The 20-hour bus ride northwards, from Mendoza to Cafayate, was one of my favourites so far. The ride saw us passing through the narrow gorge of the Rio de los Sosas, where we were surrounded by lush green subtropical forest as we drove up and up the twisted mountain roads. The mist clinging to the treetops looked eerie and added to the atmosphere on this strange stretch of road.
As we started our descent from the mountains, the landscape changed and we found ourselves in the Tafi Valley, so beautiful we wish we’d have stopped here for a few nights.
Then driving out of the valleys, suddenly all we could see for miles was desert, cacti and small dusty shacks. This was my favourite part of the drive, at times the road just vanished in the distant desert.
We knew we were close to Cafayate when we started to see the vineyards. The random cacti growing up through the vines is one thing I never thought I’d see.
The town of Cafayate is a picture perfect pueblo surrounded by mountains. The few days we spent in Cafayate we visited the famous colourful canyons and mountains outside of town, drunk amazing wine, ate Argentina’s best empanadas and just wandered around town.
Walking around town, it felt like we’d stepped back in time, with the dusty roads, old cars and beautiful old signage. It was also the first place we’ve been where the whole town shut down for siesta and became a ghost town.
Is Cafayate the best wine in Argentina? It just might be..
Cafayate wine is unique in that it grows in desert conditions in mostly sandy dirt. Torrontes, a fresh aromatic white wine, is the jewel in its crown. Cafayate wine wasn’t unfamiliar to us, as it was a favourite during our stay in Buenos Aires. Torrentes is the perfect wine for the hot and humid summer afternoons (although the reds from Cafayate are also mighty fine).
We only made it to one bodega while in town, as we were still feeling a bit pickled after Mendoza. Bodega Nanni was the winery we choose to visit because it was a small organic winery, and also because it was based in town. Win-win. Our tastings were around $2 each and the wine was some of the best we’d tried in our time in Argentina – the winner being their Torrontes, which was stunning, although the Tannat wasn’t far behind.
To keep in the wine theme, we followed our tasting with a trip to the local Museo de Vino (wine museum), which is officially one of the most bizarre and surreal museums we’ve ever been too. The displays explaining the process and history of wine in Cafayate are in both Spanish and English, but are also all in poetry with an accompanying soundtrack (I don’t even have the words to describe), being played at high volume as you walk around. The poetry actually wasn’t that bad, but I’m not sure it was needed throughout the whole museum. It’s worth a visit but we recommend if you go, have a few glasses of wine first.
Argentina’s Best Empanadas
If you have been reading this blog, you’ll know that I love empanadas. Not the healthiest treat but so tasty. Before coming to Cafayate we’d read that La Casa de las Empanadas had the best empanadas in Argentina, and after our many visits we wholeheartedly agree. There was 12 (thats right 12!) flavours to choose from, not just the standard options of meat, chicken and cheese. Some of the ingredients on offer included blue cheese, goats cheese, olives and even vegetables (what are they again?).
We ate here four times overall as not only were they the best empanadas of the trip so far, but they were also very reasonably priced. For around $7 you could get a dozen empanadas of your choice (or one of each!), or for $10 you get the dozen empanadas and ½ litre of wine – the perfect dinner for two.
Cafayate or Mendoza?
Cafayate is a town with the same attractions as Mendoza – wine and surrounding natural beauty, on a smaller and more local scale. For us, Cafayate was our favourite. It’s a town with a lot of heart and soul. We were only sorry we couldn’t stay longer.
When we visited: 3 nights mid May 2014.
How to get to Cafayate: We took an overnight but bus from Mendoza (with a change in Tucuman). 20 hour trip in total.
Food & Drink recommendations for Cafayate: House of Empanadas! See above for info.
Where to stay in Cafayate: We stayed at Hostel Rusti K. Our accommodation on the whole in South America has been fine – comfortable and clean but nothing to rave about. That is until we arrived at Hostel Rusti K! We had a private room that was nice, but it was the vine-covered garden area that won us over. A beautiful hostel.