An August 2004 trip
to Tafi Del Valle by Robert Raymond Ingledew
Quote: Travel along a crystal clear stream in the forest (Quebrada de los Sosa), admire 2600 year-old menhirs at El Mollar, visit Tafi del Valle, discover a 5,000-inhabitant city older than the Inca empire, see the Amphitheater at Cafayate... this is by far the nicest road from Tucumán to Salta.
This is a really enjoyable trip I have done already three times and would love to do it again. The variety of places in this tour will oblige me to write separate journals on each one of these places. You start off from the city of Tucumán on a bus of Empresa Aconquija, and during the first sector (two hours and a half) you go through sugar-cane fields, then enter the Quebrada de los Sosa, with a crystal-clear stream (that also has trout fishing) bordered by a beautiful forest, that resembles Bariloche to some extent, go past the Monument to the Indian, visit the Parque Los Menhires, with Menhirs 2,600 years old that belong to the Tafi culture, enjoy Tafi del Valle, and stay there overnight, including a visit to the Jesuit Museum. Then you continue another 75 miles from there up the Cuesta del Infiernillo up to an altitude of 10,500 feet, crossing frozen streams in the mountainside, see an astronomic observatory installed by the NASA near Amaicha del Valle, a village that has 360 sunny days in the year, continue towards the Quilmes Indian Ruins, a city that existed before the Inca empire, partially reconstructed by the University of Buenos Aires and partially in its original condition, where you see the homes in which they lived, their mortars, the place where the bodyguards of the chief Indian lived up on the mountainside. Now you are only 25 miles south of Cafayate, Salta, the place where the best wines of Argentina are produced, that has beautiful vineyards and wineries, some of them bought recently by the French (Michel Torino). Near Cafayate you visit Los Castillos (The castles), the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's throat), the Anfiteatro (amphitheater) and all the way from Cafayate to Salta on the bus you will enjoy the continuously changing colours of the mountainside. If you are as lucky as I was, you will find an old man playing beautiful Argentine folklore on his guitar with the resonance that the mountain walls give to his music, really delightful.
My advice: Don't go to Salta the easy way (4 hours on a direct trip) because you will have missed some of the most beautiful spots of Northwestern Argentina. I will give you more advice in the next sections and in the separate journals I intend to write, that you will surely enjoy.
This is the most beautiful part of the Province of Tucumán. So beautiful, that I returned from Tafi del Valle on a taxi (25 miles each way) to take photos. It is very similar to the National Parks of Southern Argentina, although there is no lake in this part of the road (there is one further on at El Mollar, but with no vegetation). The road winds upwards between mountains covered with a lively green forest and bordering a crystal clear stream, where you can fish small rainbow trout. The forest lasts some 15 miles along the road and then disappears, but this area is really beautiful. Once you reach the first town on the way back (El Mollar) you turn off to visit the Los Menhires park. The Los Menhires park has 220 rock statues, some of them 2600 years old, that belong to the Tafi culture, and that were in the bed of the river, that were going to be covered over by the artificial lake formed by the dam at El Mollar, so they were relocated here, in a drier area, with better conservation possibilities. Some people claim that they were placed without a specific order, as they were found in the river, but in any case, they are the live testimony of tribes that lived here 600 years before Christ.
Since I am fonder of Nature than of Museums, I enjoyed more the Quebrada de los Sosa, but for those interested in Archaeology, a visit to the Parque Los Menhires is a must. At the Tafi del Valle town there is also a very nice Jesuit Museum, with some clayworks from communities older than the Inca Empire, such as the Quilmes and Tafi Indians. The fishing possibilities of this area are limited to one-pound rainbow trout, but on the way from Cafayate to Salta you will pass by Cabra Corral, where very nice dorados (ten pounds to twenty pounds) may be caught. In Tafi del Valle I found a very nice restaurant with budget prices on the main street, but do not remember its name. I ate grilled boga, and it was delicious. If you can get "dorado a la parrilla al limón" (grilled dorado with lemon juice) you will really enjoy it. Hotels are rather expensive by local standards, about 30 dollars per night for a single room, with good comfort.
I stayed at the Huayra Puca hotel, Los Menhires 71 Phone/Fax: (54-3867) 42-1190 RECOMMENDED The road from Tafi del Valle onwards will be more desertic, although there is a lot of cattle in the mountainside. And you will find the typical "pircas" (stone fences) that were used by the Indians centuries ago. I am absolutely sure that you will enjoy visiting this area.
Once you leave the Quebrada de los Sosa, the landscape changes dramatically. You will see no more forest, most of the surrounding area and hills are pasture lands for cattle. You will border a lake at El Mollar, where you can fish small rainbow trout. It was under the waters of this lake where the Menhirs were originally. However, Tafi del Valle is a good place to stay overnight with some good hotels and a very nice restaurant. Here you have two options: Older people prefer Tafi del Valle because it is very quiet (a village with some 3,500 inhabitants), while younger people prefer El Mollar (slightly smaller but with more night entertainment, that Tafi del Valle does not have).
