A Complete Guide To Salta Argentina

A Complete Guide To Salta Argentina

I visited Salta, Argentina, during my first trip to the country, and fell in love with it. Salta easily qualifies as one my favorite provinces in Argentina. Blessed with a pleasant climate throughout the year and home to the second largest wine producing region in the country (the first is Mendoza), it is so beautiful that it’s been nicknamed Salta la Linda (Salta the beautiful).

Salta is lesser known compared to other places in Argentina. Due to the lack of the large influx of European immigrants that occurred in the rest of the country, Salta and the rest of the north of Argentina have managed to retain a very indigenous character both in terms of looks and traditions.

This is not Argentina you’d expect it – and it is a very welcome chance. In a way I feel it is more similar to the neighboring Bolivia. Here, you’ll be able to experience the culture of the Andes and of the Quechua, and to try food that is different from the typical Argentine flavors.

I wholeheartedly recommend including Salta in your Argentina travel plans.

Read my posts A Guide To The Greatest Things To Do In Argentina” and A Flash Pack’s Argentina Itinerary.”

In this post, I share all the top things to do in Salta and provide some information to help you organize your trip there.

Salta Argentina

The province of Salta is one of the most picturesque in Argentina

13 Fabulous Things To Do In Salta, Argentina

Hang out in Plaza 9 de Julio

Salta was founded in 1582 and has since then retained its colonial charm. The best place to get a proper idea of the colonial past is the main square, Plaza 9 de Julio. It is surrounded by lovely small cafés, cobblestone streets, and hosts the beautiful Cathedral – possibly the most famous landmark in town with its bring pink color.

The Cathedral was built between 1856 and 1882, after the previous cathedral was destroyed in an earthquake. It  hosts various religious relics in a small adjacent museum, as well as the ashes of revolutionary war hero Martin Miguel de Güemes are housed, plus a small museum of religious relics.

These are a few good walking tours of Salta:

Visit the local museums   

If you are flexible enough, make sure not to explore the city of Salta, Argentina, on a Monday. That’s when the Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana (MAAM) is closed and frankly it’d be a pity to miss it.

The highlight of this anthropology museum dedicated to the Andean culture and where you’ll find plenty of Inca artifacts are the mummies of three Inca children that were found by scientists in 1999 in the summit of Llullaillaco Volcano, at 6700 meters above sea level and well buried in the snow. It is believed that they had been drugged and then used as human sacrifices to the gods around 1490.

The freezing conditions helped preserve the bodies of the children, to the point that things such as their hair, their clothes and even their internal organs have been preserved.

The mummies are kept in airtight glass cases and only one at a time is shown to the public, in an effort to ensure their preservation.

Another interesting museum is located in the Cabildo, the City Hall located in Plaza 9 de Julio. The museum has an exhibit of documents and various artifacts about the role of Salta in Argentina’s independence. If you don’t want to visit the museum, make sure to at least peep in to admire the building which is a lovely example of colonial architecture, with a nice central courtyard and colorful plants.

Finally, the Museo Pajcha Arte Etnico is a very interesting place if you are interested in pre-Colombian art and Andean culture. It’s a bit out of the center of town, and in fact it is a private collection with limited access hours. The best part of it is that it is off the beaten path so if you visit chances are you’ll get the owner and curator to guide you around, making the visit all the more interesting.

Argentina Salta

The incredible landscape of the Salta Province

Enjoy the view from Cerro San Bernardo

One of the nicest things to do in Salta, Argentina, is going all the way to Cerro San Bernardo to take in the incredible views. There is a funicular that goes all the way to the top – it’s located at about 1 km from Plaza 9 de Julio. You can also walk the stairs. Make sure to go on a sunny day for a fantastic experience, or at sunset. There are various food vendors at the top, and you can even get a beer and explore the small market.

Ride the Tren a las Nubes

Train travel isn’t exactly a thing in Argentina. The distances are too long and it’s difficult to maintain the rails. There are a few places in the country where trains are used mostly for tourist purposes. Among them there is Tierra del Fuego. Yet, the best train ride has to be the Tren a las Nubes, which you can enjoy near Salta.

The Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) runs from April to December. It is honestly quite expensive but the views along the ride absolutely fantastic. The train goes into the Lerma Valley all the way to the Quebrada del Toro, through San Antonio de los Cobres, known for being one of the highest villages in Argentina. It then goes along La Polvorilla Viaduct, at 4220 meters above sea level.

The tour normally departs very early from Salta, and returns quite late. Make sure to triple check if the train is actually going, as at times you’ll end up sitting on a bus for a big part of the ride.

These are some tours that include Tren a las Nubes options:

Salta Argentina

The gorgeous landscape in Purmamarca

Explore the Quebrada de Humahuaca 

A road trip along the Quebrada de Humahuaca is one of the absolute best things to do in Salta, Argentina. Words can hardly describe the unique landscape, the lovely small villages, and the breathtaking views along the way.

Among the places to visit in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, make sure to include the many picturesque villages. Among them there are Purmamarca, which is tiny but has a lovely souvenir market and is right at the foothill of the beautiful Cierro los Siete Colores; Maimara, at the foothills of La Paleta del Pintor, a gorgeous colorful mountain.

Tilcara is one of the largest towns in the area, and is famous for its Pucara, a former Inca setting which has been reconstructed practically entirely. If you happen to visit during carnival, make sure to join in the celebrations as they are a lof of fun.

Humahuaca, which is at 3000 meters above sea level, is the largest in the region.

Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to fully explore the quebrada and its villages – I’d suggest to spend at least 3 full days driving around and exploring the villages. Alternatively, there are some good guided day or 2-day trips departing from Salta. These are some good ones:

Salta Argentina

Salinas Grandes is a must when in Salta – even after some rain

Visit Salinas Grandes

I am pretty sure you have hear of Uyuni Salt Flats, in Bolivia. Well, Argentina has its own smaller (yet grand) version of it, and it is at a couple of hours drive from Salta. It is an incredible place, with a stunning light and perfect to take fun photos where the proportions are all skewed. Unfortunately, I visited a day after it had rained and it was all covered in water – but nevertheless gorgeous. You can go directly there or add it to your Quebrada de Humahuaca itinerary.

Here are some good tours of Salinas Grandes:

things to do in Salta Argentina

Make sure to visit the wine region of Cafayate

Explore Cafayate wine region

Not far from Salta, there is the second biggest wine region of Argentina. Cafayate – that’s the name of the town and of the region – produces various different wines, among which the very Argentine Malbec and Torrentés. There are several wineries you can visit. You can either drive from Salta; go on a day trip or even spend a couple of day for full enjoyment. If you have time, make sure to spend some time driving around the Quebrada de Cafayate – it is splendid.

These are some of the best tours of Cafayate departing from Salta:

Are you visiting Mendoza? Check out my posts A Guide To The Most Fun Things To Do In Mendoza, Argentina” and 13 Fantastic Wineries In Mendoza.”

Salta Argentina

A day of adventure is a must when in Salta

Have a full day of adventure

If you are into adventure sports, you won’t want to skip this one: among the best things to do in Salta, Argentina, is spending a full day doing adventure sports such as rafting on Rio Juramento and zip lining around the canyon. The best company that runs this kind of activities is Salta Rafting.

It is a full day tour, where you leave at 8:00 am to drive a couple of hours to the base camp. Once there, you’ll be trained and prepped for the rafting, which is fairly easy yet a lot of fun (perfect for families with children too). You’ll then be taken back to the camp where, while you shower, the staff will prepare a fantastic asado.

Those who haven’t had enough can then go zip lining. It honestly is the best zip line I have ever done, with flights of up to 600 meters above the river. Completely exhilarating, if not a bit scary in parts. It is not a cheap tour – but it’s honestly worth it. You can book the tour here.

