Quebrada de Cafayate…home of the Monk, the Toad and the Devil’s Throat

In a region full of surprises the Quebrada de Cafayate must count as one of the finest. Driving north following the Rio de las Conchas, the road heads out across a fertile valley given over to vine cultivation, but soon the valley narrows to become more gorge-like and the landscape changes from green to red as mountainous rock formations start to dominate the landscape.

Not just any rock formations, some are uncannily reminiscent of a variety of familiar things: castles, a monk and, yes, a toad. All of this is situated in a landscape that frequently beggars belief – rock formations that glow red, yellow and every colour in-between in the subtle light created by a setting sun. If you want to see what wind and water can do to a landscape over millennia, this is the place to see it.

Los Castillos, Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Los Castillos, Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

El Fraile (the Friar), Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

El Fraile (the Friar), Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

El Sapo (the frog), Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

El Sapo (the frog), Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

El Obelisco, Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

El Obelisco, Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Rock formation, Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Rock formation, Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

El Garganta del Diabalo (the Devil's Throat), Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

El Garganta del Diabalo (the Devil’s Throat), Quebrada de Cafayate, Argentina

Wine tasting and Quilmes (the pre-hispanic fortress, not the beer)

The dramatically situated pre-hispanic fortress of Quilmes lies a short distance south of Cafayate and is a fascinating place to visit, especially if you get there before the tour groups start to arrive. Continuously inhabited between the 11th and 17th centuries, at its peak Quilmes was home to over five thousand inhabitants. Inca armies tried to invade this region in the 1480s but failed to dislodge the Quilmes people from their mountain refuge.

Unfortunately, the Spanish arrived shortly afterwards and the Quilmes wouldn’t be so fortunate against this second set of conquistadores, although that didn’t prevent them from mounting an heroic resistance that lasted 130 years.

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

The Quilmes civilisation fiercely resisted Spanish colonisation of the region, and the site saw bitter fighting when the Spanish invaded. The fortress was the scene of several bloody battles and a devastating siege. After the Spanish had crushed the Quilmes’ resistance once and for all, those who remained alive were deported wholesale to the area around Buenos Aires.

It is a poignant reminder of the fate of all indigenous peoples who resisted Spanish invasion, a poignancy not made any easier now that Quilmes is the name of Argentina’s most famous beer brand and can be seen adorning the shirts of football players. Not exactly a dignified way for a once proud people to be remembered.

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

Ruinas de Quilmes, Argentina

After a sobering morning contemplating the historical injustices done to indigenous peoples across Latin America, it was back to Cafayate and a much anticipated wine tour and tasting at the Bodega Etchart. Etchart make a delicious Torrentes Reserva that we’d been sampling over previous days, so this was something to look forward to – yum.

WIne tasting at the Bodega Etchart, Cafayate, Argentina

WIne tasting at the Bodega Etchart, Cafayate, Argentina

WIne tasting at the Bodega Etchart, Cafayate, Argentina

WIne tasting at the Bodega Etchart, Cafayate, Argentina

WIne tasting at the Bodega Etchart, Cafayate, Argentina

WIne tasting at the Bodega Etchart, Cafayate, Argentina

WIne tasting at the Bodega Etchart, Cafayate, Argentina

WIne tasting at the Bodega Etchart, Cafayate, Argentina

Argentinian North West: the Ruta 40 to Cafayate

Jumping back into the car after breakfast in Molinos, we got back on the Ruta 40 and headed south to Cafayate and its fabled high altitude vineyards. I’d been looking forward to this part of our journey because the road passes through the surreal landscapes of the Quebrada de las Flechas, including bizarre and impressively huge rock formations.

The Ruta 40 is legendary in Argentina, it stretches for virtually the entire length of the country. La Cuarenta runs for more than 5200km north to south, and vast stretches of it remain unpaved. It makes for a magnificent journey through some of the most beautiful landscapes Argentina has to offer. If I’m being honest, our Volkswagen Gol, even with its raised suspension, was a little under-powered for the rugged Ruta 40 but we persevered…

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

Washing drying on the Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

Washing drying on the Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

The Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

Our Volkswagen Gol on the Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

Our Volkswagen Gol on the Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

Church on the Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

Church on the Ruta 40 between Molinos and Cafayate, Argentina

We managed to time our arrival in Cafayate to perfection, not only were we staying in another vineyard but there was a fiesta taking place in the town as well, with religious processions heading from the church around the town.

Religious procession leaving the Catedral de Nuestra Senora del Rosario, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession leaving the Catedral de Nuestra Senora del Rosario, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession, Cafayate, Argentina

Religious procession, Cafayate, Argentina

After a long drive and the excitement of getting caught up in a fiesta we headed a few kilometres out of town to the Vinas de Cafayate Wine Resort where we were able to relax with a delicious glass of chilled Torrontes and watch the sun set over Cafayate and the surounding valley.

Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort, Cafayate, Argentina

Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort, Cafayate, Argentina

Balcony outside our room, Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort, Cafayate, Argentina

Balcony outside our room, Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort, Cafayate, Argentina

Sunset over Cafayate from Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort, Cafayate, Argentina

Sunset over Cafayate from Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort, Cafayate, Argentina