July 17, 2014

Cafayate: Breathtaking Views and Wine Tours from Salta

Cafayate - Salta, Argentina

Almost 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of Salta is the town of Cafayate. Encompassed by mountains, it’s the unofficial capital of the Calchaquíes Valley. The town is also at the heart of a large wine-producing region, which comes second only to Mendoza. Cafayate is a peaceful destination centered round a main square. There’re a handful of attractions but what draws visitors are the welcoming guesthouses, excellent restaurants and opportunities to visit the wineries.

Our Guide Silvi on her way to Cafayate
History enthusiasts might want to stop by the Rodolfo Bravo Regional and Archeaological Museum (cnr Calchaquí and Colón). It contains displays of artifacts relating to the life of the Diaguita-Calchaquí people and other Inca groups that inhabited the region. Wine lovers will enjoy the Museo de la Vid y el Vino, a museum with exhibits explaining Cafayate’s wine-producing history.
Valles Calchaquies - Salta
From Salta to Cafayate:
To get to Cafayate you take a bus or rent a car in Salta City, which takes about 4-hours and passes through the spectacular landscape of Quebrada de Cafayate. The best way to get here, however, is to rent a car and drive along Ruta 68. This is one of the most rewarding drives in Argentina as the road cuts through the middle of a Mars-like region of sandstone rock formations. There’s plenty to see on the route and numerous landmarks are signposted, such as an amphitheater, and rocks resembling a castle and a toad. Bring a picnic and find a secluded spot in amongst the cliffs; just remember to pack plenty of water because it can get extremely hot.
Quebrada de las Conchas - Salta
If you do rent a car then make the trip to the town of Cachi. There’s not a great deal to do but the scenery is magnificent. The town is 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Cafayate, along Ruta 40. You could make a round trip from Salta to Cafayate and then return via Cachi, taking the scenic Cuesta del Obispo mountain route.

