Córdoba, Salta, and Mendoza

I swept through three cities in the northern half of Argentina: Córdoba, Salta, and Mendoza. These cities were less memorable (for me) than other parts of the country, so I’ll be brief(er) in recapping them.


CÓRDOBA

Córdoba seems like a great city in which to live or study, but it’s not a typical travel destination. Although the sights weren’t over-the-top spectacular, Córdoba is a nice location if you’re looking to settle into a more relaxed pace.

As a former college tour guide, I will always be a dork, so I walked to Universidad Nacional de Córdoba on a Sunday afternoon to check out the campus. It ended up being skippable; it was quiet since there were no classes, and the buildings were a bit dreary. On my way back to the city center, I stopped at nearby Parque Sarmiento, which contained a few art installations.

parque sarmiento

Paseo de las Artes is a market open on the weekends. It seemed to cater to locals, so the stalls displayed art rather than souvenirs – a nice change from other markets I had visited. After walking through the market, I passed by Iglesia de los Capuchinos as parishioners exited from Sunday mass.

iglesia de los capuchinos

On another day, I walked by Paseo de Buen Pastor, a plaza with fountains.

paseo de buen pastor

On my last afternoon in Córdoba, I went to Mercado Norte, where I had my best meal in the city. I visited a stand called Diran, where the family owners warmly greeted me as they took my order. I got shawarma filled with crispy bits of meat, tahini, and tabbouleh. It was messy to the point where I eventually had to use a knife and fork, but it was tasty and satisfying.

diran

I really don’t know how to take photos of food. This shawarma tasted so much better than the photo suggests.

Another standout from my stay in Córdoba was my guesthouse Casa Helsinki. It was clean, spacious, and homey. Even though I’m allergic, I loved the resident cat, and I think it might have loved me (but who really knows with cats?). On my first night in Córdoba, the cat batted my door open and inspected my room. On my second night, as I was leaving for dinner, the cat followed me to the front door and kept rubbing against my legs. I was worried it would escape if I opened the door, so I led it back to reception area and then sprinted out.

casa helsinki

I also worked on my laptop in the living room a couple of times, and the cat cozied up to me and slept on my lap.

casa helsinki

OK, cat, who cares if I sneeze? You win.


SALTA

I visited Salta to explore the surrounding desert scenery. On my first day in the city, I booked tours to the small towns of Cafayate and Humahuaca with Turismo Responsable.

Cafayate is a three-hour drive from Salta, so I was picked up first thing in the morning. One of our stops was a rock formation known as El Anfiteatro.

el anfiteatro

Our tour guide said it was a good place to practice opera singing due to the acoustics, but I refrained (although, if I wanted to drive out all the other visitors to have El Anfiteatro to myself, attempting an aria would have been an excellent way to do it).

We also stopped at Tres Cruces, which provided a great view of the surrounding mountains and valley.

tres cruces

On the outskirts of Cafayate was Vasija Secreta winery, where we tried Torrontés and Malbec. Torrontés, with its acidity and fruitiness, is my jam. I’m a fan of the drinkability and affordability of Argentine wine in general, so Vasija Secreta was a fun stop.

We reached Cafayate’s main plaza at around 1:00 PM. As a dessert fiend, my first stop was Calchaquitos, where I bought wine and chocolate alfajores. I preferred the chocolate to the wine, but this was splitting hairs – they were both wonderful.

calchaquitos

Chocolate alfajor

As if two alfajores weren’t enough sugar already, I also got a Torrontés ice cream cone. Frozen wine might have been a more accurate description than ice cream. The flavor was a lot stronger than expected, and the alcohol packed a punch.

My second tour to Humahuaca included a 3.5-hour drive from Salta, so it was another early morning for my tour pickup. We stopped at Purmamarca, which was full of vibrant textiles and souvenirs that reminded me of Bolivia and Peru. We also visited a viewpoint of Cerro de los Siete Colores.

siete colores

TBH, I was expecting something more dramatic based on photos I had seen before the tour.

We then reached Pucará de Tilcara, ruins with views of Quebrada de Humahuaca.

pucara de tilcara

The ruins

quebrada de humahuaca

Quebrada de Humahuaca

Pucará de Tilcara was my favorite part of the tour, as I don’t remember much from Humahuaca itself; I didn’t take any photos once we reached the town center.

I think Salta would have stood out more if I hadn’t been to Salar de Uyuni or the Atacama Desert beforehand. The salar and Atacama were out of this world, and it was hard to avoid thinking, “Well, this view of Cerro de los Siete Colores is nice, but it’s not quite as amazing as [Laguna Colorada, El Tatio, etc.].”


