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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !