If you follow my itinerary for Northern Argentina, you will find that there are two ways to get from Salta to Cafayate. I have both driven and now it is time to take a closer look at Route 40, which I drove via Cachi from Salta to Cafayate. Breathtaking landscapes such as the Los Cardones National Park happened. I strongly recommend either taking this route towards Cafayate or taking a route back to Salta. Let’s take a look at the highlights and some tips to avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Salta to Cafayate by car
Although the drive from Salta to Cafayate via Cachi can be completed in a few hours, I recommend starting in the early morning. There are so many great views and places to see that you will stop often. A normal (small) limousine is also sufficient for unpaved roads. They are all in good condition.
I left the Kkala Boutique Hotel in Salta around 7 a.m. The first 20 kilometers south lead via Route 68 to El Carril, where the route leads west via Route 33. Route 33 takes you to Route 40. DO NOT try to take Route 42 unless you are on a 4 × 4 route. I will come back to this later as it is not a safe road for a small sedan. Once on Route 40, the trip to Cafayate is several hours with beautiful scenery.
Los Cardones National Park
The first stop from Salta to Cafayate is the Los Cardones National Park. The road from El Carril towards Los Cardones National Park starts slightly, but after 30-40 kilometers the dirt road goes up the mountain. Pretty steep with lots of hairpins. Although not paved, a normal sedan is very good at driving this road. There are various corridors with wonderful views. Just stop as you like and take lots of photos. On the top of the mountain there is a small chapel called Capilla San Raphael just after Cuesta del Obispo (Bischofshang). Take a look around and then continue down into the valley while also controlling the sky. You could spot an Andean condor.
You are now at 3300 meters above sea level. So be careful if you suffer from altitude sickness. However, if you follow my north argentinian road trip, you should be fine as the altitude is slowly increasing. While driving down the valley, the road changes from a dirt road to a newly paved road in the valley. After about 10 kilometers, look for a sign on the right that says “Mirador Ojo de Condor”. There you have a wonderful view over the Valle Calchaqui, which is full of cacti. It’s a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site, but frankly, I don’t see an inscription because there are other places that are already inscribed similarly.
The road through the valley is a 15 km long straight (Tin Tin Straight Line) with various photo stops. It is the straightest road when driving from Salta to Cafayate. Follow this road towards Route 40 and then Cachi. Don’t try what I did and enter Route 42.
Problems with the car and rescue without mobile reception
I decided to drive about 20 kilometers on Route 42 and then back to the main road. See the landscape. This would cost me a little over an hour, which was quite possible in my schedule. Bad choose! It looks like Argentina and cars cause problems for me. Two years ago I had problems driving the Jesuit Estancias Street from Córdoba when I accidentally was on a 4 × 4 road.
I knew that all roads from Salta to Cafayate were suitable for a limousine. Unless you drive on a side street like me. Small stones and sand caused problems. Probably a small stone hit an electrical cable that was broken and the car just stopped working. A tire that I can replace, but I just couldn’t fix. I had to request roadside assistance. Easier said than done because there was simply no cell reception. I knew I was on the main road when I looked up Google Maps, so I had no choice but to walk about 20 kilometers back to the main road.
Fortunately, after 45 minutes on foot, Park Rangers came by in a 4 × 4. They saw my car a few kilometers back and then found me. I was saved like in the scorching heat, 35 degrees Celsius, at a height and only a small bottle of water left, I would have had more problems. They arranged a trip for me to Chachi, from where I took a taxi to Cafayate. The rangers kept the car keys where they were picked up by the car rental company to take the car. The next day in Cafayate I got a new car.
Lesson learned. Make sure you bring enough water with you and that the cells are received. Next time I’ll take a 4 × 4 just in case and let someone know where I’m going.
Cachi city tour halfway from Salta to Cafayate
Cachi is about halfway from Salta to Cafayate and you should try to be there around noon. In my case, the park rangers dropped me off at the tourist office in Cachi, who arranged a taxi to take me to Cafayate. That cost me 200 euros. Fortunately, my travel insurance paid for it. So on the entire Route 40 I was in a taxi and of course unable to make the numerous stops I wanted to make. I had an hour in Cachi as planned. The tourist office was kind enough to keep my luggage.
I walked the cobblestone streets around the main square for about half an hour. There is a church, an archaeological museum and beautiful white painted houses. I then had a couple of empanadas for lunch and a good glass of wine. The wine was the only benefit of my car problems. I no longer had to drive myself. After lunch I continued my journey from Salta to Cafayate by taxi.
EXTEND YOUR JOURNEY: If you want to extend your trip, a night in Cachi is a good choice. It’s a beautiful city and you can walk around on your way from Salta to Cafayate for much more than an hour. This also gives you a little more time at every stop on this road trip.
Route 40 landscape
Route 40 is a dirt road between Cachi and Cafayate, but the condition is perfect for sedans, so you don’t need a 4×4 SUV. Since I was in a taxi, I couldn’t stop at all of the photo stops I wanted, but luckily the driver could stop a few times. Remember it’s a 3-4 hour drive and he still had to return to Cachi that evening. This road in the dark is not nice to drive, so do not take Route 40 from Salta to Cafayate at night.
The landscape slowly turned into a surreal lunar landscape towards the Calchaquí river valley. You will pass the Quebrada de las Flechas, a national monument. There are sharp rocks and sandstone cliffs. It reminded me a little of the Shilin Stone Forest near Kunming in China. The next route 40 of the city is San Carlos, from where the road is paved again to Cafayate.
I arrived in Cafayate shortly after 6pm, which was on schedule. I didn’t make too many stops for photos in the taxi to make up for the lost time of the broken car. Fewer photos, but on the other hand, I had all the time in the world to look out of the window. The landscape of Route 40 from Cachi to Cafayate is just great. I was in Cafayate for 2 nights, but more on that later. Here you can taste wine. Maybe even better than wine tasting in Mendoza, which I did a few years ago.
I hope this guide to driving from Salta to Cafayate via Cachi will help you plan your trip. The detour is definitely worth it and the landscape is completely different than on Route 68. This road is faster, but who doesn’t want an adventure? Remember, don’t venture too much off-road in a limousine. It will get you in trouble. Read my road trip route to northern Argentina to see what I’ve done more. Northern Argentina is a beautiful area!
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Have you also visited Salta or Cafayate or do you have any questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!
Salta Gallery after Cafayate
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