A Guide to the City of Salta, Argentina
Salta la Linda
The Salta province is widely known as Salta la Linda, or Salta the Beautiful. It's easy to see why. The entire province is jaw-dropping at every turn. It's home to the country's second-largest wine region,beautiful red stone formations in the Quebrada de las Conchas (Shells' Gorge), and a culture unique to the rest of the country.
This northwestern province isn't as widely known as Mendoza or Patagonia, still, it has a special place in my heart. No doubt, it should be on every Argentina itinerary. This guide breaks down everything you need to see in the city of Salta, where to stay and what you need to know to plan your visit to Salta.
Salta: The City vs. The Province
While I fell in love with the province Salta (and her northern neighbor, Jujuy), my feelings towards the city of Salta weren't quite as strong. My friend described the city as the portal to all that's beautiful, and I agree with that description. The city has its charms, but the real beauty is in the province. Even so, I'm not saying you should skip it entirely. There are museums, churches, and peñas that you absolutely shouldn't miss! I recommend spending one night in the city of Salta and the rest of your trip exploring Cafayate to the south and Jujuy to the north.
Read Next: 9-day Salta & Jujuy Road Trip Itinerary
Things to do in Salta
Salta is a small city and most activities are on or near the main square, the Plaza 9 de Julio. This makes it very easy to see a lot of things in a short amount of time without feeling rushed. Here's what you absolutely have to do in Salta.
1. Museo Arqueológico de Alta Montaña (MAAM)
Plaza 9 de Julio at Mitre 77
Tuesdays-Sundays, 10:30 am-6: 30 pm (closed Mondays)
The High Altitude Archeological Museum is a MUST. In 1999, Dr. Johan Reinhard discovered three mummified children at the peak of a mountain in perfect conditions. The children were buried during the time of the Incas, before the arrival of the Spanish, are one of the greatest archeological discoveries of our time, and you can see them in tiny Salta!
The objects they were buried with are on display, and one mummy will be on display. They never display all three children together for reasons of conservation. Ultimately, this was one of the most interesting museums I have ever visited. Obviously, if you love history, you can't miss it.
2. Visit the Cabildo
Located on Plaza 9 de Julio at Caseros 549 Tuesdays-Sundays 9:30-13:30, Tuesday-Friday 15:30-20:30, Saturdays 16:30-20:30
The Cabildo (or city hall) in Salta is one of the oldest colonial buildings in the region. If you've been to Buenos Aires, you've probably seen the Cabildo in Plaza de Mayo. Visit the museum to see historical artifacts about Salta's role in Argentina's battle for independence. The interior patios are reminiscent of Spain, with colorful flowers flowing over the upper floors' balconies. Enjoy the panoramic view of the plaza from the second story balconies.
3. Cathedral of Salta
Also on the Plaza de 9 de Julio is the Cathedral. There's been a church here in one form or another since the 16th Century. You can go on one of the free guided tours of the Cathedral, although they are only in Spanish. There was a large poster at the entrance advertising them. It was interesting, however, you'd need to speak Spanish. Even without a tour, you're sure to enjoy a walk through the Cathedral.
4. Iglesia San Francisco
One block from the Plaza 9 de Julio is the Church of Saint Francis. Despite not being the main cathedral, this is the church I always associate with Salta as I see it in every single brochure or promo for the city. The maroon walls with ochre details make it a stunner, so I'm not surprised it stands out. A trip to Salta wouldn't be complete without exploring both of these main churches.
5. Cerro San Bernardo
The San Bernardo Funicular is located 1 kilometer from the Plaza 9 de Julio, check here for current hours and prices. You can choose to take the funicular or walk the steps to the top. We chose to take the funicular to the top and the steps down (the descent took us half an hour). The views were great and we spent a while relaxing at the top. There's a cafe, restroom facilities and a playground at the top.
6. Salta Nightlife: Visit a Peña Folklorica
The reason you have to stay at least a night, and not just do Salta in one day trip, is because you HAVE to visit a peña. Folklore is a general term that refers to all traditional song and dance that isn't Tango (which is from Buenos Aires only). Arguably, a peña is an ideal night out, by offering music, traditional food and lots of wine! Peñas are typical in Salta and if you want to feel like a local, then stay up late one night to join the party. There is a guided tour to visit the best penas in Salta, reserve it here.
Go to Balcarce Street (on the two blocks between Alsina and Ameghino) find yourself in the heart of the peña nightlife. "La Balcarce" is famous for its nightlife amongst locals and tourists alike. The peñas of Balcarce offer a dinner and a show environment. A few Balcarce peñas to check out include La Vieja Estación, Los Cardones, and Nora Julia.
La Casona del Molino
Located far from Balcarce (address: Luis Burela 1), La Casona del Molino is the best peña in town. There's no show and you won't see dancing (stick to Balcarce for that), the musicians sit at tables in each room and on the patio. The musicians sing and jam together late into the night and locals in the crowd who know the words join in. Make a reservation to make sure you get a table.
Where to Stay in Salta
Searching for accommodation in Salta? Keep your search centered near the main Plaza 9 de Julio to be close to the sights. Ideally, open the map in booking.com's site and look at hotels in the blocks between Plaza 9 de Julio and Cerro San Bernardo. Here are my recommendations for the best hotels in Salta (beginning at the most comfortable and ending with budget).
Villa Vicuña Hotel Boutique | We stayed with Villa Vicuña in Cafayate, but the hotel was fully booked for our time in Salta (I was so bummed!). My parents stayed here in Salta and loved it! The colonial home is beautiful, with a gorgeous green interior patio with a pool for hotter days. Check rates here.
Hotel Salta | Hotel Salta was recommended to us by quite a few people. Stay at Hotel Salta for the historic building, not for the luxury. While it's a nice hotel, it's basic. The rooms may be dated, but the building is beautiful and the location is unbeatable. Hotel Salta is located right on the corner of Plaza 9 de Julio. Check rates here.
Hostal Prisamata | One of the best hostels in Salta, this property is great for a backpacker's budget. The location isn't the best, being about 7 blocks from the main square, but it's wouldn't be a long walk to get the main sights by any means. Check rates here.
Salta Day Trips
I recommend renting a car for maximum freedom to explore the regions of Salta and Jujuy at your own pace. However, if you'd prefer not to drive and would rather just use Salta as your base, this is completely possible. Moreover, all the highlights are available as day trips from Salta, such as Purmamarca, the Salt Flats, Cafayate and the Quebrada de las Conchas.
Purmamarca & The Salt Flats Day Trip
One of the two main Salta day trips is a day trip to Jujuy to see Purmamarca and the Salinas Grandes Salt Flats. It would be a full day into the northern province of Jujuy. The town of Purmamarca is very quaint and you'd be forgiven for thinking you were actually in Bolivia. The Salt Flats are lesser known than the salinas grandes of Bolivia but are equally worth a visit (and you'll probably see llamas!). Book yours here.
Cafayate Day Trip & The Quebrada de las Conchas
While Jujuy lies to the north of Salta, a day trip to Cafayate will take you three hours to the south. This trip will include a drive through the gorgeous Quebrada de las Conchas (Shells' Gorge), stopping to see its unique geological formations along the way. Once in Cafayate, you'll be treated to wine tastings in Argentina's second largest wine region. Book yours here.
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