Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Where to stay?
We arrived in Cafayate from Salta at about 11pm due to all the earlier buses being booked out. As a result we accepted the first hostel we saw from the bus station, El Balcon. This offered a bed in a dorm and breakfast for 70 pesos ($5.20) per person. We were lucky as we were the only people in the 10 bed dorm during our 3 night stay (except our first night with only one other traveller). So it was definitely a bargain as it’s a beautiful hostel with an amazing balcony (as the name suggests) to chill.
In the morning the breakfast was the typical Argentinian style of toasted bread with Dulce de Leche (cream caramel) or cream cheese and coffee. The hostel provided us with a map and gave us some fantastic information on what we could do in the area.
After breakfast we booked a tour to Quedraba de Cafayate for the afternoon. It’s best to go in the afternoon for the “better” lighting and colours. We used and would recommend Puna tours on the corner of the main plaza near the church. The cost was 150 pesos ($11.50) per person leaving at 2pm. More details on that later.
We then went for a quick walk around the main square to see what was around.
We then headed to a small shop that was filled with locals (a sign it was good) and bought vegetables and two large steaks ($1.50 pp) for dinner. We were so excited to finally be trying Argentinian steak after eating mainly chicken most of our trip.
Toby made a quick stop in at a bakery and purchased a couple of things before our wine tasting adventures.
Wineries in town
After shopping and still dreaming about our steaks, we decided to go wine tasting (to get our mind off dinner) and because we weren’t going to have time later in the afternoon. It’s really strange but the wineries (bodegas as they’re called here) have strange opening times, typically its 9am-12.30pm and 3pm to 6pm. This seems to be the case with the whole town having an afternoon siesta. As we had a tour at 2pm we only had time for a few morning tastings.
Our first visits were to El Transito and Nanni. As Rodora is not a red wine drinker she stuck to Torrentes (white wine) while Toby also tried the more famous red Malbec. Argentina is most widely known for its Malbec wines, but these are also more so from the Mendoza region we would be going to in the next week. Nanni even had a couple of Rose wines to sample (Rodora’s favourite) but unfortunately the rose in this region tastes closer to red wine and is not as sweet as it is in Australia so we didn’t like them all that much.
El Transito let us have 3 free samples each while Nanni wanted 20 pesos ($1.50) for 4 samples. Although Nanni did let us try one glass for free when we told them we didn’t like reds. In search of some more free sampling and hopefully a wine for that night’s dinner, we came across Bodega Domingos Hermanos. It had a number of big tour buses lined up outside and inside was packed with those people. At first they said there were no more tastings, but we snuck in with the group and got a free tasting. We ended up buying a bottle of their Torrentes Reserve for 33 pesos ($2.50) bargain!
As the wineries were closing we decided it was a good time to go get lunch. As recommended by the hostel we went to the restaurant at the market around the corner with a bargain 25 pesos ($2) for bread, soup and a main dish of pasta with chicken.
We were pleasantly surprised with the meal and large portion of chicken. From here we discovered that pasta was very popular amongst locals. Rodora ordered pasta (or fideo/tallarines) with chicken for lunch and was amazed to see it was homemade and absolutely delicious. There is a definite Italian influence here.
Quedraba de Cafayate
We met at the tourist office in the plaza at 2pm. Here we met our guide (only Spanish speaking). There were a few people on the tour that couldn’t speak Spanish so it was pretty cool to see how far we had come from not understanding a word (like them) to now having some kind of idea of what our guide was talking about.
Quebrada de Cafayate also known as Quebrada de Conchas (Shell Canyon) is a rich coloured sandstone canyon north of Cafayate famous for its unique rock formations. Even though it’s supposed to be best in the afternoon due to the lighting it was unfortunately clouded out and not as good as it could be. The colours were still amazing and definitely worth the effort of visiting. Some of the main attractions we visited include the train, the castle, the window, the amphitheatre, the throat of the devil and shell canyon with an array of tones from rich red to green, almost like someone painted over the rocks.
Homemade steak dinner
We didn’t get back to the hostel until about 8pm at which point it was time to use the hostel kitchen to prepare our steak dinner. At around $2 per person for the meal, the results were amazing and paired with our bottle of wine, it was practically gourmet for us budget backpackers.
Rio Colorado – Scrambling up canyons
The next day was our self guided waterfall and canyon trip. We decided to leave later at around 11am so we could visit the wineries on the way back as they are open 3pm to 6pm. We caught a cab (as advised by our hostel) from the main square (40 pesos / $3) to the start of the trail 6km out of town. We were very glad we took this advice as this walk would have been boring and not much fun.
