After an overnight stop in Salta we headed toward Cachi driving through the ” Valle Encantado” ( Enchanted Valley) and San Fernando de Escoipe Ravine. This area is a National Park with thick foliage crowding the roadsides. The lush green valleys far below are home to huge “fincas” (farms) with terraced rows of corn, oats, peas or beans on the slopes of the hills located on the sides of the road.
Our plan was to do a loop on Routes 33, 40 and 68 (~500+ km) and return to Salta where we rented our little road runner. Route or “ruta” 40 (iconic and likened to Route 66) runs between Cachi and Cafayate joining these two interesting districts while at the same time providing dazzling scenery with the unusual and colorful geographical features of the Calchaquí Valleys. Our rental agency recommended that we tackle this trip early in the day and get off the road before 3:00 pm in order to avoid low cloud coverage and reduced driving visibility on the twisting and winding roads. As we headed through the magnificent and winding Cuesta del Obispo (Bishop’s Slope) at 3400m above sea level the landscape became more barren, the air colder and all of a sudden the fog started rolling in, despite the fact it was just after lunch.
All of a sudden the road plateaued and we entered Parc Nacional Los Cardones. This desert area is named after the large cactus or “cardones” the park was set up to protect. These cardones grow very slowly, typically 1 to 5 cms each year so needless to say, given the giant size of most, we knew we were in the presence of some very old flora. The road running through the park is 12km long, straight as an arrow and is known as the Tin-Tin Straight.
After a day-long drive through beautiful and varied landscape we made it to Cachi, a lovely traditional little town with white buildings and adobe houses. As in the typical Argentine style, the town is centered around the main square/plaza containing a park, the Cachi Church and Archeological Museum. Cafes and restaurants circle the park and in the evening the local women cook empanadas on open grills, our dinner that evening. After a walk about around the town it was time to relax for the evening.
Driving from Cachi to Cafayate is a long ride, mostly on a gravel road, but what a surprisingly wonderful experience! We started early and it took about 5 hours before we arrived in Cafayate. An old Inca road, the area is full of historical and archeological sites, wild nature and small settlements along the way. Adobe houses, some with solar panels, cultivated land, animals, spectacular coloured mountains with interesting formations, no wonder we wanted to stop and take pictures all the time. The road is okay, some places are very narrow but passable. We could see some repaired areas that had been washed away by heavy rain and the many shrines on the roadside made us wonder if they were to protect us or set up in mourning for lives lost. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic, but enough to feel safe if something should happen, plus they have numerous 911 stations since cell phone coverage is non-existent.
The wine production is most important in the Valles Calchaquíes. The wines produced in the region benefit from the low-humidity mild weather of the valleys that receive an average of less than 250mm of precipitation per year. The most characteristic type of wine cultivated in the area is a white wine called torrontés (delicious).
The town of Cafayate is an attraction by itself with its laid-back rhythm, colonial style and wine cellars open to the public. We were able to walk to one such winery and of course purchased a couple of recommended bottles. Unfortunately they will not be making their way back to Canada, soooo tasty and smooth!!! Gosh, just realized we didn’t even take pictures of our stash!!! 😋
We eventually headed back to Salta completing our tour through the Cafayate Ravine, with displays colorful rock formations, carved out over time into interesting shapes and offering an unprecedented show. We dropped our rental off and took the overnight bus to Cordoba, a stop along the way as we head to Mendoza, home of the famous vino tinto Malbec!