Being in Mendoza for 4 nights, we had plenty of time to talk with people about the north of Argentina, our next destination. Luckily we met a kind man from the county of Tucuman that gave us advice, specially about the different surrounding valleys that are apparently all stunning. After having talked to him and studied our dear friend Lonely Planet, we decided to go first in Tucuman, the capital of the county, then Tafi del valle, Amaicha del valle, Cafayate and Salta !
First stop Tucuman
Tucuman is a small and active city where we started to feel the real Argentinian atmosphere. There are less tourists, local people are extremely friendly and the food even more delicious than in Mendoza.
They have those typical restaurants where meat is only served. It was the dream place for Juan as he was missing eating some good meat. For me, Argentina is, unfortunately, the opposite of a dream place as they have no idea of what is hummus, tofu, falafel or other good vegetarian dishes. At least I can taste different salad buffets and the papas fritas while Juan is eating his steak. I can also eat their local dish “the Humitas”, made out of corn and vegetables. Thankfully, many hostels have kitchen and we can then prepare our own food and cook some good home made vegetarian pizzas, pumpkin soup, lentils and more 🙂
We visited in 1 day the cute city that has a beautiful church and good restaurants. Unfortunately, we got there on a Sunday. Argentina is like Switzerland on Sundays, no life on the streets and everything is closed. We did enjoy though the cultural center as well as the main plaza.
Around Tucuman a nice ride can be made to San Rafael or the El Cadillal to see a waterfalls, lakes and walk on the cerro (small mountain) to admire the view.
Our Hostel, La Guarda, 150 pesos the bed in dorm, very clean and well centered.
We then headed to our next stop: Tafi del Valle
Tafi is 2 hours away from Tucuman. The ride up in the Calchaquies Valle gives an amazing scenery going through zigzags roads with rivers and waterfalls on the sides, just the bus ride itself is beautiful. The village is also cute with tons of little shops selling local art craft and home made jam and other productions.
The highlight of our short stay in this valley has been the view all around. We climbed up the cerro de la Cruz (small mountain – 1,5 hours walk) going through rivers, huge cactus and fields with horses everywhere. Once on top, we could finally admire the beautiful wide valley. It is like in postal cards where the colors are radiant and difficult to say if it is real or painted.
Our hostel the Nomade was ok. It was more joining a big family than anything else. We had dinner all together with other travelers from Argentina, Spain and Germany. The atmosphere was great. We actually met couple of people again on the way which makes the trip even nicer :-).
Next stop Amaicha del valle
The tourism office of Tucuman advised us to pass by Amaicha as there is apparently a lot to see all around. Mmh not sure that is 100% true as the area is very small and the village, pretty deserted. Maybe the entire county of Tucuman make sure to send people in each valleys to promote the tourism and encourage the economy ? We don’t know but 1 night in Amaicha was good enough!
2 things to do:
– the waterfall nearby that we didn’t do as it was a rainy day
– the ruins of Quilmes that we did and was the best of the stay, it was finally worth the detour.
Village of Quilmes and the ruins
We fortunately got an amazing guide that gave us a lot of information about, not only the history of the ruins and Indians, but also about the culture of the area including “the “Pachamama”, which coincides with carnival and is due to celebrate the Mother Earth with ancestral rituals.
The ruins gave us also a good picture of what the past was like when the Indians were occupying the lands, their society and way of living was different. They used to work with the environment, the moon and the sun. They had a huge respect towards the nature.
Sadly, in 1667, the Spanish came to conquer the territory killing women and kids and slaving the men. They were afterwards sent to Buenos Aires. Thousands of people died on the way (walking!) and only few people stayed in the area of Amaicha. Those few people left could transmit their ancestral knowledge to the next generation. Our guide was part of it, we could really feel the emotions and passion for his land during the tour.
After that we went back to our hostel El Amancay that was ok too. The quality of service and comfort of those small hostels in town are not that high. Luckily we ended up being with 4 Argentinian tourists that were very friendly. We learned and made home made pizza all together, talking all evening around wine and beers. Great time!
Next stop Cafayate (said Ca-Fa-Cha-Téé)
The famous road 40 gets then lost into the valley in direction of Cafayate. Only after 1 hour bus ride we got into the small town. We noticed that every where we went in Argentina (at least in the north) every village have their plaza. So after a while, it is quite easy to get around the town as every cafes and social activities are centered around the plaza.
During our visit in the plaza, We saw our 2 dear Argentinian couples that offered us to join them for a trip around town the day after.
There are actually 3 main things to see around Cafayate :
– the Quebrada de la Concha
– the 7 waterfalls
– the surrounding Bodegas and Wineyards
We honestly didn’t do much during our time in town as first the tours were insanely expensive and secondly we needed to organize some aspects for the next part of the trip (Bolivia), update the blog, laundry, emails, calls and so one. So we kind of relaxed a bit there for 2 nights but took the time to visit different restaurants and bars to taste their good wine and beers! 🙂 The famous beer is the “me echo la burra” which is a strong beer but good and tasty.
To accompany the wine, the Empanadas are the best ! There were really the best we ever had and we would highly recommend to pass by La Casa de las Empanadas while in Cafayate. Usually being in a small restaurant, a live band would play and sing some traditional songs. We also had ice cream made out of wine (very special) and good time walking in the colorful streets of the town.
Regarding the hostel we stayed in, it was really good, called Rusty-K. The double room was at 300 pesos with share bathroom.
The day after making our way to Salta, we could finally see the amazing Quebrada de la Concha. The valley is divided into many small hills and rock going from red to orange, brown to grey mixing with the green of the forest and cactus, impressive! The trip to Salta was simply stunning.
Last stop, the beautiful city of Salta
The region of Salta is famous for its colorful mountains all around and small villages such Humahuaca, Jujuy and the Salar de Arizaro hat can be visited with a rental car. Very unluckily for us, all rental car agencies were closed on Saturday or didn’t have cars available for us for Sunday. Too bad as it is the highlight of Salta. 🙁 Maybe was it a sign for us not to rent a car ?
In the meantime, we had time to visit the city of Salta and its cerro. We could either climb it or take a funicular to go on top which we did. To our surprise the funiculars were made in Olten, Switzerland 🙂
The cerro gives an amazing overview of the valley and the city of Salta. Salta was a cute place to visit with many colorful churches, a lively districts full of bars and restaurants as well as feria (local market) to shop around or taste local products, “le top”!
Even though we didn’t get to visit around, we got a taste of region on the bus going to Bolivia. We stoped by small villages such El barrio de San Pedrito, Tilcara, Humahuaca, we could finally see the famous colorful mountains and the immensity of the deserted area full of lamas, sheeps and cactus!
This is, unfortunately, our last stop in north Argentina. We can for sure say that we loved it here ! Between the welcoming people, beautiful nature, empanadas, liquors, tasty wine and delicious local productions, we could definitively stay longer in this great region of Argentina.
Hasta luego querida Argentina, see you in Bolivia for a 4 days adventure in the south and the famous Salar de Uyuni !:-)