March 23, 2012

Salta Side Trips

Not only is the city of Salta very nice, but it’s also a great jumping off point for trips to surrounding towns. The little towns themselves aren’t the major draw…it’s the drive to get to them that are so special. We booked 3 separate daytrips with a great tour company called La Posada.

Our first daytrip was to Cachi, a 3-hour drive south of Salta. To get there, we had to take a harrowing unpaved road that winds its way up to over 11,000 feet.

The landscape along the drive was incredible. It’s the perfect marriage between Colorado and Arizona – a mix of huge green hills, red rocks, snow-capped mountains, cacti, and wildflowers all rolled into one. Once we got off scary Bishop’s Road at 11,342 feet, we passed through La Cardones National Park where there are (conservatively guessing) maybe a million saguaro-type cacti set in front of colorful rock formations and mountains.

We stopped on the side of the road to buy some jam and popped quinoa from local vendors. We also saw a hillside where farmers were drying their red peppers.

Cachi itself was extremely small, but it had a couple of charming sites. The first was a cemetery set on top of a hill with tall grasses waving in the breeze amongst the colorfully decorated graves. The second was their old church, whose ceiling was made of cactus wood.

Our second daytrip was to Cafayate, another 3-hour drive south of Salta through the Quebrada de las Conchas or “Seashell Gorge”. This gorge reminded us of Arizona but more colorful, with rocks that were red, white, yellow, green, brown and even blue.

Wind and rain erosion have created interesting rock formations along the drive such as La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat), El Anfiteatro (The Amphitheatre), El Sapo (The Frog), Las Ventanas (The Windows), Titanic (duh…Titanic), Los Castillos (The Castles), and El Fraile (The Friar). Once again, there were cacti everywhere…some with at least 15-20 large arms.

The highlight of our day was getting to feed some llamas. I just love these animals. They’re docile and always seem to have an inquisitive look on their face, which is very endearing.

Cafayate is also the world’s largest producer of Torrontes wine, a white varietal that smells sweet but is dry to the taste. We visited the oldest winery in Cafayate before turning around and driving back through the breathtaking gorge.

Our last day-trip was to the Jujuy (pronounced whoo-whooey) Province, north of Salta. It rained the entire drive up and the gorge was socked in with fog. Eventually the weather lifted and we got to see Jujuy’s famous "painted rocks".

Of our three side trips, the Quebrada de Humahuaca gorge in Jujuy is the only one that’s been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site. We found that surprising because it was our least favorite. There are power lines everywhere and we didn’t like the towns of Purmamarca, Tilcara or Humahuaca as much as Cachi or Cafayate. On the plus side, we did get to pay a visit to the Tropic of Capricorn.

When it comes to Cachi, Cafayate and Jujuy, it’s not about the destination but the journey.

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