Church in Cachi - Salta
Cafayate’s wineries are within easy reach of the town, with many clustered around the junction of Ruta 40 and Ruta 68. The easiest way to get to them is by car, but many are also reachable on foot. Alternatively, rent bike and spend the day taking different tours and exploring the area’s countryside. Ask at your hotel about bike rental. This wine region is famous for growing the Torrontés grape, used for white wines.
Winery near Cafayate
Bodega El Esteco (Ruta 40 and Ruta 68). Just north of the entrance to Cafayate, this is one of the most popular bodegas in the region. Its Elementos brand is a mid-priced wine seen all over the country. Informative tours explain the process involved in winemaking then finish with tastings in a bar-cum-shop. After a tour you can enjoy open views of the mountains and vineyards. The colonial style white-washed building is also a 32-room boutique hotel. The bodega is a 25-minute walk from Cafayate’s main square.
Bodegas Etchart (Ruta 40, Km 4338). Founded in 1850, this is one of the oldest wineries in the region. The vines grow at a height of 5,740 feet (1,750 meters), thus making it part of one of the world’s highest vinicultures. The bodega runs standard tours that include a visit to the vineyards and factory followed by tastings.
El Esteco - Cafayate - Salta
Vasija Secreta (Ruta 40). At the entrance to Cafayate, this bodega is also within walking distance of the town center. In addition to a tour of the bodega, you can visit the Wine Museum, which has displays of historic wine machinery and barrels. The bodega has its restaurant where wine experts will help you choose the correct wine to enjoy with your meal. You should book in advance for the restaurant.
Bodega Nanni (Silverio Chavarría 151). Just one block from the town’s main square, this bodega is ideal if you are just passing through Cafayate and want a quick peek into the world of winemaking. It specializes in the production of organic wines, and is managed by the fourth generation of an Italian family that moved to the region in 1885.
There are plenty of dining options in town, with most places focusing on regional food, and you don’t have to walk far to find them. Surrounding the main square are a host of restaurants and cafés, including La Carreta de Don Olegario (Gral. Güemes Sur 20). Come here for traditional Salteño fare and excellent empanadas. The terrace is a good place to watch activity on the square, and there’s live music in the evenings.
For empanadas with a local twist, such as goat cheese and sweet corn, head to La Casa de las Empanadas (Mitre 24), just off the main square. It does a good range of regional plates as well, including locro and goat stew. Quilla Huasi Restaurant (Camila Quintana de Niño 70) is another restaurant worth checking out. The menu has similar offers to the previously mentioned restaurants, and it has large wine selection. Indigenous decorations give the restaurant a welcoming ambience and authentic feel.
After dinner, continue your wine enjoyment at Chato’s Wine Bar (Ntra. Sra del Rosario 132) to sample almost every wine produced in the Calchaquíes Valley. If you get hungry then order a picada of cheese and cold cuts. El Almacen Bar (Camila Quintana de Niño 59) is also good for a drink. It’s part of a hostel by the same name so is usually busy with travelers. Alternatively, stop by Baco Restobar( Av. Güemes Norte y Rivadavia) to mix with the locals.
Outdoor Activities
One of the most thrilling excursions in this region is the Tren a las Nubes (The Train to the Clouds). Departing from Salta, the train travels for 135 miles (217 kilometers) to La Polvorilla Viaduct at La Puna. It reaches a height of 13,845 feet (4,220 meters) above sea level thus making it one of the world’s highest train journeys. En route, the train crosses 29 bridges, through 21 tunnels and over numerous viaducts, and you’ll experience unrivalled views of the Andes. It’s a 16-hour round trip and food is available onboard, although you might want to bring a packed lunch as well. Purchase tickets from Turismo Tren a las Nubes (cnr Buenos Aires and Caseros).
White-water rafting is a popular tour from Salta. Cabra Corral Dam is also the location of numerous high-adrenalin sports, including bungee jumping, abseiling and paragliding.
Rafting at Cabra Corral Dam - Salta
The mountains and countryside encompassing Salta and Jujuy are perfect for hiking trips. From Salta, we arrange hikes ranging from one to seven days. We specialize in combined trekking and bird-watching excursions. Further north, Ideas Turisticas organizes treks in the Jujuy province.
Hiking Trip in Salta - Quebrada de las Conchas
You can contact our Experts for the best licensed drivers, Tour Guides, mountain biking and horseback riding tours, too.

July 16, 2014

Salta City: Captivating beauty.

The city of Salta is by a long stretch the tourism capital of Argentina’s northwest region. It’s a city where the old converges with the new and where the old comes out on top. Whether arriving from Buenos Aires or crossing the border from Bolivia, you’ll notice instantly the laidback lifestyle of Salta. Time often feels as though it has stood still around the cobblestone streets of the city center, which is blessed with colonial architecture. Tradition runs deep here, most notably during Carnival when locals hit the streets to pay homage to Pachamama, the Incan goddess of fertility.
Parque Nacional Los Cardones - Salta
Founded in 1582 by Governor Hernando de Lerma of Tucumán, today the city is commonly known as Salta la Linda (Salta the Pretty). The city’s name originates from the word sagta, which means beautiful in the language of the Aymara indigenous people. Unlike other Argentine cities, Salta didn’t witness a wave of mass immigration. However, what the city missed out on in European influence it benefited by maintaining the traditions of the Diaguita-Calchaquí indigenous group and other Inca tribes.
Cabildo - Historical Center of Salta
The city of  Salta, with its slow pace of life and colonial architecture, is brimming with boutique hotels and restaurants. It’s surrounded by places offering every imaginable adventure sport, from paragliding to bungee jumping.

