Cafayate Argentina

Posted By Brie Austin In Category: In Search Of , Travel

Cafayate Argentina was exactly what I was looking for. From the moment we stepped off the bus into the remote village in the northwest province of Salta Argentina, the tranquility was undeniable. Which doesn’t mean is was necessarily quiet: we were barraged by people handing out flyers for local hotels and excursions.

KenaI had no expectations. I had read nothing about the place before arrival, and therefore  experienced it much like a newborn entering a strange new world.

It was midday; the bus ride from Salta took four hours. A short walk from the bus depot and we arrived in the town square. It was a sleepy place, where donkeys roamed the square at night; the only nightlife occurred in a small make-shift cantina with a guitar player in the corner, and an attendant serving up beers from the small refrigerator in the corner.

It was more like a coffee house from the hippie 60s, a friendly vibe with everyone chilling to the music.


There were two restaurants and a sandwich place scattered around the square. After lunch, we started our search to find a hotel. The popular spot for backpackers and travelers was El Balcon, located just one block from the town square.

We weren’t in a hurry and strolled along and then turned onto Calle Salta, a few blocks from the square, where we came across Hotel Vieja Posada.

It was a hacienda-styled hostel, with three wings all facing the middle court. The bunk beds were on cement floors; the bathroom was in disarray — the shower couldn’t even be called a shower: it provided barely a thin trickle of water that turned freezing cold within minutes. I loved it — it had character; simply bathing in the morning was an adventure. After all, we were travelers, not tourists. Its all about the experience, not creature comforts. And for $3 a night we could endure anything.

Most all the excursions for the surrounding area were run by the brothers of the El Balcon, and there were plenty to choose from.

Our hikefirst choice was a day-long hiking tour; we were driven to various locations via van, where we’d debark and roam, reload into the van and then continue on to the next hiking location.

The natural landscapes hidden just out of sight of the main road. Colored rock formations were quite striking. In some places there were cuts in the rocks and the guide showed us the age of the formations by the amount of colored rings.

There was a green tree with no leaves. Being that there was not enough water to maintain leaves in the desert, the tree adapted to photosynthesize the sun through the bark, hence its color. Nature has an amazing ability to adapt.

Day two we opted for a two-hour climb up a nearby mountain. The top featured a twenty-foot water fall at the summit. The hike was not as rigorous as it was dangerous; there were some difficult passages with no safety precautions.

We ran into other hikers from France and Argentina near the top, and traveled together to the summit.

There was a natural pool just below the water fall. It was inviting; we’d worked up a sweat during the climb. But I’ve camped out more than enough times to know about natural pools.

Cold isn’t the word (just go to the linked photo gallery and look at the expressions on my compatriots faces)!

The hike down was a snap. Our guide recommended a place for dinner, and the lot of us — plus a Swede named Nik that I met shortly before — met up there. We ordered Locro (a regional dish of the Andes), empanadas, and white wine — bottles and bottles of it. We ate, drank and laughed the night away.  The bill totaled US$5 a piece.

Day three we took the winery tour: there are many wineries to visit, though I’d recommend Echart; it provided interesting history, showed the process, how to distinguish the grades, and allowed us to wittiness the packing process– by hand.

The last time I had been horseback riding was on a family visit to Colorado with my brother, sister and our respective families. It was not exactly the open range experience I’d hoped for; they put us all on pack horses that pretty much walked behind one another on a trail they had likely walked thousands of times.

I thought I could do better here. No doubt the $20 I paid was way overpriced, with my intermediary pocketing most of it. But it was well worth it. The horse was a well-spirited; it was ParaguayanMe

My guides, a brother and sister, ages 14 and 16, were terrific. They let me ride freely and we’d stop from time to time so that they could show me some of the local culture, like the grist mill that made the towns bread.

The sheer quietness of the place engulfed me. It was splendid.

Kena, Al and I had all decided to leave that day at 4pm, but I was having second thoughts.

As the time ticked away and day was fading, the guides decided that we’d ride directly to the hostel, and then they’d lead my horse back to the ranch — rather than me going to the ranch and requiring a ride by truck back to the hostel.

cabagataEverything was going along smoothly, until we hit the entrance of town. As we trotted, clip-clopping along the now paved road, three across like a scene from the movie the Three Amigos, dogs began to gather. They were clearly agitated as they began barking. Kids and adults alike were coming out of their homes to see what all the commotion was about  Then the dogs began took chase and increased their bark.

They made quite a racket actually; I’d never seen dogs so upset with the presence of horses.

When I arrived at the Hostel Kena told me “You missed the excitement.  All the dogs in the square suddenly raced together — like a wild pack — in one direction barking!

Not only did I not miss it, I explained, but that the  the dogs were actually confronting our horses, that we were the object of the commotion. All she could do was laugh. “You wanted a riding experience!”

I ended up saying goodbye as Al and Kena left en route to Buenos Aires. I elected to stay four more days and savor the quiet and tranquility of the Cafayate desert, and went riding several times more.

It’s a charming spot, but rustic; a very simple life for most who live there. The only noticeable connection to the modern world was the internet cafe.

See the photo gallery here

Read about our time in Salta and Jujuy days before coming here >>


About Brie Austin

Co-author of I'd Do It Again, he is a columnist/reporter for a variety of magazines in the areas of music, lifestyle, nightlife, travel and business. He also writes business documents and creates copy for websites.

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  • […] example, when I was backpacking in the northern province of Argentina in Salta by bus, I learned at a transfer stop that not every rest area had fully stocked toilet supplies: […]

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