Unfortunately, Northern Argentina is all too often relegated to second choice, if not forgotten, when choosing to travel the country.
Patagonia certainly represents Argentina in the world, yet, with a pleasant climate for a good part of the year and incredible Andean landscapes , the colonial city of Salta Capital, and its region, deserves not only a mention but, as far as I’m concerned, a dedicated trip.
If you are wondering what to see in Salta this post will answer all your doubts.
Considered one of the most bio-diverse regions in all of South America , in the province of Salta you can get lost among expanses of open spaces, high Andean peaks , picturesque rocky valleys and colorful mountains, but also white salt pans , grassy plains, lush vineyards, where the famous Torrontes and spectacular deserts are produced.
The city of Salta, a colonial city with a rural atmosphere, is ideal as a base for discovering the precious places in the surrounding area. Founded in 1582, it has not welcomed as many European immigrants as other regions of the country. This meant that many indigenous traditions and influences could be maintained and are still alive today.
From Salta “la linda” – the beautiful one – in this region we can experience the Quechan and Andean culture, eat regional foods that are not found elsewhere, such as humita , tamales and quinoa -based dishes and delve into territories affected by mass tourism among the most impressive and imposing in South America.
Let’s find out together what to do in and from Salta, a destination worth considering to discover an Argentina that is probably different from what you usually expect.
Since you are interested in Northern Argentina, also read the post What to see in the San Juan region.
If you are planning a trip to Patagonia, read the post – What to see in Argentine Patagonia
To better plan your trip, purchase the Lonely Planet Argentina guide , in paper format or individual chapters in PDF with a 5% discount
What to see in Salta in three days (in short) – The perfect itinerary
If you only have 3 days available and you have to choose what to do, there are no doubts about the choices to make. This is the itinerary with the places to see in Salta in three days
If you have a week available then also include the three-day tour to the High Desert Plateau and dare where, still, few decide to go.
Where to sleep in Salta
Depending on your tastes, and also on the time available, you can choose whether to stay in Salta for the entire stay and do day tours, or stay in Salta for 2 or 3 days and then sleep in other tourist cities, such as Cafayate, Cachi or Iruya , or base yourself in one of the smaller towns and get to know the rest of the province from there.
If you decide to sleep in Salta, some beautiful and comfortable options are the Legado Mitico Hotel , a structure in an excellent position with a beautiful garden and the Hotel La Candela.
If you are looking for a hostel then Salta Hostel is the right one!
How to travel in Salta province
Salta and Jujuy are well connected by public transport, as are stops along the Quebrada de Humahuaca to the town of Humahuaca.
In addition to this, transportation becomes rarer and more complicated due to the lack of transportation.
Therefore, if you want to go beyond the classic circuit, it is advisable to plan your visits in advance, renting a car or relying on organized tours.
Generally speaking, there are mainly three solutions for traveling in the region.
This is an excellent option because it allows you to move at your own pace without having to depend on anyone.
I recommend looking for the best offer on Rentalcars which compares the prices of different car rentals and you can choose the one that’s right for you.
Group excursions departing from Salta
If you are traveling alone and don’t want to drive, a very common option is to take part in excursions that leave from the capital.
The sites that I recommend and that I have personally tested are Denomades and Civitatis , but I will go into more detail as we proceed with the post.
It is also possible to travel between the main destinations by public transport, a recommended solution for those who have time available, backpackers for example. Remember that for Salinas Grandes, Los Cardones National Park and the High Desert Plateau you will need to have a vehicle, or take part in a tour.
When to go to Salta in Argentina
The seasons indicated for traveling to the Northwest are Argentine spring or autumn.
Summer, our winter, can be scorching in the valleys and unbearable in big cities like Tucumán, while heavy summer rains around Salta can make the roads unusable.
In our summer, their winter, particularly in July and August the night temperatures at altitude drop significantly and it could be very cold.
What to see in Salta Capital
At 1,100 meters above sea level, Salta, the provincial capital is one of the best preserved colonial-style cities in all of Argentina. The city has many attractions to offer but is not particularly large, so usually even a single day is enough.
For an introduction to the city, take part in the Salta free tour , a 1.5 hour tour of the main tourist sites of the colonial centre.
If you prefer to discover it independently, here are the places not to be missed.
It starts from Piazza 9 Luglio, which represents the center of the city and with a vast number of restaurants and cafes, and where the beautiful Cathedral is located , one of the most recognizable landmarks thanks to the pink color of the facade.
The interior houses the tomb of the hero of Salta’s revolution and independence, General Martín Miguel de Güemes .
Continue to the Church of San Francisco – Iglesia San Francisco Catedral – declared a National Historic Monument in 1941 – which is embellished at night thanks to the play of light and colours.
The obstruction began in 1625, with the addition of the 54-metre (177 ft) bell tower in 1877, making it the tallest steeple in South America.
If you like museums, it is worth visiting the High Mountain Archaeological Museum , created to preserve the children of Llullaillaco , the bodies of three Inca children that have been preserved for around five hundred years.
The bodies were found at an altitude of 6739 meters near the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano in the western part of Salta province on the border with Chile.
The bodies were naturally mummified by the high altitude air and freezing temperatures, conditions climatic conditions that have preserved their skin, hair, hands and clothes.
One of the most visited places in the city of Salta is Cerro de La Virgen . Here is Mrs. Maria Livia who claims to have had apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
A place of pilgrimage for many devotees, it is also home to the Sanctuary of the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Eucharistic Heart of Jesus .
San Bernardo Hill
Another place to visit in the city of Salta is Cerro San Bernardo which can be reached on foot, by bicycle, by car or by cable car.
