The Valles Calchaquíes are a series of beautiful highland valleys that enjoy over three hundred days of sunshine a year, a dry climate and much cooler summers than the lowland plains around Salta. The fertile land, irrigated with canals and ditches that capture the plentiful snowmelt from the high mountains to the west, is mostly given over to vineyards – among the world’s highest – that produce the characteristic Torrontés grape. The valleys are named after the Río Calchaquí, which has its source in the Nevado de Acay (at over 5000m) near San Antonio de los Cobres, and joins the Río de las Conchas, near Salta’s border with Tucumán.
Organized tours from Salta squeeze a visit into one day, stopping at the valleys’ main settlement, the airy village of Cafayate, for lunch. However, by far the most rewarding way to see the Valles Calchaquíes is under your own steam, by climbing the amazing Cuesta del Obispo, through the Parque Nacional Los Cardones, a protected forest of gigantic cardón cacti, to the picturesque village of Cachi; then follow the valley south through some memorable scenery via Molinos and San Carlos, on to Cafayate, where plentiful accommodation facilitates a stopover. The scenic road back down to Salta through the Quebrada de Cafayate, or Cuesta de las Conchas, snakes past some incredible rock formations, optimally seen in the late afternoon or early evening light. All along the valleys, you’ll see typical casas de galería: long, single-storey houses, some with a colonnade of rounded arches, others decorated with pointed ogival arches or straight pillars.