MENDOZA

I didn’t love Mendoza as much as I thought I would. Another downer (I apologize – I know I’m not doing a good job at being glowingly positive in this post), and I was surprised Mendoza didn’t make more of an impression on me. With vineyards everywhere and a drier, more moderate climate, what’s not to like?

Three wine regions are around Mendoza. The more bougie – for lack of a better term – wineries are in Luján and Uco, and many require reservations for tastings. The wineries in Luján and Uco are also spread out, so it’s usually advised to join a tour or hire a driver. In contrast, Maipú has less expensive wineries that are closer together, so it’s common for visitors (i.e., backpackers or travelers on a budget) to bike between the wineries. Most of the wineries in Maipú don’t require reservations.

My hostel offered a number of tours, including spa days and horseback riding. Let’s be real: wine was my main reason to visit Mendoza, so a biking tour in Maipú was #1 on my to-do list. Every morning, the hostel owners rounded up guests interested in the bike tour, so they could leave as a group.

On the morning of my wine tour, I met a 26-year-old Brit who lamented that it had been a while since he found someone he meshed with on the road. I could relate to his complaint since I had certainly experienced my share of periods where I didn’t meet people I really connected with. Still, I didn’t get what “types” of people he was hoping to meet based on our conversation.

Since the Brit and I both planned to visit wineries in Maipú, the hostel owner introduced us to three other guests who also wanted to go on a wine tour: a man-bunned Scot in his early 30s and two 23-year-old Australians. The three had met at a legendary party hostel in Buenos Aires (I’m not exaggerating when I say this hostel has a reputation; I kept meeting people throughout South America who had stayed there). The Scot and Australians took one look at me and concluded: boring and basic. I couldn’t blame them – they weren’t wrong. I knew I was going to be the odd one out in the group, but the Brit seemed thrilled.

We took a 30-minute bus ride to Maipú Bikes, where the staff gave us a map of nearby wineries as we paid for our bike rentals (150 ARS or ~$3.50). We decided on Tempus Alba as our first stop, which was a 25-minute ride away. Although there was a bike path for the first half of the ride, we had to bike among traffic for the second half. A couple of us – you bet I was one of them – were uncomfortable with biking right next to cars, but we made it to Tempus Alba unscathed.

Tempus Alba had a self-guided tour, but the Aussies were ready to drink, so we headed straight to the terrace to order wine tastings. I got rosé, Syrah, and Malbec (100 ARS or ~$2.50). I favor crisp, fruity, and/or spicy wines over funky, complex, or heavy (I guess “full-bodied” is the more appropriate term) ones. Yeah, the Scot and Australians were spot on when they deemed me basic. It was no surprise that I preferred the rosé, although I still happily drank the Syrah and Malbec.

tempus alba

After we finished our tastings, we biked to Viña el Cerno, a family-owned vineyard with organic wines. The owners’ daughter, a dreadlocked singer, kindly welcomed us; there was no doubt we were at an organic winery. I tried the Malbec, Syrah, and sparkling Torrontés, which were all great (90 ARS or ~$2).

vina el cerno

I’m not even going to try describing the wines in more detail because nothing’s more painful than reading tasting notes by someone who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

At Viña el Cerno, our group met a San Diego native who had lived in New Zealand for five years with her Kiwi boyfriend. I thought the San Diegan was perfectly nice (maybe we were able to bond over our shared nationality – ‘Murica!), but the Australian girls couldn’t stand her. They managed to pretend to be interested while speaking to the San Diegan, but they ripped into her after we left the winery.

Our last stop was Mevi, where we ordered lunch and a couple more glasses of wine. Like Tempus Alba, Mevi had a terrace, where our group hung out.

mevi

I can’t recall much of the substance of my group’s conversations during our wine tour, but I do remember thinking that I was different from my group mates. I tend to think before I speak and usually keep my emotions in check, but the Scot and Australians had much less of a filter. This meant they were entertaining, but they could also be quick to judge others (see, e.g., the Australians’ distaste for the San Diegan). The Brit loved this; he, like a few other Brits I met on the road, jumped at any chance to engage in banter and had missed it during his travels. I, on the other hand, had a lot less to contribute. It was a personality clash, plain and simple. We were all adults and civil to each other, but I knew I wouldn’t become their new best friend.

Once we finished our lunch and last glasses of wine, we headed back to Maipú Bikes. Our motor skills were considerably impaired on the ride back, but we made up for it with inordinate confidence. Maipú Bikes had a happy hour ready for all returning bikers, and everyone took full advantage of free wine. Less than $4 for a full-day bike rental and unlimited happy hour wine was a steal.

The wineries in Maipú were lovely, and I enjoyed all the wines I tasted. Being out of place with my group threw me off though, and I think this affected my feelings about Mendoza. If I had been in a group that was a better fit, I probably wouldn’t have any reservations in calling the day a fantastic success and would have left Mendoza with fonder memories.

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