Nestled in Argentina’s arid northwest, Salta is one of Argentina’s most captivating cities, attracting visitors with its colonial architecture and breathtaking views of the Andes mountains. In 2014, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Qhapaq Ñan, an ancient Indigenous road system that crosses through Salta Province, a World Heritage Site. Argentines commonly refer to the capital as “Salta la Linda” (“Salta the Beautiful”), and anyone who’s walked around Plaza 9 de Julio will agree that it more than lives up to its name.
Salta’s history stretches back millennia. Originally home to the Incans, it was settled in 1582 by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Lerma, who conceived of it as a stopover connecting Buenos Aires to Lima, Peru. General Martín Miguel de Guëmes controlled the city from 1816 to 1821 through much of the Argentine War of Independence and used it as a strategic military post. More than 200 years later, it’s a popular tourist destination for local and foreign visitors alike.
Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie seeking culinary delights, or an intrepid explorer eager to take in the mountains’ spectacular palette of reds and oranges, the city truly has something for everyone.
Here are a few of our favorite sites to see, places to stay, and restaurants to try if you’re planning a trip or simply fantasizing about your next vacation.
Tourist attractions that live up to the hype
Plaza 9 de Julio (Caseros 500, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) — The city’s central square and hub of activity, Plaza 9 de Julio is the perfect place to start your trip. Marvel at the square’s stunning neoclassical architecture, and be sure to make a stop at the Cabildo Histórico, which doubles as a history museum.
Catedral Basílica de Salta (España 558), 6:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., 4:30 to 8 p.m., 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday) — Constructed in 1882 and first opened to the public in 1918, Salta Cathedral offers a window into Argentine history. You can easily kill an hour taking in its ornate altars, colonial-era facades, and exquisite stained glass.
Museo Arqueológico de Alta Montaña (Bartolomé Mitre 77, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday) — The Museum of High Altitude Archeology is an essential visit if you’re interested in learning about the ancient Incan civilization that originally lived on the land now known as Salta. Its collection includes three mummified children that have been kept in a remarkable state of preservation — an admittedly macabre spectacle that’s worth the price of admission.
Mercado San Miguel (San Martin 678, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday) — If you want to understand the daily life of a Salteño, there’s no better stop than the bustling San Miguel Market, where you can try local delicacies like empanadas, which are markedly juicier than the ones you’ll encounter in Buenos Aires, and locro, a hearty corn-based stew.
Day trips worth the trek
Cafayate — Located 189 kilometers from Salta, this sleepy little town of 18,000 in the Calchaquí Valleys is famous for its boutique wineries. Highlights include, but are hardly limited to, Finca las Nubes, El Esteco, Finca Quara, and Piatelli. Just keep in mind that these bodegas tend to harvest their grapes in March, so the preceding months are the best time to see them in their full splendor.
Purmamarca — If you’ve seen somebody on Instagram leaping across a spectacular salt flat, chances are they snapped the picture in the Salinas Grandes of Pumamarca, a region in the south of Jujuy Province approximately 190 kilometers from Salta. The town of Pumamarca is worth a visit in its own right, but you’ll want to carve out some time for the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors) — a geological wonder that needs to be seen to be believed.
San Antonio de los Cobres — At 3,775 meters above sea level, San Antonio de los Cobres is one of the highest towns in the region. It’s also a stop on the famous Tren a los Nubes (Cloud Train), which begins in Salta and zooms around (and through) the Andes at vertigo-inducing heights. The entire journey is 434 km roundtrip down the Lerma Valley, up the beautiful Quebrada del Toro and across La Polvorilla viaduct.
Where to eat
El Baqueano (Cima del Cerro San Bernardo, 7 p.m. to 12 a.m., Tuesday to Saturday) — Ranked 21 in the 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America, El Baqueano is a unique dining experience whose views of the city atop Cerro Bernardo are almost as spectacular as its food. Chef Fernando Rivarola brings Northwest Argentine haute cuisine to life, using only national ingredients. The restaurant also has its own in-house sommelier, Gabriela Lafuente, and a spectacular selection of local wines.
Andrés (Juan Carlos Dávalos 1401, San Lorenzo, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., all week) — Located in San Lorenzo, just outside of Salta proper, Andrés serves classic Northwest fare at prices that won’t shatter your budget. Dishes include a lightly spiced parrillada (personalized asados of steak, chicken and offal) as well as regional dishes like humita, a seasoned cornmeal that’s typically served in a husk.
Doña Salta (Córdoba 46, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 12 a.m., all week) — Family friendly and modestly priced, Doña Salta is located smack in the middle of town, across the street from the Iglesia San Francisco. This bodegon-style restaurant offers Salteño classics like locro and empanadas in a traditional, downhome setting adorned with wine jugs and wooden utensils.
Where to stay
Delvino Boutique Hotel (Ameghino 555) — This affordable Spanish-style villa is conveniently located just two blocks from the Tren a los Nubes and features a swimming pool and jacuzzi, if you’re willing to pay a little extra for a suite. It also has an on-site winery and a living room where you can sip a Malbec and take in the scenery.
Kkala (Las Higueras 104) — Kkala makes up for its distance from some of Salta’s main attractions with its charming card-cactus door panels and handstitched headboards. The hotel has just 10 rooms, so there’s plenty of intimacy, and each is named after a national park. A perfect escape after a busy afternoon of sightseeing.
Hotel Solar de la Plaza (J.M. Leguizamon 669) — Two words: rooftop pool. Hotel Solar de la Plaza boasts several rooms with balconies, a delightful courtyard, and a complimentary breakfast buffet. Rooms can run around AR$60,000 (US$170 at the official dollar exchange rate, US$75 at the MEP dollar exchange rate), but you get what you pay for.
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