Argentina: Cachi *Village in the Andes*

Cachi is a small mountain village in Salta Province in northwestern Argentina. Located four hours away from where we were staying in Salta, Harry and I joined a tour (yes, we joined a tour) to experience this special place. We ended up having a truly fabulous day and here are two of the reasons why:

1. Our tour guide Eduardo was an incredibly kind and patient man. In addition to speaking both Spanish and English, he was happy to share his wealth of information with us and never tired of all our questions. He seemed truly happy to be our guide and passionate about the area we were exploring.

2. There were only 14 of us on the tour, which is a small enough number to fit into a van rather than a huge tour bus, making our group feel more intimate. The other people were from Buenos Aires so of course we liked them immediately. They were doing a 10-day tour of the area and were on full-blown vacation mode. Several of the couples took an immediate interest in both of us and made sure we were having a good time in all that we did. While they only spoke a little English, we were able to chat enough in Spanish to keep them amused. We laughed a lot in the van, especially when they blurted out random English words like “Miami Beach”, “thank you” and “one, two, three”. They took us under their wings and made sure we didn’t miss anything authentically Argentinian when we stopped along the way.

Calchaqui Valley

The jaw-dropping scenery never ended. We started out by driving through two gorges with thick rainforest vegetation and spectacularly colored mountains.


We drove up the windy, ribbon-like road until we reached a major view point just short of the summit. We took a welcome break to walk around and soak it all in. Harry bought llama jerky at a stand from a local man selling his wares while I befriended his pet llama.


After 80 kilometers we crossed the mountain pass and the greenery gave way to an arid environment. Cactus dotted the landscape and the colorful mountains became even more vivid.



Cachi is a picturesque village that’s tucked away in the lap of the Nevado de Cachi range in the Andes. The cobblestones streets, 18th century church, adobe houses and tranquil plaza were all very charming and make Cachi a special place. On the way into town we passed fields of red peppers drying in the sun, soon to be turned into paprika.


All-You-Can-Eat Goat Fest

Our lively new friends invited us to lunch and made room at their table before we could even think about saying no. The grill was hot, the goat was sizzling and the chef was overzealous with his cleaver. Staff came round and round with trays of freshly grilled chunks of goat until it was clear that everyone had their fill. Our friends kept Harry’s plate full, saying that he was too skinny to stop eating. I was going to try a bite, I seriously was, but then I saw a few goat hairs on the plate so I munched on my salad instead.



Los Cardones National Park 

On the way home we passed through Los Cardones (cactus) National Park and had a short walk through the ancient fields of these oddly shaped desert plants. The cactus went on as far as the eye could see. I found them fascinating.


Mountain High

Here we are at 11,341 feet, feeling elated from such a wonderful day! When the van pulled into town and our friends from Buenos Aires got off the bus, they gave us a round of applause and big hugs for sharing the adventure with them. What a treat! I guess tours aren’t so bad, after all.



Argentina: Our 18-Hour Bus Ride

We have spent the past three months traveling all over Argentina and parts of Chile, taking numerous bus rides of varying lengths to get from one place to the next. One of our first bus trips, and the longest to date, was an arduous and challenging 24-hour journey in Patagonia from El Calafate to Puerto Madryn. We’ve been filled with some amount of trepidation on every ride since then, but luckily we only hit rock bottom that one time.

Two Choices

Our plan was to travel north from Mendoza to Salta, a distance of over 750 miles. Our choice was to either make the journey in one trip, a mere 18-hour bus ride, or break up the trip by staying in another town at the halfway point. We literally changed our minds several times a day because both options had plenty of pros and cons.

The Decision 

In the end we decided that we’d just suck up the long bus ride and do it all in one trip. The notion of going halfway and having to stay overnight in a place that had little interest to us felt less than ideal. Plus we were excited to reach Salta and didn’t want to delay our arrival.

First Class, Please

We had a stroke of good luck at the ticket office because we were able to book our first class cama seats (roomy seats that recline) on the upper level in the very front of the bus. We were promised movies, food service and an attendant to see to our every need. Well, we’d heard those promises when we used Andesmar for our 24-hour trip across Patagonia, so we certainly didn’t get our hopes up.

All Aboard: 8:00 PM 

We were skeptical when we saw our bus arrive even though it looked shiny and new. We held our breath as we climbed up to our seats and then, only then, did we do a happy dance. Our bus was the bomb!


It was clean and spacious and we had a ton of leg room. We even had a place, within reach, for our ever-important food bag. We cautiously tested our seats and were pleased as punch when they reclined way back.


The icing on our bus cake was the dashing man who took care of our every need. He practically whistled while he worked and had a smile for everyone. His kindness and sense of professionalism put our lingering worries at ease. It was going to be alright.

Dinner Time

We were pleasantly surprised when we were actually served a two-course dinner. We were even offered an option of orange Fresca or wine. Yes, wine! I guess Mendoza’s law about providing wine with food was still in effect, and we were impressed. However, it was a strategic move on our part when we said, “thanks, but no thanks”. The more you drink the more you need to visit the powder room, which is something we try to avoid on buses.


We couldn’t believe what a difference this bus journey was for us. The temperature was mild, we watched several movies and the bathroom was passable. I had a good night’s sleep and even Harry slept a few hours. We were both fairly comfortable and had enough room to shift around in our big seats. My biggest complaint was that, once again, we weren’t allowed off the bus when it stopped to pick up/drop off passengers. It’s an unsettling feeling to be trapped for such a long time, even if our attendant was super cute. I would gladly add an hour onto the total travel time if it meant being able to get off the bus a few times to run around.

