When I was doing research on what to do in Mendoza, I came across a number of websites that claimed Cafayate was a better wine region than Mendoza. Since our trip at this point was fluid, I put this in the back of my mind to reference for later. Once we decided that we wanted to venture up to Salta, Cafayate became a must see city on our list as it was a quick 3 hour bus ride.
When we arrived in the city we were impressed and knew that we were going to like it a lot. There were not too many cars around and the city was very easily walkable due to the small size.
The main reason that we wanted to go to Cafayate was to visit the wineries. We were excited how close the wineries were to the town. When we were in Mendoza we did a wine tour bus and while it was fun, we were excited to move at our own pace and have some more independence.
There are a few wineries that are located in the city. While their vines are located outside of town, you are still able to taste the wines and in some cases see where the wines are made.
Since we hadn’t quite worked out the logistics of how to get around to all of the wineries in the area, we decided to start with the wineries that were within walking distance first.
Bodega El Transito
When we arrived in the Bodega El Transito tasting room, we realized that neither of the 2 women that were working spoke a word of English. We communicated with them that we wanted to do a wine tasting and they asked us what wines. We didn’t really know how many wines we were able to try and what the cost was.
We selected 3 wines – a white, a red and a red blend. Each pour that we received was quite small and we didn’t get any description about the wines, even in Spanish. Even though we didn’t like the wine much, we quickly finished it. When we were done we sat there for a minute awkwardly before asking how much it cost.
We were told that the wine tasting was free. While typically one would purchase a bottle of wine after a free tasting, the wine was not good so we left. The whole experience was terribly awkward but I feel better knowing that I’ll likely never again see either of those women in my life.
When we arrived to Bodega Nanni we told the woman that we wanted to do a wine tasting. She charged us the 30 peso or $2 fee for 4 wines and told us to take a seat outside. We thought that the wines would be served outside but we were wrong.
Before we were able to try any wine we had to go on a tour which was only in Spanish. We walked around, trying to understand what was being said, but really just wanted to get to the wine tasting. After a few people on the tour asked questions which took forever to answer, we went back to the winery to begin our tasting. The wines were better than Bodega El Transito but still not our favorites. We thanked the woman and headed out without purchasing any wine.
As part of our tasting, we received a 5% discount at the on-site restaurant. We weren’t sure if we were going to return but held on to it. When we were on TripAdvisor looking for places to eat that evening, we realized that Retono, the on-site restaurant was one of the highest rated restaurants in town.
We headed over to have a dinner as the prices seemed reasonable and we had our 5% discount coupon. After looking at the menu, Andy and I both decided to get the steak with a Malbec wine sauce served with a side of quinoa and vegetables for 165 pesos or $12. Since it wouldn’t be dinner at a winery without some wine, we purchased a small bottle of Malbec.
Why we didn’t take a picture of our steak when it arrived I am not sure. It was massive (about the side of my fist) and cooked absolutely perfectly. Andy didn’t love the Malbec sauce but thoroughly enjoyed his steak as well.
After we were finished eating, I noticed a cat walk by outside. Andy called it over and about 30 seconds later, the cat was up on his lap. Since our cat Gingerbread isn’t much of a lap cat, he really enjoyed the affection. Andy was really sad when we left as the cat was upset that we left him on the cold floor.
This was the best meal that we had during our time in Cafayate. We tried to make reservations here on New Year’s Eve, but sadly they were closed.
On the first day, we visited wineries that were within walking distance. There were other wineries a short distance from town that we wanted to visit as well. Renting a car was out of the question as 100% of the rental cars in the area had been booked. We toyed with the idea of getting a taxi from one winery to the other but thought that it would take a while to get a taxi to come and didn’t know what it would cost.
Andy then came up with the idea to rent bikes and ride to the wineries. My bike ride in Banos was the last time that I was on a bike and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I decided that I would give it a try because Andy really wanted to do it and I knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of traffic.
Biking to the Wineries
We rented bikes at a tourist agency in town for 100 pesos or $7 each for the day. The bikes were a little rough and there were no helmets, but I wasn’t surprised by either of those facts.
Andy had mapped out our ride, suggesting that we start at the furthest winery, then work our way back to town. It was only 10 kilometers or a little over 6 miles to the furthest point so I figured it wouldn’t be that hard. We hopped on our bikes and headed to the wineries.
The ride started out easy as we were on flat, paved roads. Even though they were some of the more main roads in town, there weren’t too many cars around. When cars passed us, they gave us a lot of distance and went around us slowly which I appreciated greatly.
