Salta to Cachi

Monday 18th Jan. We have breakfast in the hotel, and a walk round Salta. Chris cannot swim in the pool as swim wear is in missing bag.

Candela hotel salta candela hotel salta
Breakfast at the hotel
Candela Hotel, Salta

We picked up our Hertz car and headed out to the airport, as we had been promised that the missing bag would be on first LAN flight from BA, and would get in to Salta just after 2pm. After hanging around the airport for a couple of hours, our errant bag did eventually appear. Poor little thing was battered and bruised after his trip to Baraloche, and we got a niggardly $20 from LAN to "compensate" for a case completely destroyed - the actual shell had been cracked, you wonder what they do with baggage!

baggage problems

Jaime from LAN and Chris identifying the bag at Salta

By now it was pushing 4pm and we had a long drive to Cachi, which I wanted to get to before dark.

salta-cachi-map

The map gives the flavour of the road up through the steep mountain pass

Salta by the Cuesta del Obispo (road 33) to Cachi is 160km. Much is paved, but there is a dirt section in the middle of the mountains. We headed south from Salta on RN 68 for 38km (24 miles), to reach El Carril, which is a typical small town of the valley. Dense vegetation covers the region surrounding El Carril, but the land quickly dries out as you climb Ruta Provincial 33 toward Piedra del Molino (Mill Rock) which marks the top of the climb .

This is one of Argentina's most scenic mountain routes. It offers dramatic mountainous terrain, and the road winds through the beautiful Quebrada de Escoipe, a narrow gorge that threads through ridges and opens into giant panoramas. It connects the Lerma and Calchaquí Valleys. The road twists and turns alongside the Río Escoipe River.

drive from Salta to Cachi drive from Salta to Cachi
drive from Salta to Cachi drive from Salta to Cachi

A small shrine to Saint Raphael (a patron saint of travelers) indicates your arrival at Mill Rock (3,620m/11,874 ft. elevation) at the top of the gorge and the entrance to Parque Nacional los Cardones, a semi-arid landscape filled with cacti, sage, and limestone rock formations. Piedra del Molino stands in the midst of an extended high plain called Cachipampa.

drive from Salta to Cachi drive from Salta to Cachi
drive from Salta to Cachi salta to Cachi road

Los Cordones national park is named after its giant candelabra cactus and is reminiscent of the altiplano found in Bolivia and Peru: high, flat and almost featureless desert.

A gentle slope towards the west, takes one to the Tin-Tin, a curious 13 kilometre long straight bit of Ruta Provincial 33. It was built by the natives using bonfires as landmarks with a perfection equivalent to that achieved today by modern technology and its precision instruments.

Ten kilometres (6 1/4 miles) before Cachi lies Payogasta, an ancient Indian town on the path of the Inca Road that once connected an empire stretching from Peru to northern Argentina. Time was against us, and we pushed on through to get to Cachi

The hotel was, like many of our Argentinean hotels, was difficult to find. Their web site had little guidance, so we stopped at the town square to ask directions.

Cachi hotel cachi hotel
cachi hotel cachi hotel

Hotel el Cortijo, Cachi

cachi hotel

The Hotel el Cortijo was a delightful small hotel run by a local couple. We had a meal there, and that was where we had a problem, as the next morning we both went down with bad diarrhea. We had originally booked in Cachi for two nights, but had cut it to one in order to solve the domino effect from out enforced stay in Tenerife when the aircraft diverted.

Cachi means " salt" in quechua due to the fact that natives mistook the top of " El Nevado" with a salt mine. Cachi was a small, pretty village, in the Chalchaquí Valley. There are few tourists, other than a few backpackers. Happily the roads in to Cachi have precluded bus tours getting there, but I would guess that in the near future the hordes will get there. The village is surrounded by snow-covered mountains reaching to 5,000 meters. The temperature is usually mild and the skies are almost always clear, making the region ideal for mountain climbing. The architecture of the small city is principally of colonial Spanish style with adobe homes painted white and built over bases of rock, with antique window grills forged in iron.

cachi, argentina

church cachi cachi, argentina
cachi cachi, argentina

Cachi town square has a pretty old church and quite an interesting small museum. It is a pre-hispanic town, and had a large population before the Spaniards arrived. Having "done" Cachi, we headed south along the dirt road, our old friend Ruta 40, to Cafayate

The road on to Cafayate