Good Morning 

I slept through breakfast of coffee and a pastry, which Harry enjoyed while listening to the bus radio play American love songs from the ’70’s and 80’s. I woke up to Roberta Flack singing, “Killing me softly” with many more classic hits to follow. Elton John, Whitesnake, Richard Marx and Journey were some of  the featured artists everyone on the bus were forced to listen to beginning promptly at 7:00 am. What a great way to start the day after being on the bus for 12 hours, with only six more hours to go.


Overnight we drove out of the desert and into the greenest landscape we’d seen since being in South America. It was visually so refreshing to see cows grazing in lush pastures and crops growing at the base of the mountains.



We arrived in Salta at 2:00 PM, right on time, 18 hours after we left Mendoza. We were ecstatic to finally get off the bus! Even though we made it relatively unscathed, Harry declared this to be his last bus journey over 10 hours. We’ll see about that….


Argentina: Mendoza *Malbec*

The wine capital of Argentina, Mendoza is a lovely city and it’s no wonder that so many people from around the world vacation here. While we loved our excursion to Chile for three weeks, returning to Argentina definitely felt like coming home.

Impressive Irrigation

Interestingly, Mendoza is actually an oasis in a desert. How is it that the streets are lined with trees and grapes grow aplenty, you ask? Thanks to the Inca’s brilliant engineering, there’s an intricate irrigation system that provides water throughout the city and into the countryside. All of the water comes from snow melt off the Andes. So the next time you open a bottle of delicious Malbec you might want to toast the Inca Empire.


The Independent Wine Tour 

Mendoza is saturated with hundreds of wineries and there are unlimited tours promising a perfect day sampling delicious wines. As you might know by now, Harry and I aren’t the biggest fans of going on a tour when we can do it just as well, or better, on our own. Despite protests from our hotel receptionist, who couldn’t believe we didn’t want to book a tour, we hopped on a local bus for an hour ride to one of Mendoza’s wine hot spots, Lujan de Cuyo.

The local bus was bumpy. And crowded. And it stopped approximately 197 times between Mendoza and our destination. Ready to drink some wine, we were relieved to finally get off the bus. We walked for a while, asked a nice man for directions, and then walked some more. A mile later we arrived at the gates of the winery. The gates were closed and the man wouldn’t let us in because we didn’t have reservations. “Why aren’t you on a tour?” he asked us.

With our independent heads hanging in defeat we walked a mile back to catch a bus to Mendoza. Lesson learned.

The Legitimate Wine Tour

The next day we threw in our towels and went on an official tour to wine country. We visited two wineries and an olive oil factory. It was a beautiful fall day, our mini van was comfortable and we tasted some delicious wine. Our favorite winery was Domiciano de Barrancas, a family owned business that specializes in harvesting their grapes at night. We received a very informative tour and generous samples of their wines. Production is small and most of their wine is exported to the US and Germany because the wine market is so saturated in Argentina. We bought a bottle of Malbec from the winery for $6.50, a great deal considering it sells for approximately $40 in the states.


The olive oil factory was also family owned and operated. We learned about the relatively simple process of crushing the whole olive, seeds included, with an enormous stone wheel. Then the mash is pressed through a series of screens to extract the oil. Only 15% of an olive is actually oil, so you can imagine how many olives it takes to fill a liter bottle. The tour ended after sampling a nice array of olive oils, some infused with fresh herbs.


Drink Up, It’s the Law

How’s this for a fabulous law: every establishment in the Mendoza region that sells food must also sell wine! Yes, even Mc Donald’s has wine on their menu.

Plate of the Day 

Argentinians love their afternoon naps, so you can count of many shops (restaurants and grocery stores included) being closed all afternoon. While I love this practice in theory, it totally makes buying lunch for two hungry Americans tricky. Introducing “Plate of the Day”, a concept that Harry has fully embraced. It’s simple. Many coffee shops and bakeries will offer a basic plate of food at a reasonable price…. you eat what they’ve prepared for the day, usually some kind of meat with rice or french fries (Argentine’s love their french fries!).

In this photo Harry’s about to eat meatballs and french fries, his first Plate of the Day since we returned from Chile. In the foreground of the photo you’ll see my lunch, the typical salad of lettuce, carrots and tomatoes sitting side-by-side. Not very exciting.

Here’s what IS exciting — finding a Mexican restaurant! Eating chips and salsa with a Margarita is a rare treat indeed and just one more reason to adore Mendoza.


Around Town

We walked up to the top of Cerro de Gloria (the Hill of Glory) to take in the views of Mendoza spread out below the foothills of the Andes. We were beyond impressed with the 14-ton bronze monument paying tribute to the liberation of Argentina. We walked through the extensive San Martin Park, a city park that’s a hub for recreation activities. Always in search of yummy, local and affordable food, we also found a fantastic empanada shop a few blocks away from our hotel that we visited a few times.


Northbound to Salta, Argentina

We had a wonderfully relaxing stay in Mendoza, but we were looking forward to heading up north to the city of Salta. The Salta region is famed for its ‘penas’, or gathering places, where locals go for folk music and socializing. But first we needed to survive another long haul, this time an 18-hour bus ride! Stay tuned….