Geography and climate of the Calchaquí Valleys
The Calchaquí Valleys are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful natural sites in Argentina. A landscape of mountains and valleys spreading out over 520km in the provinces of Catamarca, Tucumán, and Salta. The most popular city around Salta is Cafayate, down the mythical Route 40 and the Calchaquí River. A narrow, mostly unpaved, road crossing through Cachi, Molinos, Angastaco, located at the core of a breathtaking setting of red-colored mountains carved by nature through the centuries.
Summer time (December to March) is the rainy season, and precautions should be taken when driving at this time of year. The best option is to check the road conditions in the morning, explore the region during the morning and late evening hours, and nap during the hottest hours of the day, following local traditions.
Traditions of the Calchaquí Valley
Cafayate is famous for being the birthplace of folklore. Since 1974, the Serenata en Cafayate festival has been held there, hosting the best musical artists in the country. All throughout the northwestern region people enjoy meeting with friends and family while eating, singing and dancing. Often, restaurants and bars have artists playing live, and sometimes the owner of the establishment will even play the guitar for its guests. Serenata en Cafayate is a way of playing tribute to northern people through their love of music. All kinds of popular music are represented, both younger talents and the most famous ones, namely: Los Nocheros, Los Huayras, the Chaqueño Palavecino.
At 2,200 meters above sea level lies the town of Cachi. You’ll be tempted to rest there and enjoy the captivating serenity of the place and the surrounding magnificent landscape. Cobble-stoned streets, small white houses, a beautiful cactus roof-top church, a small archeological museum devoted to the Calchaquíes, and a handicrafts market. Moreover, there is an old mill that has been turned into a hotel, El Molino de Cachi Winery.
In Cafayate, people congragate at Plaza 20 de Febrero, the town center, around which there are bars, restaurants, and stores. Nuestra Señora del Rosario Cathedral, built at the end of the 19th Century, is one of the few churches to have five naves. There is also a handicrafts market offering typical regional products such as: knitted, leather and wood products, pottery and baskets. An interesting outing is a visit to the Rodolfo I Bravo archeology and history museum exhibiting beautiful objects that belonged to the natives.
Whether in the city or in its surroundings, there are plenty of wineries to be visited: Etchart, Félix Lavaque, Nanni, Torino, etc. This is a good opportunity to taste the torrontés, a white grape variety of intense scent, with hints of tropical fruit and white flowers. For those interested in wine history, we suggest a visit to the Grapevine and Wine museum (Museo de la vid y el vino), which has been open to the public since 1981.
Some kilometers away from Cafayate, down the main road leading to Salta, visitors will be amazed by the spectacular scenery stretching over 50 kilometers: the Quebrada de las Conchas. A long canyon furrowed over time with geological layers sculpted and resulting in curious mountain formations such as: the Castles, the Obelisk, the Monk, the Frog, the Amphitheater, the Devil’s Throat.
Road of Los Cardones National Park
The road joining Salta and Cachi will evoke nothing but delightful memories and profound excitement: the first challenge is the Cuesta del Obispo, a zigzagging slope across the forests up to 3,000 meters above sea level. Then, the setting completely changes to a plain and arid terrain, watched over by the cacti of Los Cardones National Park. Take care at the Tin Tin Straightline: signs warn you not to speed up on this final straight since llamas tend to roam freely (and may randomly cross the road!).
Road 40 from Cachi to Cafayate : Molinos, Angastaco, Quebrada de las Flechas
Setting off from Cachi, the popular Route 40 stretches out along the Calchaquí River to the south. The route extends further to Molinos and Angastaco. Route 40 crosses the dunes towards the Quebrada de las Flechas, a canyon fenced by red arrow-shaped mountains pointing up to the sky. Stunning! Then, near Cafayate, green cultivated fields confirm the presence of men in this secluded paradise. The first vineyards introduce a thriving little town whose main industry is wine.
Restaurants : where to eat in the Calchaqui Valleys ?
Rincon Florido in Angastaco : a nice culinary stop to taste regional specialities, like empanadas and goat stew, grill or casserole with torrontés wine.
Finca El Carmen on Angastaco road : big old house with a nice library and tasty traditional meals.
Macacha in Cafayate: a sophisticated restaurant where you can choose from a wide selection of wines, especially those from the Calchaquí Valleys. It offers high-quality tradition-inspired dishes. A perfect place to learn about northwestern gastronomy.
Comedor Criollo in Cafayate: it serves typical Argentine barbecue (asado) and wine, especially torrontés, Cafayate’s most produced variety.
Shopping : what to buy in the Calchaqui Valleys ?
Handicrafts: Cafayate’s stores and craft markets have plenty of great souvenir options: pottery, baskets, knitted products, and ponchos made of llama wool.
Wine: not-to-be-missed torrontés, a variety of white grape and the speciality of Cafayate region, in the highest bodegas of the world.
Ponchos: famous in the region. It is nice to visit the family who make it in their houses, especially along the 10 km of eastern bank of the Rio Calchaquies, between the road 42 and the village of Seclantas.
Transport : how to get to the Calchaqui Valleys ?
From Buenos Aires, the best way to get to the Calchaquí Valleys and Cafayate is to fly straight to Salta, and then rent a car. If you choose to travel by bus, the trip from Buenos Aires to Salta will take around 20 hours.
Air: Fights coming from Buenos Aires, Tucumán and Córdoba arrive at the General Güemes Airport, located 10km southeast of Salta. Carriers: Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aerosur, Andes, and LAN.
Road: Cafayate is located 235km north of Tucumán and 180km south of Salta, down National Route 68 or Route 40. The ride down Route 40 to Cafayate takes long hours, so it is good advice to depart early in the morning. A rest stop is quite recommended.