In the north of Argentina the Tectonic movement 40 million years ago created a desert which sits at around 1600 m above sea level and is sheltered by the Andes from the prevailing weather. At 345 days of sunshine each year and little rain, by tapping into the Andes watershed it is a farmers paradise.
The alluvial desert extends from Salta in the far north to Cafayate in the south. The full day road trip between the two centres reveals some of the most dramatic scenery of red rock formations and desert landscape you will see anywhere in the world. Travelling along SH 33 to Cachi elevated us to 11000 feet (3332m) above sea level where we joined SH 40.
This highway is 5400 km’s long and extends from Bolivia in the north to the very south of Argentina and runs parallel to the Chilean border. The highway is nothing more than a dirt track in places and along the way we encountered many local-style villages with their adobe houses and central village plaza. The streets in these villages are either cobbled or red dirt but they are otherwise clean and tidy and generally attractive. Cacti and olive trees are about the only vegetation in some of these areas.
Cafayate is one of the most productive wine growing regions in the world. It equals Bordeaux and Otago for it’s wines. Because this part of the desert was once under the ocean, and coupled with the science of controlled trickle feed irrigation, it means that the vines are assured of precise amounts of moisture each day. Cafayate is a thriving small town supported by the wine industry and 52 high end wineries. We would revisit this thriving region again.
A driver / guide in a 4WD is the only way to travel this desert road. Apart from the knowledge you pick up from the guide, driving is difficult and on the RH side of the road. Blind corners and blind switchbacks and the occasional Gaucho (and his horses) and wild Guanaco (of the Llama family) could trip you up.