Geography & weather in Salta
As capital city of the province of the same name, Salta is a perfect starting point from which to explore the Northwest of Argentina, one of the country’s most beautiful and exotic regions. Located 3,894 feet above seal level and about 930 miles away from Buenos Aires, Salta is a city of 470,000 inhabitants. With its strategic location, Salta has become a major point of communication with Chile (185 miles away) and Bolivia (195 miles away).
Its mild weather allows for the cultivation of tobacco, sugar cane, fruit and grain. The average wintertime temperature in Salta is 51°F; in summer the average is 69°F, with some hot days.
History of Salta
10,000 years ago, a nomad population of hunter-gatherers close to the Andean civilization occupied the area. The first traces of a settlement appeared 3,000 years ago when they started breeding llamas and growing corn, potatoes and quinoa. Subsequently, political and social organization emerged, and lords took charge of those who lived in the pukarás, or fortresses. Their ruins can be seen in Tilcara (Jujuy). When the Incan Empire conquered the area at the end of the 15th century, they imposed their own political and economic organization, which remained in place until the arrival of the conquerors.
Salta was founded in 1582 by Hernando de Lerma as a stopping point on the road between Lima and Buenos Aires. At that time, Argentina did not exist as a country, and the territory belonged to the Viceroyalty of Peru, until the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata was established in 1776. The local population, including the Calchaquíes, strongly resisted Spanish colonization. The conquistadors, however, were determined to keep control of this strategic region and brought Africans slaves to develop the area. Even today we can see the heart of the colonial city, the most beautiful of Argentina: a central park with a cabildo (the colonial city hall that is still home to the local government), its cathedral, a convent and numerous stately homes.
Salta played a key role during Argentina’s wars of independence. General Güemes, the city’s hero, led the gauchos against the Spanish, and Manuel Belgrano won a decisive victory in 1813. Starting when independence was declared in 1816, Salta suffered a prolonged crisis due to the wars and the interruption of trade. Only the waves of immigration and the construction of the railways at the end of the nineteenth century revived the region’s agriculture. In the last few decades, the population of the city has increased dramatically and today Salta is one of the most important tourist attractions in the country.
Like most of Northwest Argentina, Salta is a city of folklore, where the Indian culture meets the Gaucho culture. Music, singing and dancing are all part of daily life in Salta, especially in the peñas, lively restaurants where the public is warmly invited to participate in the shows on stage. Far from being a culture of the past, Northwest folklore is a living, breathing artform, and is shared by everyone. Several kinds exist and their origins are not always clear. One such musical style, the chacarera, is played with the guitar, the violin and the bombo (drum), and is popular throughout the country. The chacarera dance is performed by couples. Men and women are divided into two groups, with one group lined up facing the other. The chacarera is composed of four movements during which the partners pass each other without touching. Another popular art in which men show off their talent is the zapateo, a particularly difficult foot game. The zamba, which comes from the Peruvian Zamacueca, is also a couples’ dance. Each partner dances with a kerchief, waving it gracefully. The gato, with its cheerful and lively rhythm, invites couples to play a loving game. There are also the carnavalito, the bailecito, the cueca, and others. In addition to the traditional instruments, bands can also include a charango, a small guitar with five pairs of strings, and flutes.
Los Chalcheros, a band formed in 1948 that recorded over fifty albums, as well as Los Fronterizos, formed en 1953, both contributed greatly to the spread of folklore music. One can also mention the Chaqueño Palavecino, Los Nocheros, El Dúo Salteño, Jaime Torres, and the two sacred giants of Argentinian culture who brought light to folklore music of different regions: Mercedes Sosa and Atahualpa Yupanqui.
Abril cultural salteño : a month of parties, concerts, exhibitions, literary and other events to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the city in April.
June 17th , General Güemes birthday : the gauchos were particularly valiant during the wars of independence under the command of both General Güemes and Manuel Belgrano. Every year the city organizes a parade of 2,000 gauchos from all the corners of the province to honor this military bravery.
September 13th , Procesión del Milagro (The Miracle Procession) : on September 13th, 1692, it is believed that the Christ and Virgin Mary statues at the Cathedral stopped an earthquake which had devastated the neighboring village. Every year, a procession commemorates this miracle. It is one of the most important religious celebrations in Argentina after the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Luján, patron saint of the country.
Museums & monuments : what to visit in Salta ?
Plaza 9 de Julio : salteños enjoy gathering under the shade of the trees of the main square. Cafes and splendid monuments surround the place: the Cabildo, the Cathedral and others…
The Cathedral : built in the nineteenth century at 9 de Julio Park, the Cathedral also houses the remains of General Güemes, the Independence hero.
