Salta is nicknamed “la linda,” or “the pretty” and it’s no surprise why. Completely different from Buenos Aires, it’s a small city with a colonial feel in the center, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a colonial gem, as other people marketing the area do. With an attractive center and main plaza (Plaza 9 de Julio), you can easily run through the main central streets in just an hour or so, including the pedestrian streets of Florida and Balcarce, which also houses the bar and club district up by the old train station.
So even though Salta is a small city, it serves as a good base for exploring the Province of Salta, which is the real attraction. A plan I had was to visit the town of Cafayate, which is northwest Argentina’s wine country, and then move on to the tiny village of Cachi where there wasn’t much to see, save for the incredible scenery and a chance to slow down and relax. Both towns lay on opposite ends of spectacular ravines and mountain passes, creating wonderful rides in which take 3-5 hours respectively because of all the twists and turns.
However, it’s nearly impossible to get to Cachi from Cafayate unless you have your own car or hire a private taxi, which is pretty expensive unless you can share the cost with other travelers. Thus, I headed to Cafayate to play the odds and see what I could do, waking up before dawn after one night in the city of Salta. The beginning part of the ride was nothing special—passing through vineyards and small towns where the bus stopped at nearly every corner, until we reached the Quebrada de las Conchas. This valley of red rocks and valleys had scenery like something out of Mars, with towering cliffs reaching over the road.
Soon we were in Cafayate and after finding a cheap hostel, ran over to three consecutive wineries for some cheap or free samples and chowed down on some empanadas salteñas. The friendly woman selling them on the corner told me her story and warned me to go back to the U.S., saying Argentina was nice but just to visit. By 2 pm I was back at the hostel to start a tour of the Quebrada de las Conchas, and though the guide was just so-so, the scenery was excellent. We walked through some of the caves and into the giant, extinct waters falls now dubbed “Garganta del Diablo” and “El Anfiteatro”, which is a place where music is performed every year.
The next day it was back to Salta, after realizing that there was no way I could get to Cachi, and the following day I geared up for a tour of Cachi and the Calchaquíes Valley. With a full day in a small bus filled with mostly older Argentines, we headed up the Cuesta del Obispo, a narrow mountain pass with over 150 switchbacks. I was looking forward to this ride for a long time, but to be honest, after everything I’d seen on the two week trip, it wasn’t the most dramatic. However, it’s still an amazing ride and I recognize that I’d been spoiled in Bolivia, so the trip is still a must.
Along the ride we stopped for lunch in Payogasta, a little hamlet with a view of the Nevado de Cachi, the snow capped mountain with the same name of the village. Once in town, we had an hour to walk around on our own, though after 10 minutes I’d covered the entire area three times. Ending the two week adventure to southwestern Bolivia and northwestern Argentina was laid back and smooth, just as it should have been after constant movement and trekking. My body was tired and my mind full of what I’d seen, but everything had gone off smoothly, and I couldn’t have asked for more. It was now a question of returning to Buenos Aires and finishing strongly with the two months remaining in my time here.