ARGENTINA – Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40 via Cachi

Route 40 scenery - ARGENTINA - Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40

If you’re following my northern Argentina road trip itinerary, you’ll notice that there are two ways to get from Salta to Cafayate. I drove both and now it’s time to have a closer look at route 40 which I drove from Salta to Cafayate via Cachi. It passed stunning scenery including Los Cardones National Park. I highly recommend either taking this route towards Cafayate or one the way back to Salta. Let’s have a look at the highlights plus some tips to avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Salta to Cafayate by car

Although driving form Salta to Cafayate via Cachi can be done in a few hours I recommend starting early morning. There are so many magnificent views and must-see places that you’ll stop frequently. A regular (small) sedan is enough even for the unpaved road. They are all in good condition.

I departed Kkala Boutique Hotel in Salta around 7AM. The first 20 kilometers south are over Route 68 until El Carril where the journey goes westwards over Route 33. Route 33 takes you all the way to Route 40. Do NOT try to take Route 42 unless you’re in a 4×4. I’ll get to that later as it’s not a safe road for a small sedan. Once on Route 40 the drive to Cafayate is several hours with magnificent scenery.

Farm - ARGENTINA - Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40

Los Cardones National Park

The first stop from Salta to Cafayate is Los Cardones National Park. The road from El Carril towards Los Cardones National Park starts easy but after 30-40 kilometers the unpaved roads goes up the mountain. Pretty steep with a lot of hairpins. Although unpaved a regular sedan is very well capable of driving this road. There are various corridors with magnificent views. Just stop as you please and make lots of photos. Once at the top of the mountain there is a small chapel called Capilla San Raphael just after Cuesta del Obispo (Bishop’s Slope). Have a look around and then continue down into the valley while checking the skies as well. You might spot an Andean condor.

If you are visiting Salta or Cafayate then make sure to read also:
The northwest; best 7-day Salta itinerary including Jujuy

 

COVID-19 (Corona virus) update for Salta or Cafayate: Make sure to check IATA list of affected entry and transit restrictions for this country. Also check with your airline for options to re-book or re-route. The Corona virus will go away eventually for sure. Make sure before travelling if Salta or Cafayate is a COVID-19 (Coronavirus) area and if restrictions apply before travelling.

Capilla San Rafael - ARGENTINA - Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40

Valle Calchaqui

You’re now at 3300 meters above sea level so take care in case you get altitude sickness. If you follow my northern Argentine road trip itinerary however you should be fine as it slowly increases altitude. While driving into the valley the road changes from unpaved to a newly paved road in the valley. After about 10 kilometers look for a sign on the right side “Mirador Ojo de Condor”. You’ll have a magnificent view there over the Valle Calchaqui which is full of cacti. It’s a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site but honestly I do not see it get inscribed as there are other places that are similar inscribed already.

The road through the valley is a 15-kilometer straight road (Tin Tin Straight Line) with various photo stops. It’s the most straight road if you drive from Salta to Cafayate. Drive this road towards Route 40 and then to Cachi. Do not attempt what I did and enter Route 42.

Valle Calchaqui Los Cardones National Park- ARGENTINA - Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40

Car troubles & rescue without mobile reception

I decided that I would drive around 20 kilometers on Route 42 and then back to the main road. To see the landscape. This would cost me just over an hour which was perfectly possible in my schedule. Bad choice! It looks like Argentina and cars gives me troubles. Two years back I had troubles driving the road of the Jesuit Estancias of Córdoba when I accidently was on a road only suitable for 4×4.

I knew that all roads from Salta to Cafayate were suitable for a sedan. Unless you go on a side road as I did. Small stones and sand did give problems. Probably a small stone hit an electrical wire which ruptured, and the car simply stopped working. A tire I can replace but this simply was impossible for me to fix. I had to call in roadside assistance. Easier said as done because there was simply no cell reception. I knew at the main road I had reception as I looked up Google maps, so I had no choice as to walk around 20 kilometers back to the main road.

If you are visiting Salta or Cafayate then make sure to read also:
The northwest; best 7-day Salta itinerary including Jujuy

 

COVID-19 (Corona virus) update for Salta or Cafayate: Make sure to check IATA list of affected entry and transit restrictions for this country. Also check with your airline for options to re-book or re-route. The Corona virus will go away eventually for sure. Make sure before travelling if Salta or Cafayate is a COVID-19 (Coronavirus) area and if restrictions apply before travelling.

