Why You Should Add Cafayate to Your Northern Argentina Itinerary
Argentina is known for its wine and it would be pretty crazy to visit without making a stop in one of its wine regions. Mendoza is perhaps the most famous and is where Malbec hails from, but just four hours south of Salta sits the lesser known but perhaps more beautiful wine region of Cafayate. A lot of people I met simply visited Cafayate on a day trip from Salta, at most staying one night. Others skipped it completely in favour of taking a flight or direct bus from Salta to Mendoza. However, having spent 5 days in Cafayate and subsequently staying in Mendoza, I really think that those people missed out. Here’s why you should make time for Cafayate and its incredible wineries when planning your travels in northern Argentina.
Visiting the Vineyards of Cafayate
Cafayate is a small town which sits right in the middle of the vineyards. So close in fact that there are bodegas in the town itself, and take a 15 minute walk from the main plaza and you’ll find yourself surrounded by vineyards. Malbec is the go-to red here, but Cafayate is actually famous for its white Torrontes, which is perfect in the heat.
In my opinion, if you’re looking for beautiful vineyards and easy access to wineries then Cafayate is your place. It’s also significantly cheaper than visiting the vineyards in Mendoza. The average price of a wine tasting and tour in Cafayate is probably about 100 Argentine Pesos (~$1.70 USD) whereas in Mendoza it’s about 300 Argentine Pesos (~$5 USD). Factor in the cost of getting to the vineyards, which is free in Cafayate as you can walk whereas in Mendoza you’ll need a bus and bicycle or to take a tour. Cafayate is the more budget option but with equally as good wines and, in my opinion, a more beautiful backdrop.
Transport was free to all the vineyards I visited in Cafayate as they were all within walking distance to town. Some were actually in town itself whilst the furthest I walked was just over 5km one way to each of Finca Las Nubes and Bodega Piattelli, and both times I managed to hitch a lift back with either a local or someone leaving the winery at the same time. Of course if you’ve hired a car in Salta then you can drive, although then can’t drink… You can also rent a bicycle, but unless you’re really keen on cycling I recommend walking as the roads to the vineyards are pretty sandy and so not easy to cycle on.
These are the wineries I visited in Cafayate.
Bodega Domingo Hermanos
Location: Just on the edge of town, 10 minutes’ walk from the main plaza.
Cost: 70 Argentine Pesos (~$1.20 USD) for a tour, tasting of 4 wines and goats cheese.
Overview: I went here twice as it was so close by, the wine was good and it was really cheap. Both times we tasted two white and two red wines, although the wines did vary slightly each time. The free goats cheese was also a very welcome surprise! Apparently they give all their leftover grapes/stalks, etc. to a local goat farm who use them to feed their goats. Unfortunately the tours are only in Spanish so the second time I asked for the tasting only. Even though it’s close to town the vineyard is right there so the setting is really nice.
Location: One block from the main plaza.
Cost: 100 Argentine Pesos (~$1.70 USD) for tour and tasting of 4 wines.
Overview: The tour was given in English and it’s a small organic winery so was quite interesting to hear. We tasted a white, a rosé and two reds and there was an option to do a more expensive tasting of more premium wines if you wished. In my opinion the wines weren’t as good as Domingo Hermanos, but still definitely worth trying.
Location: 1.9 km from the main plaza.
Cost: Tour and tasting of 4 wines was totally free!
Overview: If you’ve been drinking wine on a budget in Salta then chances are you will have tried wine from this winery. My group of friends and I were buying their Malbec for only 75 Argentine Pesos (~$1.25 USD) a bottle in the supermarket and we all agreed it was pretty good! The winery itself is huge and it’s an easy and pretty walk along the road with vineyards either side of you. The tour is only in Spanish but you can’t complain when the tasting that follows is totally free.
Finca Las Nubes
Location: 5.5km from the main plaza along a quiet sandy road.
Cost: 200 Argentine Pesos (~$3.35 USD) for tour and wine tasting.
Overview: This winery was one of my favourites. It has a large outdoor seating area with a few tables and chairs spread out over the grass, all with a beautiful view of the vineyard and mountains beyond. The setting was so nice that we decided to skip the tasting and tour and instead order a bottle of wine and cheese and charcuterie plate and just spend the afternoon sitting enjoying the view. The wine and the food was amazing! Between three people we shared the cheese and charcuterie for four and it was huge! Total cost of that and two bottles of Torrontes came to just under 600 Argentine Pesos (~$10 USD) each, and it was worth every penny for a perfect chilled afternoon in the most beautiful setting.
Location: 5km from the main square along a sandy path lined with cactus. It seems like not many people take this route as it’s a bit off the beaten track, but follow Google Maps or MapsMe and it’ll take you the right way.
Cost: 300 Argentine Pesos (~$5 USD) for tour and tasting of 8 wines.
Overview: Although this was the most expensive of all the tastings I did, the tour was in English and we did get to try 8 different wines! There is also an option to do a more expensive tasting of more premium wines, but this only allows you to taste 5 wines so unless you’re really into your wine I don’t know why you’d choose this option. All the wines we tasted were really good, and Piatelli have vineyards in Cafayate and Mendoza so it was interesting to compare wines of the same grape but from different regions. We liked our tasting of the Malbec-Tannat so much that we went to the restaurant afterwards and bought a bottle to drink right there and then. The setting was more upscale and less relaxed than Finca Las Nubes (it’s kind of like a millionaire Tuscan mansion), but the views were equally as beautiful.
Whilst we didn’t eat here, they do offer a 5 course set lunch with wine pairings for about 2000 Argentine Pesos (~$33.50 USD). This and the rest of their menu looked really good and actually not bad value for money given how picturesque the patio area and the surrounding view is. You do need to book in advance if you’re planning on eating here though.
Other Things to Do in Cafayate
Although Cafayate is undoubtedly all about the wine, there are a few other things to do here if you need a break from constant wine drinking!
Visit the Goat Cheese Farm
Remember I said above about Domingo Hermanos giving their leftover grapes to a goat farm, well it’s called Cafayate Goats S.A and you can actually visit it. It’s a 2.3 km walk from the main plaza but worth it because, as well as seeing all the goats, you also get a free tasting of 6 different cheeses.
Cycle to Quebrada de las Conchas
50 km outside of Salta lies the Quebrada de las Conchas, a variety of rock formations set along Route 68. Hire a bicycle in town for 500 Argentine Pesos (~$8.40 USD) and then take the bus to Garganta del Diablo Salta. From here you get off and cycle the 49km back to town, stopping along the way to walk to some of the various rock formations such as the Amphitheatre.
I didn’t do this, given 1. my bus from Salta had driven along this road so I’d already seen the views from the road, and 2. cycling 49km in the hot weather didn’t sound that fun to me, but if you like cycling then this is a good option to do something active and the views are amazing.
Where to Stay
I stayed at Hostel Ruta 40 and would recommend it. The staff are super helpful, they have a nice little central patio area, serve a good breakfast and are only 350 Argentine Pesos (~$5.90 USD) a night.
Where to Eat
La Casa de las Empanadas does the best empanadas, with flavours including blue cheese, tomato and garlic, and goats cheese with vegetables. If you’re after asado, Parrillada El Gallito is the place to go. With plastic tables and chairs on the street it’s nothing fancy, but it has so far provided me with my best steak in Argentina, and that is no easy feat!
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