guys now exactly where to take you as it is not always clear where the best formation may be hiding off the road. It is not expensive, especially if you have a group to go with.