Once we made a turn to the dirt road that would take us to the wineries, our ride took a turn. The road that we were riding on was a dirt road, but not a flat dirt road like we have in the US, it was a sandy dirt road with large rocks in it.
To make matters worse, the entire ride to the furthest winery was uphill on the dirt road. The sun was beating down on us and the 90 degree weather felt much hotter as there was no wind and no shade during our entire ride. Since it was so hot, we went through a lot of water on our ride. Fortunately we had accounted for this and brought our backpacks which had 3.5 liters of water in them, all of which was gone by the time that we returned to town.
Part way up the hill I took off my backpack to cool down. The back of my shirt was completely soaked and I’m pretty sure that I had never had a more sweaty back in my entire life. Since we weren’t 100% sure if the winery that we were headed to was open, Andy told me to walk my bike instead of ride which would help me cool down. He then headed up the hill to make sure that the winery was open.
I was happy when I reconnected with Andy since the winery that we wanted to visit was open. I had cooled down a bit and decided that I was ready to get back on my bike and ride the rest of the way up.
All and all, even though the trip was extremely hot, I did have a good time biking to the wineries. I unfortunately did have a wipeout on the bike, not wine related I must add. As we left the first winery, my tire hooked a rock when I was making a turn. Since the driveway was the same sandy, rocky material as the road, I wasn’t able to catch my balance, fishtailing before falling to the ground. I’m just happy that the fall was on a driveway when we were going very slow. I think it is funny that Andy was filming us riding our bikes at the exact time that I fell since he was able to capture the entire moment on film. We joked that we need to make it into a slow motion video with a dramatic “NOOO” voiceover.
I was a little bit embarrassed when we arrived at Domingo Molina as I was super sweaty and my face was bright red. There was no reason for concern though, the lady at the winery welcomed us warmly and spoke perfect English. She told us to relax in the shade with some water and to let her know when we were ready to begin tasting.
Since the winery is located at the top of a hill, there were amazing views of the valley below. It also allowed us to see just how far we had ridden to get there. After a few minutes of relaxing, we told her that we were ready. Our tasting fee was 70 pesos or $5 per person and included 4 wines as well as some crackers and cheese. I could not have been happier about the cheese and crackers since it was getting close to lunch time and all the riding had made me hungry.
For each of our 4 wines, there were 2 different selections that we could choose from. Typically they were the same varietal of wine, one which was young and one which was aged. Andy and I decided that we would get different wines than the other. That way, we would be able to try all 8 wines that the winery served.
The wine that we tried here was the best that we had in Cafayate. I’m not sure if the wine tasted extra good because we had just biked the whole way there or if it was really that much better than the other wineries.
When we were ready to leave, we had a hard time deciding on what wine to purchase. We decided on a red blend which was 99 pesos or $7. When we were told that the tasting fee is waived when a purchase is made, we decided to buy a bottle of the Torrontes for 73 pesos or $5.25. This bottle was essentially free as we would have paid 70 pesos for the tasting fee alone.
The ride to Bodega Piattelli was much easier as it was all downhill. That didn’t stop me from white knuckling the entire way as I was terrified that I would fall again.
This was by far the fanciest winery that we visited during our time in Cafayate. We weren’t quite as sweaty as we were when we arrived at the first winery, but we were still not looking amazing. After we parked our bikes I headed to the bathroom where I splashed a little water on my face, wiped the sweat off my body and combed my hair.
We had arrived just in time for an English speaking tour which was great. We paid 80 pesos or $5.75 each which included the tour and 8 wine tastings. During the tour we learned the the owners are American and the winery is relatively new. The winery has vines in both Cafayate and Mendoza. The tour was about 30 minutes long and afterwards we sat down in a well decorated tasting room to try the wines.
My favorite part of the tasting was being able to taste the same varietal of wines that were grown in Cafayate and compare them with the same grape that was grown in Mendoza. I didn’t think that there would be such a difference in taste. Pretty much right when the tasting was over we were ushered out of the room. I thought it was a little abrupt, but they had to set the tables for the next tour so I understood.
The winery was hosting a New Year’s Eve dinner with a 5 course meal and wine pairings as well as live music and fireworks at midnight for 850 pesos or $61 per person. We discussed doing dinner at Bodega Piattelli since the dining choices in the city were not amazing and our top choice was closed. Ultimately, we decided against it for a number of reasons. Getting to and from the winery would be challenging, the price was pretty steep, we didn’t love the wines and we would miss watching the MSU vs. Alabama Cotton Bowl game.
