BEAT THE CROWDS
On the Road in Northwest Argentina
With its vast landscapes, picturesque villages high in the Andes Mountains, and burgeoning tourism infrastructure, this region around Salta is on a growing number of travelers' wish lists.
TO THE SOUTH
Go back toward Salta past the farms in the Valle de Lerma before turning west along Route 33—which climbs the moss-colored slopes of the Cuesta del Obispo. You'll reach a peaceful mountain pass with a small chapel at almost 11,000 feet.
The road levels off here and crosses an arid plateau to Cachi, a village near the base of the snowcapped Nevado del Cachi. Check in to La Merced del Alto, a luxurious colonial-style hotel just up the hill from the small village (doubles from $122), and then return to Cachi's main plaza for some bruschetta and a glass of wine at Oliver's Café.
Continue south toward Cafayate along legendary Route 40—stretching the length of the country, it's the Route 66 of Argentina. Pull over in Molinos to see its restored church and snack on empanadas in the shade of the courtyard at Hacienda de Molinos, a hotel opposite the church.
The changing scenery is a distraction from the staccato rhythm of driving on unpaved road. There are patches of irrigated farm plots, and further along, jagged rock formations that are evidence of the area's turbulent tectonic past.
Closer to Cafayate, vineyards begin to appear. One of the highest-altitude wine-producing regions in the world, Cafayate has quickly become a renowned wine destination. Bodegas Etchart and Bodega Domingo Hermanos are good vineyards for tasting torrontés, the area's cherished white wine.
• Sleep Viñas de Cafayate is a boutique hotel on the edge of town built around a garden courtyard, with rooms facing out over the surrounding vineyard (doubles from $138).
Pick up Route 68, which weaves its way back to Salta through the Quebrada de Cafayate. The drive takes in ever-changing colors and unexpected formations: red, orange and yellow-ocher mountainsides eroded by the wind into fanciful and unusual shapes.
All prices are in U.S. dollars; all hotels rates include breakfast. Trip length: A minimum of six days is required.