For the last few years, Santi has talked about taking a trip to the north of Argentina, particularly the provinces of Jujuy and Salta. Native culture is deeply preserved and celebrated here, whether in the folkloric music, regional cuisines of locro, quinoa, and stews of llama and lamb, colorful artistry and customs and celebrations. It’s quite different from the middle and southern parts of Argentina, heavily influenced by Europeans immigration in the 1800s, and it can feel like you’ve arrived in another country.
Alongside long, dramatic stretches of the Andes mountains (that make you feel like you’ve arrived on another PLANET), small, underdeveloped, historical cities that pre-date the Spanish and Incan conquests dot route 9 to the north and route 68 to the south. In the middle of this is the city of Salta, a metropolis with more than 500,000 inhabitants, but that feels decidedly smaller, with its old colonial homes, tree-lined avenues and numerous sidewalk restaurants around the town square.
Salta is the perfect jumping off point for getting an introduction to the history and culture of this region. With 2-3 days, you can see the main sights, enjoy a great meal & music at one of the wonderful peñas, stuff yourself with empanadas salteñas and plan your road trip to the north and south (cars have to be rented in Salta).
Here’s what we’d recommend.
Wake up in Cuatro Lunas, a lovely and inexpensive b&b that’s an easy 15-minute walk outside the main square. We love small hotels and this one was charming, with a huge king bed and plenty of space to stretch out. Ask for a room with the terrace to enjoy the sun setting in the distance.
After breakfast, walk to the Plaza 9 de Julio, the main square, to visit the Cathedral of Salta, the Iglesia de San Francisco, and other local shops nearby.
For a break from the bread & meat that permeates just about every meal in Argentina, head to Chirimoya, an awesome vegetarian / vegan place a few blocks from 9 de Julio plaza. Our meal of lightly grilled veggies and freshly made almond milk with cardamom and honey was just the reset we needed for the day.
After lunch, walk towards the Teleferico, a tram that takes you to the top of the Cerro San Bernardo. This little mountaintop is a great place to hang out for a couple of hours so bring a book and enjoy a cafe at the little restaurant at the top. Take the stairs back down to appreciate just how high you were!
After a nap at Cuatro Lunas, head to dinner at La Casona del Molino, an awesome peña a little out of town. It’s a long-standing restaurant based out of an old farmhouse so there are lots of different rooms to eat in, a huge outdoor courtyard with more tables, and around 11 pm, local musicians show up to play traditional folk music alongside you. The food was delicious and inexpensive. We shared the parilla for two, which was a platter full of meat. Yummm.
Wake up slowly (things move slower in Salta so there’s no rush) and after breakfast at the hotel, head to the MAAM (Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana de Salta). Here you’ll learn about and see the niños del Llullaillaco, Incan children who were sacrificed and buried on top of a nearby set of mountains. Yes, their mummied bodies are actually on display (!).
Walk to Balcarce Street, which by night is where you’d probably head if you’re the clubbing type, but on Sundays is closed off to be a local market made of artisanal pottery, rugs, and other fabrics.
For lunch, eat some empanadas salteñas and humitas at La Criollita. We enjoyed the carne ones.
In the afternoon, take it easy with a book and a nap at the park the surrounds the monument of General Martin Miguel de Guemes. Since Salta is so dry, it can be difficult to find some nice grass to hang out on so bring a towel or blanket.
For your final dinner, end up at Peña Boliche Balderrama. Although this is way more touristy than La Casona del Molino, the musicians we saw were really talented and the food was enjoyable too. This is an institution in Salta and while we preferred La Casona del Molino more, we were glad we went to Boliche Balderrama.
Other things of note
- Doña Salta has great locro and empanadas. Highly recommend this place.
- While you won’t need a car in Salta, you’ll need to rent your car there for traveling the area. We walked to a couple different spots but ended up getting the best price by looking at Expedia on the spot and booking through Hertz. This saved us at least $100. Car rental places have limited hours on Saturday (till 12:30) and are closed Sundays so plan accordingly.
- Like much of Argentina, Sunday is a sloooow day. We walked the main shopping street and it was a ghost town. More people were out in the evening, but don’t plan to do much on Sundays besides wandering around, eat and nap (terrible, right?).