Luckily after 45 minutes walking park rangers passed by in a 4×4. They already saw my car some kilometers back and then found me. I was saved as in the scorching heat, 35 degrees Celsius, at an altitude and just a small bottle of water left I would have ended up in more troubles. They arranged for me a ride to Chachi from where I continued in a taxi to Cafayate. The rangers kept the car keys where the car rental picked them up to take the car. The next day in Cafayate I got a new car.

Lesson learned. Make sure to bring enough water and make sure there is cell reception. Next time I’ll also take a 4×4 just in case and I’ll let someone know where I go.

Car Trouble - ARGENTINA - Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40

Cachi city tour half way from Salta to Cafayate

Cachi is about halfway from Salta to Cafayate and you should try to be there around lunch time. In my case the park rangers dropped me at the tourist office in Cachi which arranged for a taxi to bring me to Cafayate. That cost me 200 EURO. Luckily my travel insurance paid for that. So, the complete Route 40 I was in a taxi and of course not able to make the numerous stops I wanted to make. In Cachi I did have an hour as planned. The tourist office was so kind to store my luggage.

Cachi town square - ARGENTINA - Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40

I walked around the main square over the cobble stone streets for about half an hour. There is a church, archeological museum, and beautiful white painted houses. I then had some empanadas for lunch and a good glass of wine. The wine was the only advantage of my car troubles. I didn’t have to drive myself anymore. After lunch I continued my journey from Salta to Cafayate by taxi.

If you are visiting Salta or Cafayate then make sure to read also:
The northwest; best 7-day Salta itinerary including Jujuy

 

COVID-19 (Corona virus) update for Salta or Cafayate: Make sure to check IATA list of affected entry and transit restrictions for this country. Also check with your airline for options to re-book or re-route. The Corona virus will go away eventually for sure. Make sure before travelling if Salta or Cafayate is a COVID-19 (Coronavirus) area and if restrictions apply before travelling.

EXTEND YOUR TRIP: If you like to extend your trip a night in Cachi is a good choice. It’s a lovely town and you can wander around much longer as just an hour on your way from Salta to Cafayate. This will give you a bit more time at each of the stopping points of this road trip as well.

Route 40 scenery

Route 40 - ARGENTINA - Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40

Route 40 is an unpaved road between Cachi and Cafayate, but the condition is perfect for sedans, so you don’t need a 4×4 SUV. As I was in a taxi, I couldn’t stop at all the photo stops I wanted to but luckily the driver was ok with stopping a few times. Keep in mind it’s a 3-4-hour drive and he still had to return that evening to Cachi as well. That road in the dark isn’t nice driving so do not drive from Salta to Cafayate at night via Route 40.

The landscape slowly changed to a surreal moon landscape towards the Calchaquí River Valley. You’ll pass the Quebrada de las Flechas which is a national monument. It’s sharp rocks and sandstone cliffs. It reminded me a bit of the Shilin Stone Forest near Kunming in China. The next town Route 40 passes is San Carlos from where the road is paved again to Cafayate.

Route 40 - ARGENTINA - Salta to Cafayate by car: The scenic route 40

I arrived in Cafayate just after 6PM which was on schedule. I didn’t make to much stops for photos while in the taxi so that made up for the lost time of the broken car. Less photos but at the other hand I had all the time of the world to look out of the window. The scenery of Route 40 from Cachi to Cafayate is simply magnificent. In Cafayate I stayed for 2 nights but more on that later. It’s the place to taste wine. Maybe even better as wine tasting in Mendoza which I did several years ago as well.

I hope this travel guide for driving from Salta to Cafayate via Cachi helps you plan your trip. It’s worth the detour for sure and the scenery is completely different as around Route 68. That road is faster but who doesn’t want some adventure? Just keep in mind do not venture out off road in a sedan to much. It will get you in troubles. Read my northern Argentina road trip itinerary to see what I did more. Norther Argentina is a beautiful area!

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COVID-19 (Corona virus) update for Salta or Cafayate: Make sure to check IATA list of affected entry and transit restrictions for this country. Also check with your airline for options to re-book or re-route. The Corona virus will go away eventually for sure. Make sure before travelling if Salta or Cafayate is a COVID-19 (Coronavirus) area and if restrictions apply before travelling.

Did you visit Salta or Cafayate too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Salta to Cafayate

Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

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