Cafayate, Argentina: Small-town Colonial Living at its Best

Any overseas getaway that enjoys 330 days of sunshine each year will automatically get my attention. But in the Argentine town of Cafayate, that’s just the beginning. Here you’ll also enjoy a picturesque Spanish-colonial town, dramatic scenery, a low cost of living, and a clean, safe environment…not to mention a great wine industry.

You can check out a video of the town square here.

Located in the highlands of Argentina’s far northwest, Cafayate lies at the southern end of the Salta province, some 1,000 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. The town sits at 5,300 feet above sea level, and is ringed with jagged peaks rising thousands of feet into the air. Temperatures here vary seasonally, and can go over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, and hit freezing in the winter…although it doesn’t snow.

The ride down here from Salta is nothing short of dramatic, as you pass through some of the most startling desert scenery in the world. The endless rows of mountains and tall peaks are colored fiery red by the afternoon sun as you drive along the valley floor.

And the countryside is loaded with natural monuments, as you pass buttes, spires, plateaus and mesas along the highway.

If you’ve ever seen Monument Valley in the American Southwest, you’ll know what I’m talking about…it’s quite similar.

Here in the heart of gaucho country, you might expect Cafayate to be a dusty, Third-World outpost…but nothing could be further from the truth.

Cafayate has that laid-back, Spanish-colonial look and feel, with its town square, Spanish architecture, and red-tile roofs. But I found it has far more infrastructure than you’d expect in a village of just over 6,000 people.

The central plaza is ringed with sidewalk cafes, upscale restaurants, wine shops and souvenir outlets, not to mention clothing and shoe stores. And the well-kept shops are not only just around the square, but throughout the downtown. The Terruño Gastronomía Gourmet restaurant on the plaza, for example, will compete favorably with most any big-city restaurant.

If you’re a wine lover, you’ll be in heaven in Cafayate. There are a number of wineries who have bodegas right in town, so you can enjoy tours and tastings within only a short walk of your hotel. And if they’re not open, there are a number of wine boutiques where you can choose from the favorites of the region.

While in Cafayate, I didn’t see a single word of graffiti, no litter, or any unsavory activity afoot. To give you an idea of how safe it is, an old man approached me when I was using the ATM, and asked if I could help him. He then handed me his ATM card, his PIN written on a piece of paper, and asked me to withdraw $175 for him. That told us a lot about how safe it is here.

The only down side I could see about Cafayate is that it’s located a long way from anywhere. From Miami it’s a 9-hour flight to Buenos Aires, followed by an airport-change and a two-hour flight to Salta…followed by a three-hour drive down the valley.

But oddly, the expats we spoke to there didn’t mind at all. In fact, the remoteness of Cafayate was part of what drew them to this lifestyle in the first place.

If you want to get away from it all at the end of the world—and do it in style—then Cafayate may well be right for you.

Editor’s note: Lee’s full report on Cafayate—including notes on the property market—will appear in an upcoming issue of International Living magazine.

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