The cabildo : the building, erected around 1780, is a National Historic Monument. Commercial activities took place on the ground floor; the areas around the patio and the upper floors were reserved for lodging. The house has been modified over the centuries but remains one of the best examples of colonial architecture with its tower, its arches and balconies. Today, the building is home to The Museum of Northern History and the Colonial Museum (both closed on Mondays). The History Museum displays 2,000 works, including archeological pieces, historical coins, cars, colonial furniture, sacred art, and other varied items.
Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, MAAM : closed on Mondays. This museum was created in 2005 to preserve the Inca mummies discovered on the Llullaillaco volcano (22,109 feet above sea level) in 1999. These mummies, of three children who were sacrificed during a religious rite five centuries ago, are in an excellent state of preservation. Archaeologists believe that the children were buried alive after being put to sleep with chicha alcohol. They froze to death in their graves, 22,030 feet above sea level. They were supposedly brought to the volcano from Cusco, the Inca capital, which is about 1,240 miles away.
Iglesia San Francisco : built in the eighteenth century, this church is the most imposing of Salta, with its red and gold facade and its belfry (173 feet tall). Baroque and neoclassical style.
Convento de San Bernardo : although visits are not allowed, one can admire the sumptuous door of this sixteenth-century convent, which was carved by the Indians in carob wood.
Museo Bellas Artes : the museum is located in an impressive eighteenth-century mansion, the Casa de Arias Rengel. It displays Colonial and Contemporary Art exhibitions.
Cerro San Bernardo : overlooking Salta from 883 feet above, this hill is a good spot to get a panoramic view of the city. You can take the cable car to the top.
Gastronomy : what to eat in Salta?
Empanadas : salta’s empanadas are considered the best of the country. Don’t forget to taste these typical meat- and vegetable-stuffed pastries.
Locro : a stew made of corn, white beans, squash, beef, tripe and bacon. Very nourishing!
Tamal : steamed corn dough filled with meat, wrapped and cooked in a cornhusk.
Humita : choclo dough (young corn), milk and sugar cooked in a cornhusk.
Mazamorra : dessert made of corn, milk and sugar.
Quinoa : this Andean grain that was once forgotten is now back! It can be eaten like rice: in salad, in risotto or as a pudding. It’s very nutritious and contains protein, iron and amino acids.
Cayote : a local fruit that can be eaten in jam or jelly.
Chicha : a drink made of fermented corn. In the past, the Indians prepared it by chewing the corn beforehand; the saliva would help the fermentation…Today, we use yeast.
Coca : coca leaves are used for herbal tea. It’s a little bit bitter, but recommended if going high up in the mountains. However, it is forbidden to transport the coca leaves, but not the herbal tea bags.
Restaurants : where to eat in Salta?
– REGIONAL CUISINE
Peña La Vieja Estación : Located in the Balcarce area, near the old train station where most of the bars, pubs and restaurants are situated. Every night, this “club” presents beautiful folklore shows. Good traditional food and wine selection in a nice atmosphere.
Restaurant Doña Salta : Located in front of the San Francisco Church, the restaurant is an old mansion with a charming rustic decoration, which offers a traditional regional cooking. The empanadas are 100% organic, stuffed with meat and oven-baked: a perfect place to eat Salta’s specialty.
Restaurant La Chueca : La Chueca is an old refurbished house which preserves its structure of former city hall with its typical high roofs and walls made of dried earth. Decorated with the work of local artisans, this restaurant provides an ideal atmosphere to savor Salta’s regional cooking.
Parrillada La Leñita : A traditional “parrillada” (a restaurant specialized in grilled meats) in the Balcarce area. In addition to the excellent meat, the service is very attentive and the waiters/singers will ensure you spend a pleasant time with Argentine folklore music accompanied by guitars.
Parrillada Viejo Jack : Excellent meat cuts and very good service. Located in the residential neighborhood of Tres Cerritos. Good wine selection and a wide variety of desserts.
– FINE DINING
Restaurant Osadía : Recently opened, this restaurant presents a complete and appealing menu that changes every two months depending on the availability of local fresh produce. The cooking is creative and eclectic and the restaurant’s soft lightning creates a cozy atmosphere.
Restaurant José Balcarce : dans une ancienne bâtisse à l’ambiance intimiste et détendue.
Restaurant de grande cuisine : The intimate and relaxed atmosphere of this old house is the ideal place to enjoy the fine cuisine by chef José Balcarce. His aim is to make you rediscover Pre-Colombian dishes, revalue those which have survived the Spanish conquest, including tasty and nutritious grains such as amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat.
Restaurant at hotel El Castillo de San Lorenzo : This is the perfect place for a quiet lunch in Villa Veraniega de San Lorenzo, about 6 miles away from Salta. On the castle’s ground floor, the former stables have been converted into a stunning baroque reception hall decorated with original pictures.
