Nestled in the north west corner of Argentina, 20 hours from Buenos Aires and closer to the Bolivian border than it’s nearest Argentine city, Salta posses a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. Upon entering the Lerma Valley with its Andean backdrop, Salta looked like a relaxed peaceful city. Famed for its excellently preserved colonial architecture and great wines, we had been looking forward to Salta for quite some time. Upon pulling into the bus station Salta earnt its first kudos as unlike most places the terminal was within walking distance of the center. This may not seem like a big deal, but trust me when you’ve just spent a night on a bus the last thing you want to do is jump straight on another. Upon picking up a local map we got our first encounter of an interesting phenomenon, the map was not orientated towards north. As we’ve been working on the “North Principle” for some years now, and it was only after getting lost 3 times, most likely made worse by the lack of sleep on the overnight bus, that we discovered the “Salta Principle”. Rather than north taking precedence for orientation, the westerly mountains did, so in effect, west became north. In a place where enormous mountains are never, ever out of sight i suppose it makes some sense. It would have been helpful if someone had told us though.
The center of the city, Plaza 9 de Julio is as impressive as it was made out to be. Flanked by colonial buildings, or tastefully done replacements, it is a wonderful place to sit and wile away the hours. The north side of the square is dominated by Salta Cathedral. Painted pink and white the interior is one of the best we’ve come across in Argentina and pleasantly those praying far exceeded tourists with their cameras. If you’re really after some down time then the plaza is the place to go. At lunch time there’s plenty of inexpensive restaurants to grab a snack and some wine, or in the evening a quiet stroll with an ice cream (and some wine.) Whilst there are many excellent museums in Salta we’d highly recommend El Museo Arqueologia de Alta Montana (archaeological museum) The controversial centerpiece of this museum is the three preserved Inca children found buried at the top of mount Llullaillaco. There’s a good amount of english for those without spanish and subtitles on the videos.
Salta gets even more enjoyable when you head off the main square; small streets, interesting shops and great restaurants abound. Heading east brings you to the impressive church of St. Francis followed by a monastery, one of the oldest buildings in the city. For a truly relaxing afternoon though we’d fully recommend the cable car. Located next to the bus terminal this 5 minute journey takes you over 200 meters to the top of a hill overlooking the city. From here you get a great view over the city up into the mountains beyond. Take a book, grab an ice cream (maybe some wine) and sit on one of the shaded benches in the quiet gardens. However if you’ve found Salta too relaxing you can run up the hill and then have a crack at the outdoor gym, i can’t say we gave it a go though.
South America is famed for it coffee and in Salta i had my best of the trip so far. I’d been having some serious problems getting a black coffee as i either got an espresso, double espresso, or a rather small, lukewarm, watery drink. Lauren had experienced similar but hers came in the form of warm milk with a hint of coffee or coffee that had been teased by a cow, a latte seemed impossible to obtain. It wasn’t just my spanish, as i’d had waiters with perfect english still bringing me disappointments. Salta finally changed all of that. A large black coffee, steaming hot, fresh ground beans, i’d finally got that coffee hit i’d been craving for the last month. Never have i been so grateful to find a Mc.Donalds…
Salta is a wonderful relaxing place to spend a few days, and that’s exactly what we used it for. It is however also an excellent base to head out and explore the rest of the north west or even book onwards trips to Bolivia. There are loads of travel agents to book trips to Cafayate, Puna or Cachi, as well as horse riding, rafting and cycling. If you’re heading to the north west then you’re going to end up in Salta at some point, but don’t just rush on through. A couple of days relaxing in the plaza or walking the streets is a great way to unwind before that next long bus journey.