But For the Sky
4Oct/11Off

Northwest Argentina Road Trip

After a great introduction to northwest Argentina during our few days in Salta, we decided it was time for a roadtrip. We've been taking buses everywhere, which is a great way to get around South America, but the disadvantage is that it restricts us to only traveling to places that have regular bus connections. Originally we wanted to drive all the way to Mendoza, about 800 miles south, stopping in a few towns and national parks along the way, but the rental car drop-off fees were between $600 and $1000, in addition to the rental fee, so we quickly abandoned that idea. In the end we decided to drive a 3-day loop in the area west and south of Salta, to explore its varied landscapes, small towns, and wineries. Our first day was a drive through the Quebrada de Escoipe (quebrada means ravine or valley), which started out as a paved road, and gradually rose through dry mountains in red, orange, and green hues, becoming an unpaved road. The higher in elevation we got, the foggier it got, and unfortunately for most of the drive we were completely enveloped in fog and had no idea what our supposedly breathtaking surroundings looked like. Then it plunged down, the fog disappeared, the road became paved again, and we were driving through Los Cardones National Park, a stretch of very flat land covered in candelabra cacti up to 6 meters in height. After a quick windy picnic and a stop at a winery for a glass of Malbec and some goat cheese covered in honey, we reached the small town of Cachi where we spent the night.

Quebrada de Escoipe Between Salta and Cachi

Quebrada de Escoipe Between Salta and Cachi

Los Cardones National Park

Los Cardones National Park

Day two was a drive from Cachi to Cafayate through the Valles CalchaquĆ­es. This road was entirely unpaved and went through foothills with green patches in the wide valley below, into the Quebrada de las Flechas (literally meaning 'valley of the arrows'), a desert-like landscape with thin, sharp, angled spires and striped rock formations on both sides of the road. We stopped in a small town called Angastaco to find something to eat, and happened to stumble upon a tucked-away restaurant called Rincon Florido. Upon seeing the patio and the owner, we immediately knew we had found a gem. The owner, Leonardo Gutierrez, played the guitar and sang for us, pausing only to take out photo albums of postcards his customers have sent him from all over the world, of which he is clearly proud. The menu consisted of just three items: milanese (breaded and pan-fried chicken), cazuela de cabrito (stewed goat), and of course, empanadas, all prepared by Leonardo's wife. The cazuela de cabrito was delicious: the meat was fall-off-the-bone soft in a tasty gravy with carrots and onions. I've often heard that goat can be quite dry, but this was the complete opposite. After our satisfying lunch, we drove on to Cafayate, a town of about 10,000 people and the center of an important wine-producing region.

Quebrada de las Flechas

Quebrada de las Flechas

Cafayate, and the whole area we covered during our three days, reminded me of the southwest US. The town, centered around a main plaza, was small and friendly and it had a very Colorado feel to it. Surrounding Cafayate are several wineries. The area is known for producing a type of white wine called Torrontes. The region is quite dry, but the soil and temperatures are apparently perfect for growing grapes. After tasting some local beers and eating a very filling steak dinner, we got a good night of sleep and woke up the next day to visit a few of the bodegas (vineyards, although the word literally means 'cellar'), including Etchart, Nanni, and Vasija Secreta. Etchart is quite well-known, especially for its Torrontes; its tour and tasting were informative and the guide friendly. Nanni is an organic winery, so its wines are very tasty but a bit pricier. Vasija Secreta was quite a bit more touristy, with tour buses in the parking lot, and it seemed to aim at getting the tourists in and out as fast as possible with a rushed tasting of two of its wines, neither particularly memorable. We were almost wined-out when we went back to town and remembered the Heladeria Miranda, an ice cream store with Torrontes and Cabernet Sauvignon flavored ice creams. They were both very cold, very boozy, and strongly wine-flavored-- definitely not for children! Feeling satisfied with our road trip, we began the drive back to Salta, through the Quebrada de Cafayate, again an arid landscape with fascinating bright-red rock formations reminiscent of Arizona, New Mexico, or Utah.

Bodega Nanni

Bodega Nanni

Overall I'd say our road trip was a success-- it was great to get a bit off the beaten track; move at our own pace, stopping wherever we wanted along the way; enjoy the scenery; and try the wines!

Tractor & Mountains in Cafayate

Tractor & Mountains in Cafayate

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Posted by Claudia

Filed under: Argentina, Wine Comments Off