Go to a peña

If you turn on the radio when in the region of Salta, you’ll notice that the music is different. Salteños listen to a lot of folk music, and one of the most fun things (though admittedly I wouldn’t do it more than once) is attending a peña (folk concert) where you can also watch dance performances. There are several peñas in Salta, and a couple right outside town.

shopping in Salta

There are a lot of shopping opportunities in the Salta Province

Go shopping 

Salta is a nice place for shopping – whether you are looking for local specialties at a food market, or for souvenirs. My favorite market in town is Mercado Municipal San Miguel. It’s a large indoor market where you’ll find all sorts of food stalls, with plenty of chances to grab something to eat; as well as souvenirs. Besides, it is a nice place to spot a bit of local action.

If you are just looking for souvenirs, the Mercado Artesanal is located in the center of Salta in a restored colonial millhouse. There you’ll find plenty of Andean style things such as hats, scarves, ponchos and what not.

Visit Cachi

The village of Cachi is simply gorgeous and it’d be a pity to miss it. It’s a very well preserved colonial village where you’ll get a good fix for history and colonial architecture. You can get there driving along the Cuesta del Obispo, a winding road from where you’ll get breathtaking views.

These are the best day trips to Cachi:

Try the local cuisine

You’ll find lots of regional food in Salta. Make sure to try locro, a stew of meat, corn and potatoes; humitas, which are husks filled with corn and cheese; tamales, aka steamed leaves filled with meat, potatoes and corn flour. They are very popular street foods, but you can also find them in family run restaurants or at the Mercado San Miguel.

salta argentina

You have to eat empanadas when in Salta!

Eat empanadas

Rumor has it that Salta is where empanadas were invented. I can’t swear to this, but for some reason this is the first place where I tried them and to be honest, for as many empanadas I have had in my multiple trips to Argentina, I have yet to find one that is as good as the ones I have had in Salta. Make sure to get your fill of these light pastries filled with meat and onion, or spinach and ricotta, or even ham and cheese.

Practical Information To Organize Your Trip To Salta, Argentina

Where to stay and eat in Salta and its province

There are plenty of excellent places to stay in Salta and in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, as well as several good restaurants. Here are a few recommendations for you:

When in Salta, make sure to eat at El Viejo Jack. It is a very unpretentious parrilla that serves very good food at more than reasonable prices. If you fancy Argentine style pizza, go to La Colonial. It’s as local as it gets. You’ll find a good selection of small restaurants and fancier ones in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. El Churqui, in Purmamarca, serves typical regional dishes, including llama and the popular humitas.

Salinas Grandes

Salinas Grandes are among the best attractions near Salta

Guided tours of Argentina that also go to Salta

If you aren’t a master of organizing, if you don’t have time for it or if you just want to leave the planning to the experts, you may opt for a guided tour of Argentina that also goes to Salta and takes you to all the best places to visit in the region. The following are some excellent options:

Are you visiting Iguazu? Make sure to read my post Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Iguazu Falls Argentina.”

How to get to Salta 

Salta is well connected to the rest of the country thanks to a good web of buses and flights. It takes around 20 hours by bus from Buenos Aires and just about the same amount of time from Mendoza.

Martín Miguel de Güemes international airport is located at about 11 km from the center of Salta and has regular direct flights to Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina. To get from the airport to the city, you can opt for a cab or for a private transfer, which you can book here.

Traveling to Buenos Aires? Make sure to read my posts 25 Unmissable Things To Do In Buenos Aires” and A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Buenos Aires.”

How to move around Salta

Salta city is easy to move around, and I honestly recommend to just walk everywhere. If you plan to get out of the city (which you totally should!), your best bet is to rent a car. You can check out the prices of car rental here. Alternatively, you can opt to join one of the many guided tours that regularly depart from the city.

When to visit Salta

The best time to visit Salta is at the end of the summer and in the fall, when you’ll have better chances of clear skies and warm days. June to August (Argentine winter) are also good: this is when Patagonia is under snow and it can get very cold in other parts of the country.

Other useful information 

As for any other trip, make sure to get a good insurance when exploring Salta and the rest of Argentina. Check out my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance” and get your insurance here.

For more readings about Salta and Argentina, you may consult one of these books:

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Find out what to do in Salta, Argentina - via @clautavani