As soon as we arrived we were asked if we needed a guide. The cost was 25 pesos ($2) per person to the first waterfall. It was then more if you wanted to go further. The path of the hike follows a river upstream but can be tricky for inexperienced hikers. We decided we didn’t need a guide so ventured off on our own after signing the sign in sheet. Be warned though you will be hassled at the start of the trail and they will say its “peligroso” (dangerous) without a guide. Also we were warned by another tourist that at the start they may try and charge for entrance to the waterfalls – do not pay this as it’s not legal.
The first part of the trek was easy to follow with multiple trails (high and low) to choose from and multiple river crossings. The scenery along the way was spectacular with the redness of the canyon contrasting against the giant green cactuses and the river.
During the river crossings some of the rocks were quite far apart and one of Rodora’s feet fell in the river when she wasn’t long enough to reach a rock.
After around an hour we finally reached the first good waterfall. However the trail seemed to end at the viewpoint. We decided since we were at a dead end this was a good time to have lunch. We were lucky that during lunch a tourist with a guide overtook us, so we spied on them to see where to go to get to the next waterfall.
Instructions for those who don’t want to pay for a guide when facing the waterfall at the viewpoint climb left down the canyon to the river. Then cross the river and climb diagonally up towards the mouth of the waterfall grabbing onto the one and only branch for support.
After our successful rock climb, which was the most the difficult part of the hike, we clenched onto the side of the cliff rock face on the right of the canyon. Some places were extremely narrow and a fall could be deadly so we clung on to rocks with all our might feeling like spiderman until eventually we made it to the next waterfall. Not as spectacular as the first but still beautiful
It looked like there was a low way near the river if you cling to the cliff. Do not take this way. Its way easier to climb upwards as you may fall in. Toby unfortunately set an example and fell in the river. Luckily his shoes were the only casualty.
From here we took a break. We had been walking for over 2 hours now and scrambling, climbing and jumping between rocks which was very exhausting. We decided we had enough and seen everything we needed to see. While Toby was trying to dry his shoes, Rodora took a look taking the high route up and over the rock cliff. From above she saw an amazing view of the 10m waterfall (the main attraction).
The other tourist that was ahead of us was still nowhere in sight so we knew there were more waterfalls ahead. However this was the postcard photo on all the reviews so we decided to turn back. It took us around an hour to get back to the start. The guides had disappeared for the day and we had a long walk ahead of us down the dirt road. Luckily there was a winery along the way – Bodega de Las Nubes. There was a small sign at the entrance from the main road and it was around 10 minutes by foot to get to the door. It was definitely worth the effort. This was our favourite winery in all of Cafayate as the wine was fantastic and the serenity and viewpoint of the place was priceless. We were the only ones there so we got to enjoy a bottle of wine overlooking the vineyards in pure tranquility. This also helped the long walk back on the dusty road as it was windy and dust was blowing in our faces. We didn’t seem to mind and time went fast as we were both a little tipsy.
We ended the day with homemade steak, chorizo and vegetables again bought from a local shop. This was an ideal day; scrambling through a spectacular canyon, drinking sensational wine overlooking a vineyard and eating a mouth watering steak and chorizo. If only we could do this every day.
Biking through wine country
We rented some bikes from a local hotel for 15 pesos ($1) per hour. It was only a matter of minutes until we were joined by a random stray dog (Rodora nicknamed him Scruffy). He had a great temperament and even though he looked quite old, he kept up with us all day. We did make some extra stops at places with running water and shade to give him a rest.
We were on our way to visit a couple of wineries (bodegas) and hopefully get some cheap wine. Our first stop at Vasija Secreta was fairly successful. We got some free samples, but didn’t think much of the wines they had.
We then moved onto El Esteco that was just down the road. This looked really impressive, but along with that came expensive price tags of 25-40 pesos ($2-$3) just for a sample.
Our final suggested stop was called Bodega Piattelli. This was up a long dirt road about 4km out of town with a slight incline the whole way. The scenery was quite nice, but with the sun beating down on us, it wasn’t a lot of fun. We faced an even bigger problem here with the next tasting not happening for another 1.5 hours. The cheapest bottle of wine in the restaurant was around 80 pesos ($6) and for an unknown wine this was too much for us.
We decided we’d return to town and find the goat cheese factory before returning our bikes. Again we missed on this with the place having set times for tours and none between 12pm and 3.30pm. Seems really odd to close for so long, but that’s what the locals seem to do.
We returned our bikes and got lunch at the market once again. We did a short tour of Bodega Nanni before returning to the main square and purchasing a discount bottle of Domingo Hermano’s wine to drink on the square at a table.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/
*Note that all our Argentinian values are converted at the Dolar Blue rate of around 14 pesos is equal to US$1. The official rate is much closer to 8 pesos is equal to US$1 at the time of writing (Sept 2014)