From above you can see the whole city. The cable car takes you from San Martin Park , another great place to visit in the city of Salta if you’re looking for a bit of greenery.
If you like nature and tranquility then head to San Lorenzo, a small residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Salta, known as the yungas area.
Here you will find picturesque houses and the temperatures are cooler than in the city centre. Very nice to ride a bike.
The Rocks of Salta
Not to be missed in Salta are its peñas, restaurants serving regional dishes (including the empanadas which are said to be the best in Argentina) where you eat, drink, sing and play music. To avoid mistakes, head to Calle Balcarce .
What to see in Salta Region
Pleasant and concentrated, Salta Capital, rather than being a city where you can stay for many days, is an excellent base for discovering the surroundings and the region. In fact, from here you enter a world very different from the rest of the better known and sponsored Argentina. You travel at altitude between colorful mountains and deserts known to few. In fact, the real journey begins from here.
Safari to the Clouds
A route that follows the route of the famous Treno de las Nubes , a section of the trans-Andean railway that reaches and exceeds 4,000 meters above sea level to cross the Andes and arrive in Chile.
The first stop is at the Camino a las Nubes , following the route of the train, until reaching San Antonio de los Cobres , where you can admire this magnificent work of engineering built in the 1920s.
We continue with the crossing of Puna along Ruta 38 and the Salinas Grandes , a salt desert on the border with Jujuy.
Not as impressive as the Salar de Uyuni , but still beautiful, especially if Uyuni is a next stop.
Continue to the Cuesta de Lipán . passing from the desert to the fertile valleys until reaching the picturesque village of Purmamarca , located at the foot of the famous Cerro de los Siete Colores.
This route can be done with tours that leave and return to Salta in the evening.
Cafayate and winery
Known as the Tuscany of Argentina , this small wine town is famous for the Torrontés grape and sparkling, floral white wine.
In addition to the splendid bodegas, where you can do tastings and walk through the vineyards, the city also offers splendid post-colonial architecture and some museums.
But it is the journey to reach Cafayate that makes the adventure remarkable. Along the journey from Salta you come across impressive rock formations, whose name derives from the shape they take. Among the main ones you will see the Garganta del Diablo, El Anfiteatro, El Sapo, Los Castillos and El Obelisco.
Unless you have your own vehicle or are sleeping in Cafayate, I recommend taking a look at these tours:
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003, and a biosphere reserve in 2007, the Quebrada de Humahuaca is a mountain valley flanked by the Puna plateau and eastern forested areas.
The gorge follows the line of an important cultural route, the Inca Trail , along the Rio Grande valley forming a suggestive natural corridor 155 kilometers long.
The Quebrada route includes a visit to Purmamarca , where the beautiful Cerro de los Siete Colores stands and the craft fair. We then follow to the city of Tilcara and the ruins of the Pucará de Tilcara .
Driving along Ruta Nacional 9 , you arrive at the town of Humahuaca , known for its narrow streets and its houses made of adobe walls, reeds and mud roofs.
We continue to Uquia , to visit the Church which contains a beautiful collection of paintings from the Cuzco School and finally Salvador de Jujuy .
Also in this case, if you don’t have a car and want to follow the route in one day, I recommend the following tours:
Cachi and the Los Cardones National Park
Los Cardones National Park is located near the city of Payogasta about 100 km from Salta.
Its 64,117 hectares, of which 10,902 are a national reserve, extend over an arid mountain environment, with altitudes ranging from 2600 to 5226 meters above sea level.
The national park takes its name from the large number of specimens of cardon or pasacana , a species characteristic of the inter-Andean valleys of southern Bolivia and northern Argentina and Chile.
Important paleontological remains are found in the national park, such as 70-year-old dinosaur footprints millions of years ago .
Along the same route you then reach Cachi, a town at 2800 meters above sea level, an enchanting city, a village actually, of adobe, surrounded by Andean peaks usually snow-capped and high altitude vineyards.
It is the largest place in these parts whose beauty lies in its cobblestones, adobe architecture and the solitary square with a suggestive colonial style that is intertwined with the Diaguita and Inca heritage.
High Desert Plateau
To go where few go, then dedicate three days to the High Desert Plateau , one of the most remote areas of Northern Argentina.
Among the main places of this trip we visit:
- Quebrada del Toro , a spectacular gorge extends along several canyons of the Andes and the Valle de Lerma , thus becoming a true natural masterpiece
- San Antonio de los Cobres , whose main attractions of the city are the Polvorilla viaduct and the small chapel entirely decorated with mosaics
- El Altiplano – Velvety hills with hundreds of pastel shades open up into the desert, between gorges, plains and salt flats.
- Tolar Grande , a place full of peace and tranquility
- Salar de Arizaro and the Cono de Arita – An off road in the desert between brilliant colors and infinite spaces
- Ojos del Mar – An oasis in the middle of the desert framed by the Andes mountain range, with its highest volcanoes such as Llullaillaco, Socompa, Guanaquero
To visit these places you need a 4×4 and an organized and private tour, or one limited to a maximum of 4 people, like the one offered by Andes Challenge (490 euros per person for three days with departure and return in Salta).
In the Argentine North West, temperatures can be extreme with significant temperature variations. Don’t forget your sweater and warm clothes!
Rafting to the Juramento River
There are numerous places to go rafting in Argentina, Salta also offers a fun option for those who want to give a pinch of adrenaline to their trip.
Ten class III rapids and 5 class II rapids, framed by the impressive landscape of the Juramento River canyon, which can be seen as a large opening between the mountains.
A rafting that continues for 12 kilometers and ends in Los Lapachos.
Book Grade III rafting (€26 per person)