Our last stop-off in Argentina was the charming city of Salta in the North West, which gave us a great base to explore the picturesque towns nearby, Cafayate and Cachi.
Some of the best sights were actually on the way, along the National Route 68 road which cut through the stunning landscapes of Quebrada de Cafayate.
We saw spectacular and awesome rock formations such as the Garganta del Diablo (Devil´s Throat):
El Anfiteatro (The Amphitheatre), where some musicians had squeezed through the narrow entrance to demonstrate the excellent acoustics of the circular space:
Holes in the rocks looked like giant windows:
Less awesome, more amusing was El Sapo (The Toad):
Thousands of tall, broad cacti with seriously sharp needles:
There were also plenty of cute llamas and alpacas along the way – this first picture amuses me as it looks like Mark is trying to push the animal over. Llama-tipping, anyone?
The Cafayate region is known for wine made from the Torrontés grape, an up-and-coming Argentinean variety which is tipped to become the white counterpart to the famous red Malbec.
Torrontés is also known as “mentirosa” or “the liar”. This is because the aroma is ripe with tropical, fruit and floral notes, indicating that the taste will be sweet but actually it is as dry as a bone.
The altitude of the Cafayate region is a perfect home for Torrontés, because the cooler nights encourages the grapes to keep their acidity while developing subtle flavour.
Torrontés is grown almost exclusively in Argentina so of course we took the opportunity to taste a glass or to while we were there! We also found an ice cream shop which made Torrontés sorbet – Mark was in heaven.
We had heard Cachi was the most beautiful out of the whole Valles Calchaquíes and sure enough, we were instantly charmed by its picturesque serenity.
The fields around the little town grow spicy red peppers. We could see farmers spreading them out evenly to dry in the sun.
Salta itself was a fun place to spend a couple of days. After we dutifully checked out the landmarks such as the Cerro San Bernado hill, which we climbed to get this view…
… and the ornate Iglesia San Francisco…
…we gleefully arrived at the Patio de la Empanada to try what are reportedly the best empanadas in the whole of Argentina.
There is a fiercely judged empanada making competition each year, in which winning a prize is a proud accolade. The rest of the time, these empanadistas serve their wares alongside each other from tiny stalls which overlook a shared patio in the centre with plastic tables and chairs.
As well as empanadas, humitas (mashed corn, seasoned and made into a dough and steamed, often with cheese) and tamales (mashed corn dough stuffed with meat, vegetables and other fillings) are available.
Hands down, the best street food we ate in Argentina and a great way to celebrate this fantastic country before we crossed the border over to Bolivia.