Rio Colorado: The trek you should tell your mother about after it is finished

Posted by on Jun 19, 2011 in Argentina | 2 comments

The desert is a harsh place, and nothing depicts how harsh better than the plants and animals that call it home.


Leah and I went on a 5 hour hike to see some waterfalls in the mountains surrounding the quaint town of Cafayate, Argentina. Cafayate is the kind of town I pictured in my mind when I thought of northern Argentina. The city was built around a central park. Restaurants with all sorts of meats cooking over open flame grills and the city’s church overlook the park. The city centers in Argentina are always a happening place, with tourists walking around, people peddling popcorn, hot dogs, and all sorts of street food, and people relaxing during siesta.

Lady relaxing by the city center

Sand storms swept through this desert town as Leah and I arrived at the foothills of the Rio Colorado trek. We met a great group of travelers at the hostel and we decided the 7 of us didn’t need a guide, we’d just follow the stream to the waterfalls. Sounded easy enough. We made it about 100 yards, and quickly realized we didn’t know what we were doing. An Indian guy, who lived in a modest house on the stream told us he’d guide us for free. Just a donation of whatever we thought the tour was worth. We agreed and we were off on our adventure. And I use adventure in every essence of the word. Had I called home and told my mother we’d be scaling slippery rocks with 100 foot drop-offs, or stumbling around mountain lion infested hills she probably would have freaked out.

Death Cactus

5 minutes into the walk, the guide showed us a cactus that was poisonous. And not poisonous like you might feel light headed or throw up, poisonous like your butt is dead the day you touch the cactus. I expected to be stepping over mountain goats that inadvertently happened upon this death cactus.   Really? Come on cactus, you have big spikes growing everywhere is poison really necessary? Seems a bit extreme if you ask me. Oh and don’t touch that plant it has a parasite that will make you sick. And see that little caterpillar, we call it the “burn worm”… The guide had us all second guessing each step, was that the death cactus? look out for Mr. Burn worm. We could hardly enjoy the beautiful scenery around us.


View from atop the mountain

The desert seems to be a land of extremities. For every spiky, thorny, or poisonous plant there was a plant used for medicine, or repelling insects, or herbs for tea. It was amazing to see how much this native knew about the land he lived on. He truly lived off the land.

We made our way to the first waterfall, it was beautiful and tranquil. We even crawled through a dark cave to get behind the waterfall for a more spectacular view.

The Waterfall

We zigzagged up the mountain and enjoyed lunch with a perfect view. Most of the hike was pretty easy, there wasn’t a path, but the guide knew the way. There were some extreme parts of the hike having almost vertical climbs with little cacti sprinkled like candy all over the face of the cliff. You had to be extremely attentive to what you were using as a grip. A handful of spikes would not be pleasant while suspended on the side of a mountain.

Leah Cliff Climbing

After we finished with the trek, the guide brought us back to his home at the base of the mountain. His family has lived here for many generations. In his kitchen he prepared some mountain goat stew as well as tea from herbs he picked while we walked to the waterfall. He showed us some of the hides he had gotten from animals on the land, including a puma he had hunted with his dogs.

Tour Guide's Home

Guide with Hide =)

After a long day of hiking we were not looking forward to our 2 hour walk back into town. Lucky for us, our guide’s father was taking a shipment of sheep’s wool into town to sell. Great! So we hopped in the back of his old pickup truck and sat on burlap sacks full of wool. We road back into town, and all the people from the town that saw us had a good chuckle.

Truly one of the best days of the trip.

P.S. I’m pretty sure that cactus is not poisonous. Google and another guide we talked to had never heard of that plant.

Ok, I’ll quit rambling and leave ya’ll with a couple pictures. As always, click on the image to see a larger version!

Wool Truck Ride



  1. Hi from austria .. =)

    I was now my first time on your blog .. it’s really amazing what you’ve done and seen already!! .. could you say what was the best thing till yet?! …

    It was so nice to meet you in atlanta .. I hope I will see you sometime in austria .. when it’s not to boring for you … ;D

    so take good care of you .. I really wish you all the best .. and more unforgetable adventures!!! ..


  2. Wow…. You two!! The pictures are amazing. The story was well written, as usual. Love to hear about your adventures. Glad you are having fun, please BE SAFE!!!! Love, Mom

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