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After spending 4 days living inside mechanic’s garages, we were super excited to get back on the road. Once again we could breathe fresh air and watch this incredibly beautiful world go by.
These overlanding vehicles really are put through their paces with incredibly long distances travelled over poor roads, sometimes at high altitudes and often using low quality petrol. Maintenance and general fixes are part of every day life and its more often than not, that I have a screwdriver in one hand and duct tape in another. Be it just from shaking and rattling on dirt roads or from general wear and tear. This was good week though and after leaving the workshops in Salta, we had a worry free week.
Route 40 in Argentina is almost as famous as Route 66 in America, although I’m not sure the condition of the road is quite the same! We decided not to do the gravel section from Cachi to Cafayate due to reports of the road being in very poor condition, but according to maps, the rest of the route was all paved and should be good.
WHAT WE DID FROM SALTA TO TINOGASTA
CABRA CORRAL DAM
The Cabra Corral Dam is the biggest dam in Argentina and is used to power the Hydroelectric plant. We left the main highway and wiggle waggled our way along narrow country roads to get to the dam. Our first glimpse of the water was at La Hueya, where numerous houseboats are moored. Some are restaurants, others can be hired for nighttime fishing expeditions. Tai was keen to go fishing, but apparently the fish are only out at night, so the excursions leave at 7pm and return at 2am. Personally, I couldn’t think of anything worse than going fishing all night and obviously Tai couldn’t go alone, so those plans were quickly thwarted.
We followed the road as it meandered along the windy shoreline. The houses here were some of the most luxurious we have seen since arriving in South America. Huge mansions set on perfectly manicured lawns, overlooking the twinkling blue waters. Speedboats and jetskiis lay lined up like soldiers alongside the jetties. Clearly this is the holiday destination for wealthy Argentinians!
At the Polhyphony Bridge we stopped to watch the bungie jumping and bridge swinging and decided to spend the night wild camping. I tried to cajole Tai into jumping off the bridge, but he wasn’t having any of it and after watching others being yanked around like rag dolls at the end of the rope, I was secretly rather glad he didn’t want to do it!
As it got dark, so more and more cars arrived and parked on the bridge. Tables and chairs out, BBQ’s lit, cooler boxes of food and drink were unpacked and music was blasted. The reason? They had all come to fish! From high high high up on the bridge, they dropped their lines and waited for the slippery buggers to bite. They had special seats that clipped onto the side of the bridge and rods were hooked over the top bar and then tied with string to prevent them from falling. The air was warm and the mood was festive. Not bad for a Saturday night party! And they did… until 2am!
SALTA TO CAFAYATE THROUGH QUEBRADA DE LAS CONCHAS
There are two routes from Salta to Cafayate. One is Ruta 68 and one is Ruta 40. Ruta 40 took you first to the town of Cachi via a crazy steep twisty pass and then down an unpaved road with some really bad sections of what they call “ripio”. I was in two minds as to which route to take, so asked everyone I met as well as posing the question on Facebook communities. It was a hard choice as both routes are supposed to be AMAZING! In the end we decided to play it safe on the asphalt on Ruta 68, mostly because we had just spent 5 days getting the van fixed and I just couldn’t face any more damage right now.
Ruta 68 was unbelievably stunning! I’m so glad we did it!
The route takes you through the Quebrada de Conchas National Park with winding valleys, multi-coloured rocks, crazy rock formations, lush valleys, llamas and the need to stop literally every five minutes, so you can snap a photo and marvel at natures beauty.
Devils Throat looked exactly like a gouged out throat set deep in the red rocks, while the acoustics in the Amphitheatre created an excellent echo. Tai climbed up the sides of the amphitheatre – much to everyone’s horror – including a group of South Koreans doing a travel documentary. Both Tai and I got interviewed, but seeing as the show was about the cultural aspects of Argentina, I’m not sure we’ll ever make it past the cutting room floor!
We hiked up the hill at Les Tres Cruces to see the panoramic view of the lush valley surrounded by arid rocky canyon walls. At Le Yesera, we left Thor to be watched by the llamas at the local shop, and off we set for a one hour hike to see La Estrada. These were a section of rocks with stripes of all different shades, created by years of compacting of different minerals. Really spectacular!
The mountains around us as we hiked were immense with multi-coloured patterns. The path was well signposted with sections of the path neatly bordered with stones. Luckily it was early evening, but it was still incredibly hot out there and the ice cold cokes went down a treat when we got back to the shop!
Then followed a series of rock formations – El Obelisco (obelisk), a tall mound that looked like a volcano – Les Vendanas (windows), windows onto the valley – Los Castillos (castles), a sheer wall with a river running below it that looks like a castle.