Bodega El Esteco
Our last winery of the day was Bodega El Esteco. When we rolled up on our bikes, the security guard told us that there was not a tour for a while. We asked him if it was possible to just do a wine tasting and he let us through.
The ride through the vineyards up to the building was really beautiful. We stopped a few times during our ride to take pictures. Once we got to the winery we parked our bikes and headed in. We could immediately tell that it was a family run winery – a mother, father and daughter all working the tasting room. The father and daughter heard our English and we were happy when they started conversing with us in English.
The tastings here were more expensive than other wineries but the pours were more generous as well. For 155 pesos or $11 we got to try 4 different wines. These were not small pours like other wineries, we were served ⅓ of a glass which was really nice.
We decided to try a total of 8 different wines, 4 each which we shared. There was a nice table outside and it was the perfect temperature for relaxing with some wine. As the wines came out we were happy with them. They weren’t quite as good as Domingo Molina but they were better than Bodega Piattelli.
This was the only winery that we visited which made sparkling wine. While it wasn’t an option on their tasting menu, we purchased a bottle anyway since we knew we wanted to buy a bottle of local sparkling wine to ring in the New Year.
Quebrada de las Conchas Tour
We were told that the road from Salta to Cafayate is one of the most beautiful rides in all of Argentina. Going into Cafayate we were able to see the beauty from the window of our bus, sadly we were not able to stop along the way but knew that it was something that we wanted to do in Cafayate.
On our return bus ride to Salta we were lucky enough to have the front seat on the upper deck of the bus. We set up our GoPro and created a timelapse so everyone could see what the ride was like.
Our ideal situation to see the area would have been to book a car and go at our own speed. Since there were no cars available we had to come up with a different option. When we walked through town we saw that every travel agency offered their own version of the Quebrada de las Conchas Tour. We decided to book with iPuna as the guy seemed honest, the price of 200 pesos or $14.50 was less expensive than other agencies and they had a morning tour like we wanted. Our tour consisted of a 47 kilometer or 29 mile ride from town, stopping at 10 sites along the way.
We went down to the tour office at 8am to be picked up and at 8:10 the van arrived with a father and son already in the van. After we were picked up we headed to the road. It was very nice that the tour was small, only the 4 of us. We knew that the fewer people that are on a tour, the easier it is to stay on schedule.
When we were on the bus talking, we realized that the son spoke pretty good English. Since the guide spoke no English at all, it was nice to have someone who was able to translate things for us.
As we were on the tour, we were surprised that there was as much hiking as there was. For some reason we thought it would be more like our Torres del Paine full day tour where we got out of the van, took some pictures and took off to the next stop. Even though the tour had a lot of stops and wasn’t overly long, we never once felt rushed. We both really appreciated this since there is nothing worse than feeling rushed. In fact, feeling rushed or not getting to spend enough time where we want to spend it is one of the reasons that we typically organize our own tours instead of booking organized tours.
When we arrived at La Punilla we were told that we had 30 minutes to walk around. Since we couldn’t understand the guide, we went off on our own to explore and take some photos.
As we walked around, we kept talking about how the scenery looked just like Sedona Arizona. There were red rocks everywhere as well as some interesting rock formations. While it was pretty, it wasn’t our favorite stop on the trip and I personally think we spent too much time there.
We were very happy that we had the son to translate for us on the second stop. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and let us out to take pictures, he then started to drive away. I was a little nervous since my backpack was in the van and not sure what was going on. The son told us that the driver was just going around the corner and would meet us.
The main attraction at this stop were the naturally formed towers of rock. They looked pretty unique and the scale was quite grand. After a short walk and some pictures we were back in the van.
Our next stop was las ventanas which is Spanish for the windows. Parts of the rock had eroded away and formed holes which looked like windows.
Similar to our first stop, our driver dropped us off to take pictures and met us down the road. He gave the son directions to go down to a riverbed to take some some pictures before going back to the road. To make me feel more comfortable, I took my backpack during this stop so all of my money and other belongings were not separated from me.
I think that this stop would have been more interesting if the windows were at a level that you could get pictures taken in them. They were all high and you were not allowed to climb the rocks.
This was a quick 5 minute stop. El obelisco was a nature tall structure which was made out of a sandy, rocky mixture which reminded us of the badlands of South Dakota. The obelisco was blocked off so people did not climb on it as it would surely get destroyed.
