Salta is the name of a city located within the region of Salta in Argentina. In order to get to anywhere in the Salta region, you need to fly into Salta (the city), which can serve as a starting point or be your base camp for short day trips. Located in the northwest of Argentina, Salta (the region) is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Competing with other amazing destinations within the country like Patagonia, Salta hasn’t yet hit it big with tourists, which means it’s the perfect time to take a trip there, while it remains truly authentic. The colonial city of Salta is full of incredible architecture, surrounded by natural landscapes such as mountains, valleys, and the all-important vineyards (we will get to those later).
Commonly referred to as Salta la Linda (Salta “the pretty”), the town provides visitors the opportunity to experience both Quechan and Andean culture, in addition to trying regional foods like empanadas, which are said to be the best in the country. The preserved cobblestone streets and Spanish architecture help give the appearance that the city has stood still since it was founded in 1582. Since the city didn’t receive as many European immigrants as other parts of Argentina, Salta has retained a lot of indigenous traditions and influence, which lends to its uniqueness. And outside of Salta City, it continues to get better and better. The drives to and from the different parts of the region will provide epic mountain scenery and, of course, adventure.
To help inspire a visit to Salta, here’s a list of some of the top sights to see while there.
What to See
Cerro San Bernardo
To get your bearings, head up to Cerro San Bernardo for the best panoramic view of Salta City. Take the teleferico (cable car) up to the top of San Bernardo Hill where you will find a landscaped garden and small artisanal market that will give you a taste of the souvenirs you will find throughout your stay. From the top, the most impressive sight will be of the surrounding mountains that aren’t as visible when in the city center.
Catedral Basilica de Salta
The most famous and recognizable sight in Salta City itself is its cathedral, the Catedral Basilica de Salta. Built between 1856 and 1882, after the previous cathedral collapsed due to an earthquake, this iconic monument has stood the test of time (and subsequent earthquakes) since its completion. The exterior is painted in a very recognizable pink shade, one that helps it stand out. The cathedral is located in the city’s central square, Plaza 9 de Julio, which also makes it relatively convenient to find. The cathedral is home to the final resting place of General Martin Miguel de Guemes, Salta’s revolutionary hero of independence. The cathedral is open every day to visitors in the mornings and evenings but typically closed in the afternoons. Normal church services are held each Sunday morning.
Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montaña
Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montaña (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology) should be a must on your list as it contains an extremely unusual exhibit that’s worth exploring more. In 1999, a group of scientists unearthed the remains of three Inca children buried on a volcano summit under snow. Due to the icy conditions and freezing temperatures, the mummies are some of the best-preserved mummies in the world, and as a result, their hair, clothes, and internal organs are still mostly intact. The mummies are kept in airtight cases and are never all displayed at once. The museum constantly rotates which mummy is available for viewing. History explains that the children were sacrificed (a great honor at the time). Before being buried, the children would be well fed and given a potent alcoholic liquid so that they would pass out. Afterward, their sleeping bodies would be buried alive. The museum tells the full story in addition to displaying numerous Inca artifacts that are just as well preserved as the mummies.
Tren a las Nubes
Now that you know what to see in Salta City, it’s time to explore more of the region and what better way to do that than by taking a Tren a las Nubes, a “train to the clouds.” The train departs early in the morning from Salta’s central station and makes the long journey up to Quebrada del Toro, high up in the mountain. The destination is so high up, in fact, it often passes through the clouds, hence the name. By the end of the journey, the train almost reaches 14,000 feet. There is a viaduct crossing the valley below —a sight that will leave you stunned at the ingenuity of engineering masterpiece. Throughout this train journey, you will see beautifully colored rocks on the mountainsides in addition to some possible llama sightings. This particular tour is one of the most popular in the region so booking far in advance and planning your trip around it is highly recommended.
Another must for your list of places to visit within Salta is Cafayate. Here, you can plan to spend at least two nights, as there are lots of great wineries from boutique to massive, all with impressive wines to offer. Cafayate is located relatively close to Salta City, and the drive there will have you stopping for constant photo ops as the scenery closely resembles that of America’s southwest, with red rocks and deep valleys. The vineyards in Cafayate produce a variety of different wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, and the local specialty (that should be on your wine radar if you’re into crisp white wines), Torrentes. Most of the wineries offer tours and tastings, but it’s always good to call ahead to ask about specific times and optional private tours as some of the wineries are so small that they might need a heads up of your impending arrival. The Salta region has been growing in prominence and is now on the same level as Mendoza, Argentina’s most famous wine region. There are lots of hotel options from budget to luxury, but when looking for the latter, turn no further than Grace Cafayate, located on a secluded 1,360-acre residential and sporting estate in the heart of an area famed for its spectacular scenery. The hotel consists of a main building with luxurious rooms in addition to 20 Grace-branded residential villas that are often rented as part of the hotel’s inventory.
A personal recommendation on a winery to visit is Bodega El Esteco, one of the most beautiful estates in Cafayate that has a small luxury hotel on the property, as well as an elegant restaurant worth visiting. Grab a glass of El Esteco Don David Malbec Reserve 2016 and sit outside where the glimmering turquoise pool will mesmerize you as you sip away and enjoy the beauty that surrounds the property.
Salinas Grandes (Salt Flats)
Bolivia’s salt flats in Uyuni are probably one of the most incredible sights to see within all of South America, but if your trip doesn’t permit time to border hop, you’re in luck because Argentina’s salt flats, located closer to Salta City, are a great second best, and it’s a journey that is possible to do in a day. The salt flats, once a lake that has since dried up, leaving piles of salt are a natural masterpiece. The flats are at a very high altitude, and with the help of the bright sun, the vast whiteness is blinding (literally, so bring sunglasses). The drive up to the flats takes you through the red rocks, so once there; the stunning contrast will leave you speechless. If you take the train to the clouds, there is usually an option to stop at the Salina Grades.
Cuesta del Obispo a Cachi
An extension on a drive to Cafayate, this stretch of road known as Cuesta del Obispo provides more incredible vistas. The roads pass through colorful landscapes along the way to the well-preserved colonial village of Cachi. Cuesta del Obispo (“Bishop’s Slope”) is a windy road surrounded by sculpted rock formations that reach a height of over 10,000 feet. Along the drive, you’ll be able to see wild condors soaring above and gorges down below. El Valle Encantado (“Charmed Valley”) is also along this route. Once in Cachi, it’s easy to spend an afternoon enjoying the history, architecture, and artisanal shopping before heading back to Salta City. Adrenaline junkies can arrange for mountain bike tours down the Cuesta del Obispo.
What to Eat
Feast on Empanadas
Ask any Argentine anywhere in the country where the best empanadas are and they will quickly refer you to Salta. The region claims to be the original home of the empanada, so it would almost be a bit sacrilegious to not try them while in Salta. Empanadas are essentially pastry wrapped around a filling, usually meat. Plain cheese empanadas are often overlooked, but should be tried as well because they are just as good as their meat-filled sibling. No matter how you like your empanadas, there will be plenty of options to enjoy them when visiting the region of Salta.
Where to Stay
Best Accommodations in Salta City
Located in the heart of the city is Legado Mitico Hotel, a beautiful luxury boutique property that helps set a feel for what it’s like to live like a local. The hotel is located inside one of the city’s stunning mansions, with each accommodation perfectly curated to combine the traditions of the city as well as modern-day comforts, which make it among the highest rated hotels in the region.