Rustic Cafayate sits at the entrance to the Valle Calchaquies and is flanked by vineyards on all sides. The hot, dry climate lends itself perfectly to wine production and while not in the same league as Mendoza in terms of production the area is also known for its fine wines. This small town has some well preserved colonial era buildings, and a vibrant artisan scene – we decided it definitely called for a few days exploring before heading on to Salta.

Restored colonial buildings, here seen at night, Cafayate..
Artisan store, Cafayate
Young Argentine couple we met camping in Cafayate, she a professor, he an engineer. Enjoyed our in depth conversations with them on all things Argentine !
Lois, wine tasting at Finca Quara ( our favorite ) in Cafayate.
Winery, Finca Quara, Cafayate
Yours truly, sampling a white at Domingo Hermanos winery, Cafayate.
Entrance to Finca Quara, Cafayate.
The beautiful setting of Fina Quara, Cafayate.
A wine display, the wine history museum, Cafayate. Fascinating detail on the history of wine in Argentina and the unique qualities of Cafayate wines.

Once again we would diverge ( as we casionally have ) from Route 40 on the journey north. Route 68 is by far the preferred route to Salta and encompasses some very dramatic scenery as you drive through a valley known as the “Quebrada de Cafayate”. Years of river erosion have carved some amazing patterns in the sand and rock structures giving rise to a number of well-known features including the Devil’s Throat, The Castles, The Obelisk and many others. It’s a popular route with Argentines and the road was filled with sightseers snapping pictures at almost every turn – including ourselves.

Jeff, with view of Quebrada de Cafayate in the background.
“Garganta del Diablo”, Quebrada de Cafayate ( Devils Throat ).
”The Castles”, Quebrada de Cafayate
Terraced rock formation, Quebrada de Cafayate

Salta’s colonial architecture, it’s historical importance as a key stopover on the trade route between Lima and Buenos Aires in the Spanish era, and it’s important role in the struggle for independence from Spain ensures the city has plenty to offer the visitor be they local or foreign.  It’s a pleasant city in its own right, easy to navigate, and sitting in an altitude of 1200m means the climate is generally very agreeable in a part of Argentina that can get extremely hot.

For us there was also a certain allure to be once again visiting a larger centre that offered much to see in terms of museums, entertainment and an overall great “foodie” experience. People often spend more time here than they expect and we did as well. The museums documenting its historical role were excellent, the campsite was appealing and it was just an excellent city to wander around, good restaurants and cafés seemingly everywhere we turned – we enjoyed sampling them as we went on our way.

Downtown Salta
Saint Francis church, Salta
Salta, Argentina, or Paris, France ? Parts of downtown Salta looked distinctly French !
The Cabildo, Salta
Classic Spanish-era building beside the Saint Francis church in Salta.
Traditional dancers, Salta
Tasted some of the best ”helado” ( ice cream ) in Argentina in Salta ! A lot of Italian influence in here.
A favourite coffee shop of ours – enjoyed the plentiful food and cafe options all over Salta.
In Salta we passed the 3 months mark back on the road, during which time we have only met 3 other overlanders with vehicles – all Swiss. The couple who owned this rig had stayed on in Argentina all through the pandemic.
Our campground in Salta felt very secure – a mounted police presence every day we were there !

Seems every Argentine city has its favourite independence era military hero and Salta is no exception. Martin Miguel de Guemes ( later General Guemes ), born in Salta, was a key figure in the war for  independence. He died gloriously in battle and his name is all over Salta – the Guemes interactive museum was one of the best we have seen.

Massive monument to Guemes in Salta.

While an attraction in its own right, Salta is also a base for exploring the region around it. Wineries abound but we had seen plenty in Mendoza and Cafayate so headed west via Route 33 and the windy Cuesta del Obispo to the quaint colonial village of Cachi. A more scenic drive you can’t imagine and the town itself offers some great period architecture as well.  Enjoyable just to stroll around and soak it all in.

The windy road to Cachi, known as the Cuesta del Obispo. After so much desert driving it was refreshing to drive through so much green.
More views of the same road…….
……but it’s green due to rain, and that means there were lots of washouts – this one not too bad on the way ”to” Cachi
However, on the way back to Salta the same washout was worse and this car got stuck, later pulled out by a passing truck.
Some typical scenery on the route, in some areas tons of cacti.
Colonial era buildings in the quaint town of Cachi, just west of Salta
Well restored colonial building, near town square, Cachi
Taking a break in Cachi….when in the Salta area one must try a “Salta” beer !

Just beyond  Cachi, south of the small town of Seclantas was a big Overlander favourite, the “Utopia” campground run by expats Johan and Martina. We’d heard much about it, read up on it on the iOverlander app and noted the incredible reviews they had received from just about everyone who had ever visited. Rustic ? Yes. Remote and a bit challenging to access ? Certainly. Deluxe ? Absolutely not, but a unique and thoroughly enjoyable somewhat  “off grid” experience it absolutely was.  Martina’s legendary pizza ( made in a classic clay/brick oven) was divine, the stars are amazingly clear there and we happened to catch the only month that the firefly’s come out. Wandering around in the pitch black with the firefly’s out in full force was an incredible sight.  

Rustic sign to ”Utopia”
Getting to Utopia required getting through some flooded roads – made for a big mess, but worth the drive !
Johann and Martina in the Utopia kitchen
Utopia camping
Utopia, the kitchen, living area and bedroom. Seclantas has the kind of climate where you can effectively live outdoors year round.

A clay/brick oven – the ONLY way to do pizza !

The focus at Utopia is on relaxation and “chilling” so we did a couple of days of just that while being regaled with stories of Martina and Johan’s extensive travel adventures. As if to reinforce the “relaxed” vibe, they even have a motto: “At Utopia, nothing is done today that can’t be done tomorrow !”. Never enjoyed “not doing much” as much as we did here !