Whilst being popular with Argentinian tourists, and local Tucumanos who set up camp here during the sweltering summer months, Tafí del Valle it seems is yet to be discovered by international tourists. Only a handful of days prior to arriving, we ourselves had never heard of this high-altitude oasis in Argentina's north, hidden in within the valleys of the Sierra del Aconquija.
With no local airport, the only way in is along the picturesque mountain pass - a drive you certainly want to be awake for. The narrow road twists and turns, the landscape changing form flat plains, to cloud forest and opening up upon the spectacular reservoir filled valley below. We were told us that Tafí's name is derived from the indigenous word Taktillakta, meaning ‘town with a splendid entrance - experience the 80km ride to get here, and we're pretty sure you'll understand why.
Tafí del Valle, simply doesn't look like the miles and miles of land that surrounds it. The pampas of the south do not exist here, nor do the red rock mountains of the north. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had temporarily left Latin America, transported to the lush rolling hills of north Wales (weirdly, 'taffy' and 'valley' are two words very associated with the Welsh, so we both can't stop saying Tafi del Valle in a Welsh accent!)
It is only when you catch sight of a local gaucho atop a beautiful horse that you are reminded that this is still Argentina.
Whilst there are a number of archeological ruins in the area, there are no star attractions here. No, instead this is a town to explore slowly. Enjoy the local food, explore the countryside and drink a glass of excellent Argentinian wine - Tafí del Valle is where you can come to relax!
Tafi is heaven for outdoorsy sorts, with numerous opportunities for hiking, cycling and horse-riding.
If you're only in town for a couple of days, we'd definitely recommend hiking up Cerro de la Cruz for spectacular views over the valley, but if you've got a few more days, consider making it out to El Mollar. This huge lake takes around 3 hours to hike to, so many people opt to jump on the bus or grab a taxi back.
There are numerous hikes in the area, with many navigable without a guide. Your best bet is to do like us and ask your hostel for a map and directions.
Should cycling be more your thing (and given that Tafi is located in a valley it's an excellent place to give it a go), you'll find bicycles for rent in most hotels, but if not there is a shop just behind the visitor's centre that rents them for around AR$180 for 6 hours.
Pick up some souvenirs
Winding its way through the north of Argentina is the well-signposted tourist trail, the Ruta del Artesano - and a major stop on that route is none other than Tafi del Valle, with Avenida Perón (the town's main street) being a haven for souvenir shopping.
Here you'll find beautiful clay pots, hand-weaved baskets and an abundance of wool. Don't miss Cooperativa Union Diaguita for their handmade and naturally dyed wool sweaters, blankets and tablecloths. There are also a handful of small local artist galleries which are worth popping in to.
For a town that holds an annual 'Fiesta Nacional de Queso (cheese festival), it's clear that this a place that takes its dairy products pretty seriously! In fact, more so than its spectacular scenery, Tafi is famous for it goats and cows cheeses.
It took us a little while to find one that we enjoyed (some are quite strong), so we'd recommend that you try a few free samples at one of the many small delicatessens in the town centre first. Once you've found one that you love, pick up some Argentinian wine and, if you eat meat, some local sausage and go find a beautiful spot for a picnic!
More of a beer drinker? Don't miss Kkechuwa! Take a seat on the terrace and try one of their locally made artisanal beers.
Relax in an Estancia
If you have dutifully written on your Argentinian bucket-list 'to stay on an Estancia', this is an excellent spot to tick it off.. There are several estancias within the city limits, and they seem to charge considerably less than elsewhere in the country.
Whilst we opted for a hostel on this occasion, a place that came highly recommended was Estancia Los Quartos, in the centre of town.
Best time to go
Given Tafi del Valle's popularity with Argentinian tourists and Tucaman locals, it is unsurprising that the town and the surrounding area become incredibly busy over the summer holiday period (December-January) and Semana Santa - which in turn means that the prices can increase quite significantly. If you have no choice but to visit in these months, do try and limit your say to the middle of the week to avoid the worst of the foot traffic.
Additionally, it is worth bearing in mind that the green valleys that surround Tafi are not always so, well, green. If you choose to come at the end of summer, they may well be a little more brown!
Where to stay
There are a few hostels in town, but after dutifully studying the Lonely Planet and trawling our over-stuffed backpacks along the twisting tracks of Tafi, we knew there was only one choice for us - Nomade Hostel.
In fact, we think it's fair to say that our time spent at Nomade, well and truly made our stay in Tafí! This cosy hostel has everything a true traveller could want, in a fantastic country cottage style. Friendly staff (limited English) that know all the best places to go, a troupe of amazing dogs that will want to accompany you on hikes (whether or not they're invited), a beautiful garden area to enjoy that bottle Argentinian red wine, a comfy living room to curl up in once the sun goes down and the temperature drops and - best of all - breakfast and dinner included. The girls that run this place are incredible cooks, and to ensure they cater to everyone all meals are vegetarian, and often vegan. Exactly the sort of comfort food you want after a long day of exploring.
Prices start at AR$220 per person. Click here to find out more and make a reservation.
Aconquija is the only bus company that serves Tafi - but, thankfully, its service is great, with several buses to and from Tucumán and Cafayate everyday.
Buses for Tucumán are incredibly frequent, departing every couple of hours between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. but do have a tendency to fill up during busy periods - definitely aim to get to the terminal with enough time before your chosen departure.
If you are headed north, buses leave for Amaicha del Valle, Santa María (Catamarca) and Cafayate daily from the main terminal, but are much less frequent, with only a couple a day.
For a full timetable, click here (only available in Spanish).
Two things of note, when we were there you were also unable to pay with card so make sure you have enough cash, and secondly, tickets cannot be purchased in advance.