Seventy-Two Hours In Salta Posted on 6 Oct 04:08 , 0 comments
Article by Anna Lowe.
I’d been looking for an excuse to see the beautiful and dramatic landscapes of Northern Argentina for some time, so when my family came to visit and suggested a trip out of Buenos Aires, it was my top choice. In every way Salta exceeded my expectations as an amazing travel destination. The old town is steeped in tradition and folklore, with the typical Charango music spilling out of bars and restaurants, and it is the gateway to some extraordinary surrounding countryside.
Here’s how my trip panned out:
Day 1 – Road to Cafayate (Quebrada de Cafayate)
If red rocks are you’re bag, this is the road for you! As one of Argentina’s most scenic routes, lots of people rent a car and take a road trip. We decided to go without the hassle so booked a tour with Nordic Travel Company – a 12 hour round-trip down to Cafayate and back with various stops for rock viewing, llama feeding and wine tasting. Our very friendly English speaking guide (Sara) told of the history of the region and pointed out interesting shapes in the rocks. On the way down to Cafayate we saw a duck, frog, praying monk, penguin and sinking Titanic and, when returning after a boozy lunch and vineyard stop for wine tasting, we were even more imaginative! The beauty and tranquility of the rock caverns is hard to overstate. One in particular, the Devil’s throat, has acoustics close to those of the Colon Theatre and is often host to concerts – literally Rock On! Cafayate itself is a pleasant enough town surrounded by numerous vineyards and offers the chance to try wine-flavoured ice- cream (the Torrentes grape worked particularly well). But for me the journey itself with its rich red rocks was the real highlight of the day.
Day 2 – Salta Town
We started the day by taking in the various museums on offer around Salta’s main square – Plaza 9 de Julio. By chance, our weekend happened to coincide with Salta’s Fiesta del Milagro – every year the people celebrate the salvation of Salta from a series of Earthquakes in the 17th century. The story goes that a local priest was told to take the statue of the Virgin Mary out into the city and after presenting it, the earthquakes never returned to their area.
The festival sees thousands of pilgrims from across the Northwest of Argentina walk with images of the Virgin, culminating in religious services held at the Cathedral and inevitable partying. Although I enjoyed the festival fun, it did mean I wasn’t able to peak into the supposedly beautiful central Cathedral. However, there were plenty more sights to keep me busy.
If you only visit one museum in Salta then make it the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, which dedicates itself to the preservation of Andean culture and anthropology. With informative text panels in English, this museum explains and displays the 1999 archeological discovery of three Inca Children at the 22,000-foot summit of Mount Llullaillaco. Their frozen bodies are among the best preserved ever found – the cold, thin air meant their internal organs, blood, skin and facial features were mostly still intact.
Historians believe the children were sacrificed in a religious ceremony around the year 1490 and its amazing to see a girl so lifelike – she sits cross-legged in a brown dress, her long hair woven into fine braids and still with bits of coca leaf clinging to her upper lip.
On the far side of the square is the Historical Museum of the North. Slightly less dramatic, it occupies two floors of a beautiful 18th century Cabildo building set around 6 patios. My brother moaned, ‘It’s just going to be a bunch of ponchos!’ and while there was indeed a temporary exhibition of ponchos, we also found many interesting items from the cultural heritage of the region (pre-Hispanic, colonial and independence era). There was even a collection of transport including an enormous 1911 Renault.
Finally, I couldn’t pass Salta without checking out at least one art gallery. The MAC Museo Arte Contemporaneo, is set in a nineteenth century yellowish building. It seems to be a bit of a gamble what you’ll find inside as the place transforms every few weeks with an ever- rotating series of displays. While this makes it a vibrant artistic space, unfortunately during my visit the gallery was changing and only had one small show on display.
With the cultural stuff out of the way, it was time for a spot of shopping! On Saturdays Plaza Guemes has a charming artisan market and on Sundays you can find a bigger, perhaps slightly more touristy market on Balcarce Street. For those with a head for heights, Salta also has its very own skyride to take in views of the city. No need to be afraid of ‘Industria Argentina’, this lift was made by the Swiss!
Day 3 – Tour to Las Salinas Grandes (Quebrada de Humahuaca)
After the long tour to Cafayate we decided to hire a private driver (Romiro) to take us directly North along the old route 9 to see the celebrated Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours) near the picturesque town of Purmamarca and infamous Salt Flats. Instead of using the new road built for bigger tour vans, the enthusiastic and well informed Romiro took us along a stunning winding path of green vegetation – the route Che Guavara drove to Bolivia. Romiro and his travel company ‘Saltur’ (no website but you can find them just off Plaza 9 Julio) was a great choice – an enthusiastic, outdoorsy-type, Romiro offers cycling, horse riding, swimming, motorbiking and just about everything else on request! For me, this trip was the highlight of my time in Salta. The Unesco World Heritage-listed Quebrada road is incredible, lined with layered colourful rocks that look like some extravagant vegetable terrine.
On reflection, as well as the striking countryside, the thing that made Salta special for me was the people I shared it with. Taking time with my family outside Buenos Aires was a restful experience, but I also found Salteños to be incredibly friendly. The word ‘Salta’ comes from the indigenous Quecha language meaning ‘pleasant place to settle’ and the good-humored nature of everyone I met certainly made it that. Lest we forget, Matt Damon’s wife, Luciana Barroso, is a born and bred Salteña and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.
Food and Drink
In Salta prepare to eat extremely well! Here is a list of restaurants we enjoyed:
Ma Cusine – For something a little different to the classic Argentine grill, this small, French- inspired restaurant is perfect. Fish dishes, salads and pasta as well as meat and well-executed dauphinoise potatos. With a free appetizer (chicken pate, warm bread and devilled eggs) and very friendly staff, it’s hard to go wrong.
La Cefira – Although I found the atmosphere slightly clinical, this place makes undoubtedly delicious, fresh pasta. Large portions and generous bread with dips are part of the service.
Jovi Dos – Overlooking Plaza Guemes, this restaurant is popular with locals and boasts a huge menu. It’s full of classic Argentine options but with interesting seafood or rabbit additions. The portions are large and the service is excellent.
Patio de la Empanada – Perhaps some of the best empanadas I’ve eaten during my entire time in Argentina. These little empanadas salteñas are served in an unassuming ‘restaurant’ (more of an outdoor patio) and with a litre of cerveza Salta, it’s the perfect lunch. The waitresses sit preparing the empanadas as fast as you can eat them!
El Churqui de Altura, Purmamarca – This is one of the more expensive options in the little town of Purmamarca, but full of regional dishes – try the amazing Llama quinoa risotto! For dessert we had an extremely sweet Peruvian Suspiro Limeño (Italian meringue perfumed with port and cinnamon) and a classic Argie flan.
Heladeria Miranda, Cafayate – The supposed inventor of wine flavoured ice creams. These Torrentes and Cabernet flavours are more like fresh sorbets.