Argentina’s Cafayate- where vineyards meet the Andes
Friday, February 8, 2019
by Charlotte Albrecht
Nestled in Argentina’s northwest, framed by the soaring Andean mountains, lies the serene town of Cafayate. A thriving tourist hotspot with an array of activities for wine lovers and nature enthusiasts.
Shining with immaculate vineyards, that are sprinkled across red rolling hills, and ancient geological rock formations along its quiet roads. Matched by a tranquil and peaceful atmosphere that embraces the town, which is lined with lovingly restored colonial buildings and historic streets. Cafayate is a popular tourist destination, located in the Calchaqui Valley, that manages to keep its small town flair.
The region is one of Argentina’s great wine producing areas, manufacturing some of the world’s highest altitude wines at 1683m above sea level. Along the local ‘Ruta del Vino’, visitors can tour the regional bodegas to view viticulture first-hand. While the inviting vineyards are the main attraction of the area, other outdoor activities are also on offer. The unspoiled nature of the province invites to hiking, cycling, and swimming under pristine waterfalls. Whereas the town itself presents history museums, handicraft markets, and pleasant cafes around the verdant central plaza.
It is possible to visit Cafayate with one of the many day tours, which leave from the city of Salta and usually include a tour of the bodegas en route and the geological rock formations. But, I heartily recommend to spend a few days in this idyllic town, away from the bustle of the cities, to soak in the tranquility and hospitality of the local people.
The best way to explore the town and its surroundings is on foot, by bicycle, or to join one of the local tours that are on offer. These interesting tours, as well as bicycle rental, can be booked at most accommodations or the towns tourist office.
The wines and the vineyards of northwestern Argentina
Cafayate represents Argentina’s second most important viticulture territory, after the region around Mendoza. The local area is best known for growing the aromatic Torrontés vines, that produces floral, crisp, and iconic white wines. Malbecs are also favoured in the regional vineyards and bring out rich, full bodied, and distinctive red wines.
- The modern winery of ‘Piatelli’ is not just offering wine, but also features an inviting restaurant with a grand terrace overlooking the town
- The historic vineyard of ‘Finca Quara’ lures with a stunning setting and an outstanding wine cellar
- ‘El Porvenir de Cafayate’, produces some fine Torrontes wines right in the town center
- The organic ‘Bodega Nanni’ offers educational wine tours and tastings set in a charming garden
Where to stay in Cafayate
The town offers a variety of accommodation options, from camping to hostels and upmarket hotels. Hostels and hotels are located centrally around the plaza and along the main street, in beautifully renovated colonial buildings with lovingly decorated inner courtyards.
- The Rusty-K Hostel is located close to the central plaza, family owned and situated in an old colonial building. It offers double rooms and cosy dorms, a tour desk, and a shuttle service for its guests.
- The Hosteria Neni lies close to the center and has private rooms with en-suite bathrooms. Inviting with a familiar atmosphere, the hostel offers bicycle rentals and a tour desk.
- The Campground Luz y Fuerza provides spacious and shaded places for tents and caravans. It is situated at the end of town, on the road leading towards Colalao del Valle.
The cuisine of the Calchaqui Valley
The town invites with cosy restaurants and cafes, as well as street food along the main street and its peaceful plaza. In the alluring bistros and bars, food lovers will find local specialties like goat cheese, salamis, and crude ham.
- The ‘Heladeria Miranda’, located on the main street, offers special ice creams that are made with local wines.
- ‘La casa de las empanadas’ serves tasty empanadas with great veggie options, traditional Argentinian dishes and regional desserts, just a stone’s throw away from the main plaza.
- ‘Pacha’ is a renowned restaurant, just half a block from the central plaza, that presents creative dishes, different to the traditional Argentinian cuisine.
- The ‘Chatos Wine bar’ offers a well selected menu of local wines along delicious appetizers.
- The bakery ‘La flor del Valle’ has good coffee and delicious sweets, it is a fine spot for breakfast and afternoon snack.
Things to do in and around Cafayate
Besides touring the bodegas and taking part in wine tastings, you may enjoy activities such as hiking, cycling and viewing impressive geological rock formations.
- Rent a bicycle and tour the surrounding vineyards for some exquisite wine tastings
- Visit the ‘Museo de la Vid y El Vino’ to learn about regional history and everything about wine production
- Cycle through the neighbouring reserve of Quebrada de las Conchas
- Climb the nearby San Isidro Mountain for spectacular views of the area
- Hike out of town to the nearby waterfall (~14km one way), take a dip in its refreshing pool and spot hidden rock paintings on the way
- View the ancient geological rock formations along RN68 by bus, rental car or tour
- Check out the Cafayate Artesian Market for handcrafted souvenirs made of llama wool, cactus wood, or leather
How to get there
Cafayate lies about 190km south of the provincial capital of Salta, another popular tourist destination in Argentina’s northwest. The rural town is easily reached by car or bus from the surrounding cities and stops at all tourist attractions along the way.
- By train: Argentina does not offer many long distance train connections and there is no rail service to Cafayate.
- By bus: Regular bus services leave from the City of Salta and rides take about four hours one way.
- By car: From San Miguel de Tucuman- The city of Tucuman lies some 230km east of the Calchaqui Valley, take the RN38 south and follow it until it joins the RP307 towards Tafi del Valle, which is an amazing drive. Passing Tafi, follow the road until the turn off for the RN40 towards Salta.
From Salta- Take the RN68 south for about 190km to reach Cafayate and view the geological rock formations along the way or tour the vineyards en route.