I treated myself to a salteña style lazy morning of home-made alfajores (Argentine cookies with a layer of dulce de leche smeared between) and mate (the loose leaf tea Argentines are addicted to) before hopping on a motor scooter to check out San Lorenzo´s ¨rainforest¨. It felt more like the hills of Bel Air, California than a rainforest due to the luxurious old mansions lining the park entrance. We hired horses for the afternoon and trotted along the snaking mountain trail with glimpses of Salta city in the distance.
Horseback ride through San Lorenzo´s Rain Forest
The forest was packed with palta trees (avocado trees) and a creeping vine that produced what looked like an elongated tomato, which our guide snacked on throughout the trip. It´s amazing how quickly you can go from the bustle of a city to the pristine solitude of the wilderness in the Salta province.
Sip Craft Beers in San Carlos
If you have time to stray from sipping Torrontes at the Cafayate bodegas, San Carlos is a simple afternoon trip from the city center and has a local Belgium style brewery, La Burra, with a nice selection of beers that made me giddy. From dark malty beers to strong IPA styles and classic reds it was a much-embraced change for my taste buds. And, as one of the most well preserved historical colonial towns in Argentina, San Carlos is the quintessential quiet, sleepy town, perfect for doing nothing but sitting in a plaza and sipping on a cold brew. The town is full of artisans using their homes as their work-shops and store-fronts, offering beautiful hand-made copper jewelry and pots, llama wool sweaters, gaucho blankets, and pleasant conversation over a mate tea.
Bike Valle Calchaqui
Waking up with the sunrise, I loaded my rental mountain bike onto the city bus and hopped off at La Garganta del Diablo to begin my 40km ride back to Cafayate through Valle Calchaqui. The ride takes you weaving through the red mountain ravines, formed by the once raging river, which left behind natural rock pinnacles and caves to explore. If the Grand Canyon, the Sadona Red Rock National Parks of Arizona and Yosemite National Park of California, all got together and had a baby then Valle Calchaqui would be it; a truly stunning natural masterpiece of dramatic proportions.
You bike along the main road connecting Salta to Cafayate, and while there isn’t much traffic, the occasional bus or rental car will pass you at rather high speed. Keep on the road though, unless you are begging for a flat. I got two on my 40km journey, one miraculously by a lone village and the other left me thumbing it home. Just in time, when I was about to throw in the towel and hail a taxi for the remaining leg, family-owned, organic bodegas began popping up during the last 10km of the ride offering a brilliant excuse to catch your breath and relax over a refreshing, thirst-quenching glass of torrontes.
Eat with the locals
After a chat with the owner of Utama, an organic Bodega, I had no choice but to try the region’s specialty cazula curito (goat stew). He raved that Comedor La Juanita restaurant stewed up the best in town. Hailing a cab in the Cafayate plaza, all I had to do was say the name “Juanita” and the driver knew exactly where to take me, and zipped off into the dirt hills. The quiet, dark streets of the barrio (neighborhood) where Comedor La Juanita is located is completely empty of tourists, and rather than taxis, horses clopp by.
Juanita herself sat me amongst the families of salteño diners and took my order. The menu was basic with half of the items not available because they were out of season. I ordered the goat stew as instructed with the table Torrontes. There were only two wines on the wine list; the vino tinto de la mesa (Malbec table wine) and the vino blanco de la mesa (Torrontes table wine). The Utama bodega owner had informed me that the table wines at Comedor La Juanita were actually from her family’s backyard vineyard. For only eight pesos a pitcher I was more than excited to pair them with the stew I was about to enjoy. And enjoy I did! The stew was packed with rich flavors and goat meat that fell off the bone. The Torrontes was fresh and almost perfectly clear to the pour. Definitely my favorite meal in Salta, and perhaps all of Argentina.