It’s a big claim, but Salta is hands down my favourite city in Argentina. I spent 5 days here and had the most unforgettable experience. To the local Salteño’s the city’s nickname is ‘Salta La Linda’ which translates to Salta the Beautiful and it was easy to see why. Interestingly, we were told by a local guide the actual word Salta derives from a word in language of the indigenous tribe of the Aymara, meaning ‘very beautiful’. So from what you can gather… it’s kinda beautiful. From Salta, we also journeyed to Jujuy, Purmamarca and the Argentinian salt flats (Salinas Grande) which were an incredible natural beauty. This is my list of all the things you simply cannot miss while you are in Salta;
Where we stayed
Hostal Namaste – La Rioja 573, Salta
This was the best hostel experience of my life! We stayed in a private room that was just across the hall, and halfway through were even upgraded to a bigger room. The staff here at hostel Namaste were the most incredible people – the owner Marcelo invited Tom and I to an asado (BBQ) with his friends and family, there was an abundance of beautiful food, a LOT of alcohol, a pool, cigars and staying awake dancing and laughing all night (this combination is the quickest way to my heart!!). Cheap, full of amazing staff, and RIGHT in the centre of everything in the city… we are going back to party in a few weeks!
What we did
Salinas Grandes – Salt Flats Tour (via Lonely Planet & Viator)
This experience was definitely a highlight of my time in Salta! It was a long day trip, starting at 7am being picked up at our hostel. Before we arrived at the salt flats, we visited the mountainous village of Santa Rosas (definitely worth hitting their museum and market stalls) and stopped for a lunch in San Antonio de Los Cobres (consisting of llama meat and coca tea!) before taking the bumpy road to Salinas Grandes.
After the main event, we stopped at the captivating village of Purmamarca which lies at the bottom of the Cerro de los Siete Colores (the Hill of Seven Colours) a place so gorgeous – I had never dreamed of it existing.
The landscape of the salt flats is so iconic, dreamy and breathtakingly beautiful, I wish I could’ve stayed here forever! Great to take perspective photos, but Tom and I did not manage to master them (we have a few blurry apple photos that will never seen the light of day). I’d recommend picking up some coca leaves in town before you go, as the altitudes get quite high, and can make you feel weird if you’re not used to them.
Walking Tour – Plaza 9 de Julio
This tour was fun, and really interesting as Salta has a lot of history. Our guide took us to all the historic sites and beautiful churches the city has to offer; learning about the war of independence and General Martin Miguel de Guemes who held the city of Salta by himself for 3 years from invasion by Spanish troops. Another notable stop on the tour, was the San Bernardo Convent which is home several nuns that are not allowed to be seen or touched by anyone outside the convent, it is one of the only two types of these convents in the world.
MAAM: The Museum of High Altitude Archaeology – Mitre 77, A4400 Salta Capita
This museum was eerily compelling. It is based around 3 mummified Incan children that were found in 1999, perfectly preserved at the top of the Llullaillaco volcano for 500 years untouched. These children came from royal families and were buried alive in a ritual to bridge the human world with their gods. The conditions at the top of the volcano kept the sleeping children exquisitely frozen in time, they are regularly rotated and displayed one at a time (we saw the little boy) making for the most interesting museum I’ve ever been to.
Mercado San Miguel – Avenue San Martin 780, Salta
This is a big, crazy indoor market spanning the whole street block, that sells a million gorgeous blankets in every colour, street food, clothes, football t-shirts, spices, vegetables, every type of souvenir you can think of and just about everything else you would need. Its manic, but fun, gives you a good deals and the option of haggling (if you happen to find yourself at a Bolivian stall here – we have been told by a few people, that haggling is not an option!). The upper levels are mostly for food, beware, once you journey up there you will be bombarded with people inviting you into their restaurant stall.
I recommend doing a lap before settling on what to eat and buy, as there are duplicates everywhere. Also, a great place to stock up on coca leaves – they are sold in large sacks, and I totally mistook them for bay leaves first time around! Naive Gringa!
Cerro San Bernardo – Av. San Martín 4400
There are two ways to get up and down this hill, one is a medium difficulty hike or taking a cable car up for $150 pesos. We opted to hike up through the sub-tropical plants and trees (which was beautiful but I needed multiple rest breaks to catch my breath back… its gets quite steep in some places) and got the cable car down. The entire hike up we got amazing views of the city. Once at the top, we found it is home to over 150 species of birds and other wildlife, with a cafe, viewing decks, waterfall and a few market stalls.
What we ate
Tamales Salteños and Humitas – Mercado San Miguel, Salta
These were amazing types of street food that we tried in Salta. Humitas are made out of corn, onions and spices, that are boiled before serving – the coolest part is they are wrapped up in little packages made out of corn husks (left). The Tamales Salteños I tried were made out of shredded meat (typically pork or lamb) and covered in a corn flour type of yummy, crumbly dough, and also served in a neat little corn husk (right).
La Cefira – Cordoba 481, A4402 EZI, Salta
Rated as the second best restaurant in Salta, this was enough to have this curious foodie make a reservation! The restaurant itself is very pretty, white walls, white marbled floors, with a turquoise and gold feature wall at the front and the servers are really friendly. We sampled the squid ink fettuccine with puttanesca sauce, the loaded salad topped with shavings of gruyere, tiramisu and blueberry cheesecake. The pasta is freshly made, and I liked the touch of how the pasta and the sauce are listed separately on the menu – allowing you to build your own Italian dish.
Cafe Midas – Espana 802, A4400 Salta
We stumbled upon this cafe after a morning of exploring; we were famished and not expecting much. We got a few plates of empanadas, arabes, chips, and one of the tastiest, juiciest burgers I have ever eaten – and everything got demolished. The cafe was cosy, with friendly staff, fast service, central location and great wi-fi. Can’t wait to visit again.
Every traveller I have met since Salta, I have implored them to go, as I found this city truly magical. Right up in the north of Argentina, close to the border with Bolivia, Salta is a city with its own totally unique style. It has good links with Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay making it really accessible for tourists planning an excursion. As we are making our way to Bolivia after the Atacama desert in January, we have managed to squeeze in a two day return to my favourite city – and I cannot wait!!
Upcoming post – The Secret Art of Mate