What to See and Do
From architecture and museums to artisanal markets and hilltop lookouts, there’s plenty to see and do in Salta. Start your visit at Plaza 9 de Julio, the city’s main square. On its north side is the stunning Salta Cathedral (España 596). It houses the ashes of General Martin Miguel de Güemes, an important figure during the wars of independence. The interior of blue, green and gold is spotless, as is the impressive cathedral organ. There’s also a small museum that holds religious relics.
Salta's Cathedral - Salta City

From the cathedral, walk over to the Museo Arqueologiá de Alta Montaña (Mitre 77). If you only visit one museum in Salta then make it this one, which dedicates itself to the preservation of Andean culture and anthropology. The highlight is the so-called Llullaillaco Children, three mummified and perfectly-preserved Inca children discovered at Llullaillaco Volcano in 1999. Historians believe the children were sacrificed in a fertility ceremony or as an offering to the Incan gods, around the year 1490. To maintain the preservation, only one is on display at any one time. On the south side of Plaza 9 de Julio is the Museo Histórico delNorte (Caseros 541). Housed in Salta’s original cabildo (town hall), the museum contains displays of Salta’s Indian and colonial history, in addition to art exhibits.

Walk east along Caseros street until you reach Córdoba street. Here, you’ll find the Iglesia San Francisco, a striking church with a 174-feet (53-meter) tower and terracotta exterior. Inside, a small museum displays religious images from the 1600s and 1700s. Continue along Caseros to Santa Fe, where you’ll see the Convento de San Bernardo. Access is for Carmelite nuns only but it’s worth passing by to see the striking wooden door of the main entrance.

Iglesia de San Francisco - Salta City
For panoramic views of Salta, and the city’s surroundings, take the teleférico (cable car) to Cerro San Bernardo. The teleférico leaves from Parque San Martín, a 15-mintue walk from Plaza 9 de Julio. At the hilltop are various balconies and lookout points, and terraced gardens. Look for a monument dedicated to the Battle of Salta, and 14 Stations of the Cross. The hilltop is a good spot for a picnic and to watch the sunset. If you are feeling energetic then walk up via the route that starts behind Güemes Monument (Paseo Güemes and Av. Uruguay). Combine a ride on the cable car with walk around Parque San Martín, which is similar to Palermo Woods in Buenos Aires.
Salta is a great place to shop for leather, ceramic and textile goods, and you’ll find things markedly cheaper than in other parts of Argentina. The best place to shop is at the Mercado Artesanal (San Martín 2555), located in an old millhouse about 25 blocks from Plaza 9 de Julio. There’s a nice café here that you can have a drink in before making your way back. On Sunday mornings, head to Balcarce street, where the Feria Artesanal sets up, selling everything from homemade honey and jams to clothing and locally-made souvenirs.
Nightlife and Restaurants
The cuisine of Argentina’s northwestern region is notably different from the rest of the country. Be sure to try the empanadas, which many say are the finest in Argentina. Other local fare includes: locro, a thick stew of corn, beans and potato; tamale, corn flour wraps filled with meat and/or potatoes and steamed in a leaf wrapper; and humita, steamed corn husks filled with mashed corn and cheese.
Humita - Traditional dish with sweetcorn - Salta.
Make the El Patio de la Empanada (cnr San Martín and Esteco) top of your list of places to eat. It’s a simple establishment; an open-air patio lined with family-run stalls selling classic Salteño fare. Take a seat at any table, wait for a waitress and order a plate of delicious empanadas. It’s great value and locals fill the tables at lunchtime, so it can’t be bad. The Mercado Central (cnr Florida and San Martín) is another good spot to pick up some cheap eats, including fresh fruit and vegetables.
Empanadas and Spices
When in Salta don’t miss out on a night at a peña, a restaurant and folkloric music venue. You can enjoy local food while watching music and dance performances, and it’s likely that you’ll be invited to join in the dancing. There’re a number of such venues on Balcarce street. Salta’s most famous peña, however, is Peña Balderrama (San Martín 1126). Many of Argentina’s folk music bands would meet here and the bar has been immortalized in a folkloric song. The bar is opposite El Patio de la Empanada, and it’s worth making reservations.

We highly recommend: La Casona del Molino.

La Casona del Molino (the mill house) is the nook where all friends, guitars and bombos of Salta meet to enjoy a true peña, the expression of Argentine traditions. Address: Luis Burela 1, Salta City.

La Casona del Molino - Salta City

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