It was not an overly interesting stop, but a good place to take some quick photos.
It wouldn’t be a tour without a stop to buy stuff. We had about 10 minutes at a stop where we could purchase food, drinks or souvenirs. There were also a number of animals around including alpacas, goats, parrots, dogs and cats.
While Andy went off to take some pictures of the landscape I saw a cat. I befriended it and realized shortly after that the cat was a mother and her tiny kitten was nearby. Andy came back and spent some time with me and the cats before we had to get back into the van.
This was my favorite stop on the tour. We parked off the road and hiked about 5 minutes until we reached rocks which had stripes of color caused by the minerals. It reminded us of Serranias del Hornocal on a much smaller scale.
There were 2 different places to explore. The first area had brighter colors but was smaller in scale. The second area was larger but did not have as intense of colors – mostly just green and yellow. Both of the areas had naturally carved paths that you could walk through.
Surprisingly there was nobody else around when we were at this stop. We took full advantage of this, setting up our tripod to take a lot of pictures. Later on our tour we ran into tour groups at some of the other less interesting stops. It made me happy that this area was a hidden gem that isn’t visited by everyone.
This was our quickest stop of the day. There was a sand and rock material which was shaped somewhat like a frog. I saw enough from the van and didn’t even get out. Andy hopped out and took a quick pictures before returning to the van.
This stop involved a viewpoint which was reached by a hike. We were told by our driver to climb a hill near some local homes. We hiked around 10 minutes before we reached the top of the hill.
Once we were there we had 360 views of the area. It was windy but we got some pictures before returning back to the van.
This was the first stop that we made which had a ton of other tourists around. We walked up a path which was very tourist friendly – complete with stairs and a railing to a viewpoint.
The view was of a green valley with tall red rock formations around it. It was a nice but with all the people around it was hard to get a good shot. Andy was particularly annoyed by a couple who had climbed out past where they should have gone since he had people in the panoramic shot that he took. We tried to wait them out but they showed no signs of leaving anytime soon.
The anfitreato is Spanish for amphitheater. This was one of the stops that we were looking forward to as it seemed really unique – a naturally created cove which had perfect acoustics.
Unfortunately it wasn’t as exciting as we thought it would be since the lighting was bad for photos and there were a ton of people around. There was a guy playing a guitar for tips which I understood but what I didn’t understand was a woman who was visiting the area who was dancing to the music as she felt it. People were impressed by it but we were just thought she was kind of a weirdo.
There are musical performances at the amphitheater several times a year. I think that going to one of those shows would be pretty cool, especially since they are free.
Garganta del Diablo
One of the top attractions in Cafayate was Garganta del Diablo which is Spanish for the throat of the devil. We were both looking forward to this stop as the pictures that we saw looked pretty cool and unique.
When we arrived we realized that similar to the amphitheater, the sun was in the wrong spot to take pictures. We were surprised that the canyon part was blocked off so people couldn’t climb in it. We took a few pictures but were not as impressed by it as we thought that we would be.
After we completed this stop, our tour was finished and we headed 29 miles back to town.
Dining in Cafayate
Our biggest complaint about Cafayate was that the restaurants in the area were a little lacking. The prices were tourist prices and all of the restaurants served the exact same fare – pizza, empanadas, pasta and milanese (fried chicken cutlets).
After a lot of digging, we were able to find a few restaurants that had different food. We had an amazing dinner at the Bodega Nanni winery, one of the best cooked pieces of steak that I have ever had. We also found a restaurant on the square which served a pretty good salad, albeit at a hefty price tag.
We had a really good time in Cafayate. There was a lot of things to see in the area and the prices of everything were reasonable, at least when you factor in that it is Argentina, a country which has been on the expensive side.
Originally we planned to visit Cafayate to visit the wineries, but once we were there we realized that there was a lot of natural beauty to see was well. It made for a busy, but fun 3 days. We did find time to relax though – instead of going all out for New Year’s Eve, we sat on the balcony of our hostel and sipped some sparkling wine. It wasn’t the most exciting New Year’s Eve that we have had, but we were really able to appreciate just how lucky we are to be on this trip.
I would absolutely recommend anyone looking to get away from the major cities of Argentina to make a stop in Cafayate. There is a lot to see and do, plus the prices in general are reasonable. My only word of advice is to go in with at least a basic knowledge of Spanish as we didn’t run into too many people who spoke English.