We have spent an unplanned 2 weeks in Northwest Argentina. Turns out that the laid-back-small-town-welcoming nature of this region really suited us and its only been the personal pressure to ‘keep moving’ that has actually persuaded us to move on!
Here are 5 of our favourite things from this region:
1. Salta’s colonial architecture
I feel a bit lazy mentioning the architecture because 1) I already said the architecture in Buenos Aires was one of our favourite things and 2) Salta is advertised as a place with amazing architecture but I just couldn’t resist. There is something so endearing about Spanish style churches painted in eye-catching colours that it had to make our list.
2. Roadtripping from Salta to Cafayete
We were a bit disillusioned by the numerous tour companies (170 in total!) all selling the same tours. They all seemed to be days in a bus with 33 other people driving to a town only to drive all the way back. So, we found a friend and the 3 of us rented a car. We decided to head to the little wine town of Cafayete (183km/4hrs away) for 3 nights. The drive down is beautiful with the scenery changing from lush green hills to huge earthy mountains eroding slowly over the decades (or quickly with a storm). The Argentines seem to have a love for finding shaped hills or rocks, naming them and then making them a tourist attraction – although we noted that they had not bothered to install one toilet at any of these rocks. So, in our afternoon drive we saw things like this:-
3. Rio Colorado walk in Cafayete
There were 2 things we wanted to do in Cafayete: 1)taste the local torrentes wine and 2) walk to the waterfalls along the Rio Colorado. We are pleased to report we did and loved both of them. Perhaps because we have done wine tasting a lot before or perhaps because the walk was so much more than we expected, it is the walk that has made our list.
We decided to set off early (9am) because the weather forecast indicated it would get to 38 degrees in the afternoon so we though best to get the walk over with before lunch. Full of excitement and completely calm in our abilities to walk along a river, we set off with a bottle of water each and no food. In the end, it turns out that the walk is pretty strenuous (we’re talking climbing up rocks and crossing the river again and again) and took us 6 hours! It did not help that I had been feeling nauseous the night before but decided fresh air would help me. The fresh air might have helped but the relentless pace of the walk (our guide was young and fit) and the high temperatures did not help. All this aside we absolutely loved it. It had everything – giant cacti, beautiful views, mountain goats and a gorgeous cold pool of water to swim in at the final waterfall. It is definitely worth the 50 pesos a person to hire a guide – just pack some food and expect it to be an all day affair!
A peñas is a restaurant where localmusicians also gather and perform. Our favourite was La Casona del Molino. At this peñas there is no stage and there is no set schedule. It really is dependant on whoever turns up and then those musicians sit at a table in one of the many rooms and play. There can be many musicians playing at one time and the crowd are welcome (no encouragement is needed for the locals!) to join in. It really is a fantastic experience. The food is also good. They have a parilla (outdoor fire for cooking) and make great local dishes. The first time we went we shared a locra (type of stew) and the second time I discovered the skewer of braaied (barbequed for non-South Africans) vegetables. Finally! (Vegetables are hard to come by in the country)
5. Colourful rocks
We did a bit of a public transport roadtrip to the towns north of Salta. We spent one night in Tilcara and another in Purmamarca. The towns are quaint little places with dusty roads and loads of shops selling woven curios. (So far we have both bought beanies and I bought lama wool leg warmers for when we get into the Andes.) The towns are nestled within mountains that seem to have been built by those little sand sifting things – you know the ones that you shake and the sand sifts down and forms pretty pictures. There are so many colours and they all seem to lie in layers. I think you might have to come here to see the colours properly but we tried to take some pictures.
and a special mention for…
People dressed in historic outfits riding horses
We happened to be in Salta for the 200 year anniversary of some great battle. The streets were full of locals dressed in proper gaucho dress riding horses. I found it very amusing to see them in traditional wear, waiting at red traffic lights together with cars.