As you probably already know I am spending my Year Abroad in Salta, a city at the foothills of the Andes Cordillera. Here, right next to some of the first peaks of the Andes, it’s a totally different world compared to Buenos Aires, which has a huge European influence. Salta la Linda, as people call it, is a very tranquil place to live in and shares cultural aspects of both Argentina and Bolivia, due to its proximity to the border. If you happen to wander the North of Argentina, or if you decide to do an exchange in this area, you will most likely set foot in Salta. If you’re living in Buenos Aires and would like to have an adventure, but realise jaw-dropping Patagonia is just a tad over your budget, the provinces of Salta and Jujuy might do the trick.
Salta, a small city but rich in places to visit and attractions both in town and in the surrounding area. Here’s a guide to my favourite things to do in the city:
# 1 IGLESIA SAN FRANCISCO
The typical postcard view of Salta: the Iglesia San Francisco is the landmark of the city, and you cannot miss it, it being just a few blocks from the main square. Dating back to 1625, this building is more impressive and interesting from the outside and especially for what happens in it every year, in August: for the festival of Saint Roch (always painted with a dog by his feet), hundreds of people go with their pets to the church for a special mass, where each animal receives a blessing.
Address: Córdoba 33
# 2 PLAZA 9 DE JULIO
Plaza 9 de Julio, named after the Argentinian independence in 1816, is the heart of the city. On a sunny day it you might want to sit at one of the many cafes surrounding the square and watch the city moving, the palm trees, the shoe shiners at work, the beautiful cathedral and some street artists performing.
# 3 TRY THE LOCAL CUISINE
Empanadas, the South American version of the Cornish pasties, are the national delicacy in Argentina. Everyone agrees that the best empanadas in country are the salteñas, especially the one filled with meat ‘cortada a cuchillo’ , literally “cut by the knife”. Even in a carnivore country like Argentina you can always find vegetarian options in the menus like empanadas filled with quinoa, tomato and basil, vegetables or cheese.
Apart from empanadas, the local cuisine has more to offer: very famous in this region are humitas made with flour, corn, onions and goat cheese wrapped in corn husk and boiled, and tamales, which are basically the meat version of humitas with shredded lamb or pork meat.
The northern Argentinian cuisine is delicious but it can be a bit monotonous after a while, so if you want to try something different but still local and fresh, you could give these two very good vegan restaurants a go:
- Chirimoya: here you can find a revisited version of the traditional Andean cuisine. I would recommend to try the estofado the quinoa and the milanesa de quinoa which comes with delicious dips. Bear in mind, the portions are huge! This meant I always ended up leaving with a doggy bag. They also do amazing juices and homemade nut milks which are impossible to find in supermarkets.
Address: España 211
Opening hours: from Monday to Saturday 9:00-14:45, 20:30-23:15. Closed on Sunday.
- Vaikuntha Restó is another very good restaurant, quite similar to Chirimoya, and well worth a visit. In both restaurants you’ll easily manage to eat with less than the equivalent of 10 USD.
Address: Leguizamón 450
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 9:00 – 14:00, 18:00 – 01:00. Closed on Sunday.
# 4 FOLKLORE
When people think about Argentina, they immediately think about tango. But the Argentinian musical scene goes far beyond tango, there is so much more! In Salta there is an old and important musical tradition, which translates into iconic shows called Peñas. These folkloric shows are the main attraction of the city at night, and can be found in many restaurants across Calle Balcarce. Many famous groups and singers are from Salta, like Los Nocheros, Los Huayra and El Chaqueño Palavecino.
A very good place to see a peña in Salta is definitely La Casona del Molino, which is considered like an instituition. It is a bit outside the centre but well worth a visit. You can taste all the local cuisine I described above, accompanied by some wine from the nearby Cafayate, while watching a show and, why not, taking part with some dancing.
Address: Luis Burela 1, 4400 Salta
# 5 SIPPING ICED COFFEE ON A SUNNY DAY
The sun won’t shine every day of the year in Salta, but when it does, it would be silly not to enjoy it with a good beverage. For the perfect coffee break head to Café Martinez, the Argentinian answer to Starbucks, located in front of the lovely Plaza Guemes. My favourite pick from the menu is the affogato, a scoop of ice-cream ‘drowned’ with coffee, a drop of condensed milk, all served in a glass with a cookie on top. Heaven!
Address: Balcarce 585
Otherwise, if you are looking for a nice coffee shop to catch up with some work and answer emails – your home wifi might be below your expectations – check out the lovely Bixi Coffee House, you will become a loyal costumer 🙂
Address: Balcarce 96
# 6 CALLE BALCARCE
All the restaurants, bars, pubs, peña and clubs are concentrated in this long street – on a night out you will always end up here, whether you like it or not! Popular spots are Macondo, where you can find live music, decent drinks and a pool table, and One, a very popular club, not fancy at all but good fun! Get ready to just listen to a lot of cumbia and reggaeton!
During the weekend La Balcarce hosts the Feria, a lovely market where you can find local handicraft and delicacies. Wandering around the stalls and buying a souvenir of Salta, really is a nice way to end the weekend.
# 7 MERCADO CENTRAL
Forget the supermarket! The buzzy mercado central is a lot cheaper and a total different experience when it comes to shopping. Here you can find everything you need, ranging from fruit and vegetables, meat, bread, spices, natural remedies, plants, to handicrafts, phones and fake dvd’s. Here you can really breath South America, and just like everywhere else on this continent, I highly recommend heading to the market for a truly local experience.
PS: Please bring your own bag to shop. In Salta, as in many other parts of Argentina, especially in the north, there is a complete lack of education in terms of environmental protection. By bringing your own bag you will avoid using plastic bags but also raise some kind of awareness in people’s minds.
The Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña is a must-see if you are in Salta. It gives you an interesting insight on the Inca culture and especially on the practice child sacrifices. In fact, the famous ‘attractions’ of this museum are the mummified bodies of three children discovered by the anthropologist Johan Reinhard in 1999 at the peak of the volcano Llullaillaco, near the Chilean border. These mummies are the best preserved ones in the entire world, and you’ll only be able to see one – the museum rotates the mummy shown to the public, in order not to deteriorate them.
Bring your student ID for a discount.
Opening hours: from Tuesday to Sunday 11 am to 7:30 pm. Closed on Monday
Address: Bartolomé Mitre 77
# 9 CERRO SAN BERNARDO
For another perspective of Salta, head to Parque San Martín and take the teleférico to Cerro San Bernardo (150 ARS return, well overpriced) or put some shorts on and here is your work out for the day. Once at the top you can have an ice cream while admiring the view and trying to recognise the places you have already visited. There is also a free gym at the top but don’t expect too much…
# 10 LOCAL BOOZE
You can’t leave Salta without having tried its beer in its both versions rubia and negra, and most importantly its delicious wine. I will soon write a post on my visit to Cafayate, the main wine production hub of the region.
Where to stay
La Covacha Hostel, located a few blocks from the main square, is a nice hostel for backpackers. It has a lovely terrace from which you can see the city and the Cerro San Bernando. Diego, the owner, makes an incredible asado on Thursdays.
Address: Juramento 109
If you come to do your exchange in Salta, staying at this hostel can be a good starting point, from where you can visit the city and find an accommodation.