We departed Iguazu on an early morning bus which took us through both day and night towards Salta, Argentina. The nearly 1600km ride was excruciatingly long but worthwhile when we arrived in the beautiful Argentinian city. Northern Argentina has a very different vibe than the rest of Argentina, much more indigenous as this area has a lot more in common with Bolivia and Peru in terms of tradition and heritage.
Salta is the capital city of the northern province of the same name and makes a fantastic base for visiting the surrounding area. Nicknamed Salta la Linda (“Salta the Fair”), it is a very different tourist destination than the cosmopolitan cities of the south. Salta is a colonial city with many fantastic cafes, bars, museums and entertainment venues to keep a traveller busy, as well as beautiful architecture, plazas, and parks. It is full of beautiful architecture and surrounded by mountains and canyons, and most of the main Northern Argentinian sights are a close drive away.
A great way to get an overview of Salta is to take the Teleferico gondola to the top of San Bernardo Hill for a beautiful city view. A one-way ticket costs around $10 pesos ($20 pesos for the round trip) and takes about 10 minutes each way. There is a nice cafe at the top where you can enjoy a reasonably priced lunch and a drink while overlooking the city. Active types can hike back down the hill on an easy path which takes about an hour – a highly recommended way to spend an afternoon.
One of the most fascinating sites, available only in Salta is a visit to the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (The High Mountain Archeological Museum) which showcases three mummy children who are over 500 years old. The three children were found in 1999 in the Llullaillaco Volcano (over 6739 metres above sea level) in the Andes, and due to the mountain conditions are almost perfectly intact. It is an extremely interesting exhibit along with the over 100 different artifacts found with the children, in sacrifice to the Inca gods.
I recommend spending at least 3 days in the city and extra to enjoy the countryside. Make sure to book accommodations close to the central plaza, 9 de Julio, as this is very much a walking city and all the best sights are central. Salta has some incredible colonial architecture and one of the most recognizable icons of the city is the colorful Iglesia de San Francisco which is just outside the main plaza. The views of the church (and other buildings in the center) are especially stunning at night, so photographers are encouraged to bring the appropriate low-light photography gear.
We spent about 5 days in the capital of Salta and the surrounding area, using a hired private car to drive us around the countryside. Salta is one of Argentina’s top cities and I highly recommend spending at least 3 days exploring the capital. The northern province has much to offer a visitor as well, including numerous world-class vineyards, quaint towns steeped in culture and tradition, and artisan markets. The countryside here is stunning, a diverse blend of rugged mountains, lush forest and sprawling desert – perfect for the outdoor enthusiast and camera nut.
Here are some great spots to visit during a day-trip from Salta:
Cafayate in an important tourist spot in the Salta Province, sitting at over 1,600 m above sea level, on the border of forest and the barren sandstone canyons of the Valles Calchaquíes. It is most popularly know for its many fantastic vineyards, that produce high quality and original wines, such as the Argentinan varietal – Torrontes. Wine touring here is a must.
Seven Colored Mountains
Also known as Cerro de los Siete Colores (“The Hill of Seven Colors”), this is a gorgeous, colorful mountain range near Purmamarca. The unique colors come from marine sediment and are an amazing sight, making the perfect spot for some day hiking and photography.
Purmamarca is home to some of the most fantastic scenery in the area, backed by the Seven Colored Mountains as well as unique rock formations. The town has many artisans and craft markets to explore and is a place of historical significance, as an ancient route connecting the mountains and the coast.
Humahuaca is a dusty town near the Bolivian border which has many artisan shops and whose churches and museums show the distinct colonial influence in the area. It’s a great place to wander and feel lost in time amount the cobblestone squares.
Tilcara is a per-Hispanic fortress and one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements of Argentina. There is evidence of human habitation dating back more than 10,000 years. Nowadays it has a rich artist community and has museums displaying archaeological artefacts and local crafts, such as high-quality clay pottery and woven goods.