So that is up to you: if you want noise and discos stay at El Mollar; otherwise, go to Tafi del Valle. The Jesuit Museum is nice if you are fond of archeology. You will find a few (not too many) archaeological pieces of clay pottery, and some other elements of the past centuries. The town is nice, but there is nothing that distinguishes it from any other mountainside village. The next morning you will be leaving early to visit the Quilmes Indian Ruins (75 miles away over the mountain range, and climbing up to 10,300 feet), and on the road you will see mountains with pasture lands, stone fences constructed centuries ago by the Indians, a couple of sheep corrals, frozen streams in the mountainside, an astronomic observatory (I do not know their visiting hours) and a small village called Amaicha del Valle, with its Pachamama Archaeological Museum. Twenty minutes later you will be arriving at the Quilmes Indian Ruins. I will talk about these on my next note.
I never thought that I would have the chance of seeing the live testimony of a civilization that existed before the Incas arrived in Argentina, the Quilmes ruins. It was a pretty large town for that time, since it had between 5000 and 7000 inhabitants. In 1665, after having resisted the Spaniards for one hundred years, the Spaniards besieged the city under the command of Alonso Mercado y Villacorta; cutting off their water and food supplies. The Quilmes Indians resisted for over one year, until they were finally captured and obliged to sign a treaty by which their lives would be pardoned if they abandoned the area. They were taken walking first to Cordoba city and then to Buenos Aires, a total distance of 850 miles. Many died on the way, and the last survivors lived where the city of Quilmes is today, some 15 miles away from the city of Buenos Aires. There are many archaeological treasures here, including their homes, their graves, mortars, and much more. There is also a museum at the site, and even a good hotel, where tourists interested in exploring this area more carefully may stay, at a cost of some 40 dollars per night for a single room.
In this city, today an archaeological treasure, there was a clear division of social classes; the cacique of chief lived on the top of the mountain, with some forty bodyguards, that could easily detect any enemies approaching the area, the middle class people lived half way up the mountain, and the rest of the population (the largest part) lived in the valley. You notice this also in the graves and the mortars. There are communitarian mortars that were shared by many families for their cooking, while other homes had individual mortars, or mortars shared between two or three families. As you may see, there is a lot of history in all this area, and the archaeological discoveries and restoration made by the University of Buenos Aires allow you to see abut 12.5% of the village reconstructed, and the rest in its original state. Actually, many colla Indians live in Northwestern Argentina, still use stone fences for their properties, still are superstitious, and try to avoid contact with white people, and very specially do not like being photographed. These are the most important Indian ruins in Argentina, followed by Santa Rosa de Tastil (Salta), the Pucará of Tilcara (Jujuy) and the Londres ruins in Catamarca.
There are all sorts of hotels here, that range from $5 a night up to really expensive ones. Since I have never stayed at Cafayate (I have always visited it from Salta) I am reluctant to recommend any, but here is a list of some of the hotels where you can stay:
5 stars: Patios de Cafayate, Intersection of Highway 40 and highway 68, phone (54-3868)42-2211 4 stars: La Casa de la Bodega, and Viñas de Cafayate.3 stars: Asturias and Los Sauces2 stars: Gran Real and Automovil Club Argentino1 star: Briones, Colonial, Confort, Emperador and Tinkunaku.
The road from Cafayate to Salta (2 and a half hours on the bus) will impress you by the arid landscape (a sort of Arizona), and the colours in the mountainside. I am posting some photos to give you an idea.
The places you should not miss, apart from a visit to the vineyards and wineries, is the Anfiteatro (Amphitheater) where if you are lucky you will see and old man playing folklore music of Northern Argentina, that has a very special sound due to the echo in the mountainside. Also the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's throat), Los Castillos (The Castles) and La Yesera.
Cafayate is connected by the Aconquija bus line with both Salta (2 and a half hours), Tafi del Valle (about 2 hours) and Tucuman (some 4 hours of travel). These buses run some 4 to 8 times in the day, leaving Tucuman at 6.00* 7.00* 10.00* 14.00* (2pm) 16.00 (4pm) 18.00 (6pm) 19.00 (7pm) and 20.00 (8pm). The last four buses only run on Saturdays. The buses marked with an * run every day.
Only the 6am, 2pm, and 7pm buses go as far as Cafayate. There are buses from Cafayate to Salta about every two hours (a two hour and a half trip). There is a stop at Cabra Corral, where there is a nice dam and lake where dorado fishing is possible.
So the four places you should visit here are Los Castillos, La Yesera, El Anfiteatro, and Garganta del Diablo. You can visit all four on a taxi for some 20 to 25 dollars, and for a few dollars more you can also stop at La Rosa (Michel Torino winery) to take other beautiful photos, and taste their delicious wines.
I know you will enjoy far more the trips from Salta to Cachi, to Humahuaca and the Train to the Clouds, but this is a completely different scenery, and you will not have the complete picture of Salta if you do not visit this area.
Robert Raymond Ingledew
Villa Carlos Paz (Cordoba), Argentina