The final part was through Shell’s Ravine. Sheer cliffs of red stone. The Quebrada de las Conchas National Park is simply stunning!
The town of Cafayate is located in the midst of vineyards making this one of Argentina’s favourite wine making regions. Wine bodegas can be found all around, offering tours of the wine farms and wine tastings.
I can’t drink wine and Tai is too young, so Cafayate didn’t have too many activities to entice us, but the town had a nice feeling that made us want to stay. The central square was tranquil and there some really great restaurants to choose from. There is a fair bit of tourism here, which is evident in the caliber of the restaurants and the curio shops.
Argentina may be famous for ice creams, but in Cafayate they have taken it one step further, making wine flavoured ice cream!!
QILMES ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE
The Quilmes Tribe last lived in this area in 1660, when they were finally driven out by the Spanish Invaders. This archeological site was fascinating in showing how they lived and farmed. The museum had informative displays, although none in English. An English pamphlet was provided and the video was sub-titled in English, so we managed to get quite a bit of info on the history and cultural aspects of the Quilmes Tribe.
The site is located 5km off Ruta 40, down a well graded dirt road.
COST: 100 ARG for adults – kids are free
Every now and again, we find a sanctuary in which to relax and unwind. This was what we found at Los Olivos Camping in Tinogasta. Green lawns, a huge swimming pool, excellent wifi and English speaking hosts – Monique and Carlos.
VAN LIFE & LESSONS LEARNT
- All towns / cities in South America work off a network of one way streets. So sometimes you need to go quite a way round to get to where you need to be!
- After 5 days in mechanic’s garages, we have all fingers, toes and thumbs crossed that everything is working as it should!
- The fridge is still being temperamental, but I think I’ve figured it out. When our solar power runs low, there is not enough power to keep the fridge ignited. After realising this we are now being way more conservative with lights and using the water pump in the evening. So far so good!
WHERE WE STAYED
SALTA: XAMENA CAMPING: We stayed at the Xamena Campsite. It is a municipal campsite with an enormous pool. Actually it’s more like a lake! There are BBQ’s and tables and benches everywhere. The bathrooms are fine and water is super hot. It’s not in the best area, but it didn’t stop me from walking into the centre of town a few times. Taxi’s are super cheap and easy to catch outside. The campsite cost 135 ARS per night for 2 people and a camper.
GPS: S 24°48.794′, W 65°25.181′
SALTA: YPF STATION: We wild camped for a night at the YPF petrol station as the municipal campsite didn’t have wifi and this YPF station had the most incredibly brilliant wifi.
GPS: S 24°48.359′, W 65°25.204′
CABRA CORRAL DAM: We stayed right next to the bridge in the big parking area. There is a restaurant should you need toilets.
GPS: S 25°17.063′, W 65°23.604′
CAFAYATE: We stayed at Luz y Fuerza Camping. There was no grass, just sand, but the bathrooms were good with hot water, there was a tennis court and a huge swimming pool. Entrance to the pool was 50 ARS. The campsite cost 360 ARS for 2 people and a camper. Every evening, the guy would come knock on the door to collect payment.
GPS: S 26°4.858′, W 65°58.611′
TINOGASTA: We stayed as Los Olivos. Lovely green grass, a stunning pool at no extra fee and lots of barbeque stands. Hot water and electricity points. The cost was 500 ARS per night.
GPS: S 28°2.362′, W 67°35.260′
We travelled from Salta > Cabra Corral Dam > Cafayate > Tinogasta
Total distance travelled was 628km
I will be providing our basic travel costs per week, so that you get an indication of what a trip like this entails. Bear in mind that we are budget travelers, so your budget could vary depending on your lifestyle choices. For example, we always opt for the cheapest and often, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and only require very basic accommodation. For us, the experiences are where it is all at, so we’d rather spend money on activities.
The costs below are for the full 7 days. They do not include campervan repair costs, visas and insurance costs.
The costs below are shown in Argentinian Pesos (R1 = 4.20 ARS) ($1 USD = 60 ARS).
- Fuel = 10725 ARS
- Xamena camping = 2 nights = 270 ARS
- Luz y Fuerta Campins = 3 nights = 1050 ARS
- Los Olivos Camping = 1 night = 500 ARS
- Quilmes = 100 ARS (kids are free)
- Restaurant = 1680 ARS
- Supermarket = 1582 ARS
Van supplies and living
- Laundry = 0
- Phone Data = 0
TOTAL = 15907 ARS = USD $266.35 or R3808
WHERE TO NEXT
We will be continuing our route South down Route 40. The main attractions will be Talampaya National Park and Ischigualasto National Park, where many many dinosaur fossils have been found amidst their strange landscapes. I have no doubt we will find many other stunning landscapes and interesting places along the way.