The New York Times travel section raved about Mendoza on Sunday, calling it “Argentina’s Napa Valley.”
If you’re like me and regularly drink South American wine, then you’ve probably heard about this city. Nestled in the mountainous plains of western Argentina, Mendoza has long been considered one of the region’s premiere wine destinations.
Over the years Mendoza has established itself firmly on the tourist trail– and with articles like this, it will remain there for the foreseeable future.
However, on my last visit to the region, I found Mendoza to be a crowded, overpriced, dusty city that seemed to be suffering from its own explosive popularity.
If you are looking for something a little smaller and less touristy, or if you prefer a more personal experience, try Cafayate. Known as Argentina’s other wine country, Cafayate is a small town in the less-traveled Salta province.
Road trip highlights
My fiancée and I explored Cafayate last year in a rental car. As independent travelers, we were able to stop at roadside attractions and move at our own pace. The following photos show the highlights of our road trip.
The road into Cafayate from the south was a dramatic one-lane highway through a dry desert with rolling hills.
We stopped at the Quilmes ruins, several hours south of Cafayate. The ruins are all that remain of a fortified city built by the Quilmes Indians to defend against the Incas in the 15th century, and later against the Spanish settlers.
Of the three wine tastings we enjoyed in Cafayate, Nanni Bodega was our favorite. For $1.25US we got a full tour and a sample of 5 wines (2 white, 3 red), including the region’s famous Torrontes white.
Also worth visiting are El Transito Bodega and Salvador Figueroa Bodega, both of which offer free tours and tastings. Each bodega has its own character.
El Transito provides a tasting in their upscale show room, while the Salvador Figueroa winery, a small family operation, includes a visit to their working lab. A member of Salvador Figueroa staff showed us a manual wine press. He explained that the machine must be cranked nonstop for several consecutive days during the harvesting season.
Stray dogs were a common site in Cafayate and throughout South America. Like most of the others I encountered, these two were extremely sweet and friendly— if not lazy.
Since Cafayate is considerably less touristy than Mendoza, there were plenty of very nice local hotels in the area. We fell in love with the Hostal del Valle, which was a bargain at $30US. The rooms were gorgeous, as were the spacious garden area and rooftop terrace.
Finally, I recommend ending your night with the wine ice cream at Helados Miranda. It’s a unique flavor and I’m not exactly sure I would indulge again. However, I would encourage everyone to try it once during their visit.
- For more info: Follow Jake’s journey through South America on the Jake and Leslie travel blog