Located in the heart of Argentina's northeastern Salta province, sunny Cafayate is a tourist destination for travelers with many tastes. Cafayate's location makes it the perfect base for exploring the surrounding Calchaquí valleys, and it's also a great destination for exploring Argentina's sumptuous wines and rich history.
The present city of Cafayate was founded on a mission site in 1840 by Manuel Fernando de Aramburu. The area has been inhabited for much longer; both the Incas and earlier groups established settlements here, and the ruins of a fortress still stand nearby.
Cafayate is known in Argentina as the "cradle of folklore." Each February, the city hosts "Serenade to Cafayate," Argentina's most important folklore festival. Since its inception in 1974, the festival has grown into a major cultural event for the region, and today it features performances by many of the most important Argentinean musicians.
Cafayate is also famous for its wine heritage. The Torrontés Wine Festival takes place each November, and it features artists, writers, folk musicians, and-of course-wine tastings.
Cafayate is a peaceful, picturesque town of about 12,000 inhabitants. The city is surrounded by vineyards and its many geological features are easily accessible by car or on foot. It's worth spending a couple of days here and exploring on foot, by car, or on a bicycle.
Sights and Things to Do
The red-rock land surrounding this city is breathtaking: be sure to bring your hiking boots and your camera to capture some extraordinary views. Some highlights include Mt. Santa Teresita, the sand dunes of Los Médanos, and the waterfalls of the Colorado river. Many of these sites are viewable and accessible along the main, paved National Route 68 between Salta and Cafayate. This 100-km route will take you through the Quebrada de las Conchas (Ravine of the Shells) and the Quebrada de Cafayate (Cafayate Ravine).
Cafayate's high altitude, rich soil, and humid climate offer the perfect conditions for the vineyards that surround the city. The wineries in this region have won international awards for their Cabernet, Chardonnay, Malbec, and Torrontés wines. The last of these, Torrontés, has a bold, fruity taste, and it is perhaps the best-known wine from Cafayate. Nearly all of the wineries (or "bodegas") offer daily wine tastings and free guided tours, and these are worth checking out. Some major wineries include Etchart (the biggest in the region), La Rosa, La Banda, and Rio Colorado. If you have time, you might want to fit in a cheese tasting as well; nothing goes better with a chilled glass of white Torrontés wine like a little goat cheese.
Also, be sure to sample some wine ice cream: it's unique to Argentina, and you'll probably never think of Torrontés or Cabernet the same way again.
Within the city itself, be sure to look into the cathedral and ramble through the streets. Take a walk around the flower-filled main plaza to find Argentinean handicrafts from llama-wool ponchos to woven baskets to earthenware jars.
Getting There and Away
Cafayate is only accessible by ground transportation; there is no airport. It's easiest to access the city by car or by bus via route 68 from the province's capital city, Salta. There are daily buses from Salta on the Aconquija and Empresa El Indio bus lines. The road route into the town is famous for its views, so be prepared for the journey to be as memorable as the destination itself.
Where to Stay
Cafayate offers a wide variety of hotels, from hostels to one- through five-star hotels. For travelers on a shoestring budget, the Hostel del Valle comes highly recommended.
Two great times to visit are in February (for Serenade to Cafayate) and November (for the Torrontés Wine Festival).
If you take a bus, be advised that the mountain roads are winding. If you're prone to motion sickness, bring appropriate medication.
The drive between Salta and Cafayate is about 165 kilometers and there are few service stations in between. If you're driving yourself, be sure to have a full tank of gas when you start your drive.
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