An alternative rhumb to Cafayate

19-21/02/2014

It dates back to 20 million years when large stones began to rise at the edge of hard crystalline rocks originated in the Precambrian.  Deep faults in the crust were raising granitic and metamorphic rocks forming a mountain buttress, breaking the sedimentary plaques (older than the Andes) and causing the elevation of an edge pointing to the sky, arming inclined narrow canyons with walls about 20m high.  Bit by bit erosion did its geomorphologic part to leave us with the looking like arrowheads sharpened blades of the Valle de las Flechas as we are driven through this stunning whimsicality of nature towards the heart of the Calchaquíes Valley.  The ‘Ruta Del Vino that starts in Salta is the alternative route we decide to follow, from the village Molinos on a true adventure of hitchhiking-luck to over win the 115km till Cafayate through this valley.

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Most tourists would take the road to Cafayate through the Quebrada de Las Conchas but unlike our itinerary there are plenty possibilities to visit this polychrome landscape with its interesting geological and cultural history.  The self-appointed capital nests in a beautiful landscape, mild climate, fine wines and friendly people.  Being a small but lively modern place, the centre of the province’s eno culture, a crossroad between Salta, Cachi and Amaicha and well foreseen of all type of accommodations, Cafayate is the main tourist base for visiting the valleys.  We find our home in Cafayate Backpackers Hostel where we connect fast with the rest of the guests.  We join their active organizing attitude and on the first evening we get ourselves fully booked for the next two days.

First day we go with a group to Las Siete Cascadas Rìo Colorado some 6 km away from the town centre.  A canyon where Rio Colorado’s crystalline water fall brute on a rocky frame and paints the whole scene with vivid greens.  It justifies the frequent stops for gaping at the viridescent wonder along a trail that goes upstream and connects the different waterfalls.  It’s a labyrinth of tiny paths that are hidden in between the luxuriant riverside all going the same direction, crossing several times the river over, between and under the smoothly polished boulders.  We end up at a waterfall with pool where only the brave will suppress the freezing water. A beautiful hike in exuberant nature shared with hostel roommates and goats that brings our legs and minds back in shape.  We close the day having dinner in a local restaurant on the main square with all the guests of the hostel and with a long discussed discount.

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The second day we decide to go to visit the Quebrada de las Conchas.  This bizarre eroded multi-coloured valley that has recently enlightened archaeological investigations with the existence of a beautiful stretch of Inca road, is located a few meters from the 68 Highway and by this easily reachable with bus, rented car (not too expensive if shared with) or even bike.  This valley is an Eden for the shades-worshiping-photography-lovers, an utopia for geography teachers and a dream for nature devotees.  We like it and more than once we look at each other astonished and overwhelmed by it.

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With the right sensation in our body we say goodbye to Cafayate and prepare ourselves for the next episode of our Argentinean hitchhiking adventure.

Our recommendations:

  • We reached Molinos by bus from Cachi (28 ARS per person) and from there we kept on travelling hitchhiking our way till Cafayate.
  • The Cafayate Backpackers Hostel offers private luxury rooms, dorms and a small campground. It gives a good impression at first and the prices are ok (50 ARS a night/person in dorm) but once paid everything changes. The first day we did not get any bedding, the kitchen is not prepared for backpackers (it was already difficult to cook something for just the two of us) and those paying the campground can’t use the kitchen at all. No hot water, we ask for lockers they said there was no problem but later on it seemed that the staff locks everything in a closet so we can only get to our personal belongings when the staff is working,… and so much more inconvenients!!! Luckily there was an awesome group of travellers with which we laughed the misery away.
  • Cafayate is a big dot on the map of Argentineans wine route so, apart from a wine museum, there are many wine houses to visit and wine tastes to do.
  • We paid 220 ARS for the both of us for a sightseeing tour through the Valle de las Conchas. Many prices are offered so our advice is walking the centre and compare the different options.
  • El Cañon de Rio Colorado or El Cañon de las Siete Cascadas is reachable by feet but go in the morning in order to be ahead the midday heat. Entrance is free. Locals offer their “knowledge” and guidance but try to get more money out of the tourist once halfway. We did realize that following a river upstream does not really require a guide so… be adventurous!!!       
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