Restaurant at hotels Solar de la Plaza, Presidente, Ayres de Salta, Sheraton, Almería : In addition to their pleasant décor, these restaurants all have good service, large wine selections and ample menus.
-RECOMMENDATION: TEA ROOM / RESTAURANT
New Time : This large and busy tearoom at the corner of Plaza 9 de Julio offers attentive service and a great variety of foods. Open 24 hours.
Bars & peñas : where to get out in Salta ?
Balcarce is the epicenter of Salta’s nightlife, and the greatest concentration of restaurants, bars and nightclubs are found between Santiago del Estero and Ameghino, from number 400 to 900.
Peñas: not to be missed. These venues for folklore performance are the heart and soul of the Northwest culture. There is a wide range of peñas, from “organized” ones, including la Vieja Estación (Balcarce 885) and Boliche Balderrama (San Martín 1126), to the simple restaurants on Balcarce that invite musicians and singers to perform. The audience is invited to dance between the tables. Convivial atmosphere.
Hotels & estancias : where to stay in Salta ?
Our hotel selection in Salta
Hotel El Lagar : a boutique hotel in a colonial house in the center of the city.
Hotel Solar de la Plaza : overlooking Salta with panoramic views of the city.
Hotel Legado Mítico : elegant English-style house in the village of San Lorenzo, a few miles away from Salta.
Our hotel selection in Salta province
Hotel Bodega El Molino de Cachi : colonial house in the middle of the vineyards.
Estancia Colomé : luxury rural hotel in the Calchaquí Valleys.
Hotel Boutique La Casa de la Bodega : boutique hotel in the middle of the vineyards.
Hotels Patios de Cafayate : an outstanding hotel, which displays the treasures of the regional culture.
Hotel Cafayate Wine Resort : a typical estancia in the middle of the vineyards.
Shopping : what to buy in Salta ?
Weaving : the textile tradition of the Northwest is centuries old. The old ponchos are the most beautiful, using the finest weaving and natural dye methods that have survived until today.
Cactus Crafts : decorative objects and utensils made of cardón, the organ-pipe cactus. its wood is so hardy that it is also used for furniture and roof structures.
Céramics : beautiful black or brown ceramics with Indian patterns, for decorative display or everyday use.
Where to buy in Salta ?
Artisans Market (San Martín 2555): a big market with food, clothes and Northwest crafts for sale. A wide range of goods.
Food Market (San Martín 790): a food market with little kiosks where you can try the different local specialties, including locro, tamales, and others.
Transports : how to get to Salta?
Airplane : flights from Buenos Aires, Tucuman, and Cordoba go to General Guemes Airport, six miles southwest of the city. Airlines: Aerolineas Argentinas, Aerosur, Andes, and LAN.
Bus : bus transportation to Salta is available from all of Argentina’s major cities as well as from Chile and Bolivia. Salta is approximately 20 hours from Buenos Aires by bus.
Calchaquí Valleys to Cafayate along Route 40: an exceptional journey through stunning landscapes. When leaving Salta, the route crosses tobacco fields before climbing the Cuesta del Obispo up to 10,984 feet above sea level. On the other side of the mountain the landscape changes drastically to a flat and barren land in the Recta de Tintin. This long straight road crosses Los Cardones National Park, with its scattered candelabra-shaped cacti.
On the way to Cafayate, feel free to stop by the charming villages of Cachi, Angastaco and Molino. A few miles before reaching Cafayate, you will cross the Quebrada de las Flechas and its remarkable red arrow-like formations. Beware: most of Route 40 is not paved and the 196-mile drive from Salta takes about eight hours.
Cafayate and the wine route: located 118 miles south of Salta, Cafayate is the heart of the valley’s vineyards and it is known as the highest in the world. It produces a unique variety of white vine-stock: the Torrontés. You will be able to taste it in one of the many wineries open for visitors, including the bodegas Etchart or Félix Lavaque.
Returning to Salta by the main road, you will pass through another spectacular mineral landscape: the Quebrada de las Conchas is a large, deep canyon made up of sculptural and strange red-colored rock formations.
San Lorenzo and the Cornice road: route 9 to Jujuy passes through San Lorenzo. You can stop in this charming village, surrounded by green valleys, to have tea at the castle. The Cornice road goes into the Yungas, a humid forest region with dense vegetation.
Quebrada de Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Tilcara : a three-day trip in the province of Jujuy. First, stop at the village of Purmamarca and trek through the fascinating seven-colored mountains, a great view of the magical landscapes of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. This deep, 96-mile valley, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for the splendor of its mountains and the beauty of its villages: Maimará, Tilcara (with its Pre-Colombian fortress and its strong folklore tradition), and Humahuaca (with its famous carnival).