What to Do and Where to Eat in Salta, Argentina
If you’re coming from Bolivia or the north of Chile then Salta will probably be your first taste of Argentina. As first impressions of a country go, Salta definitely does Argentina justice. Located in the northwest it’s an old colonial city with amazing restaurants and a great climate, all of which make it definitely worth a visit on any Argentina itinerary.
Where to Stay in Salta
I stayed at Hostel Salta Por Siempre (“Hostel in Salta” if booking on Hostelworld) and would definitely recommend it. It’s a 20 minute walk from the centre but has a really sociable vibe so is great for meeting people. Plus at 350 Argentine pesos (~6 USD) per night for a dorm room, good facilities and basic breakfast you can’t really complain.
Where to Eat
The food in Argentina in seriously good! I’ve sampled a lot of empanadas on my trip but Salta’s are definitely the best I’ve had so far! The empanadas here are a lot smaller than the ones in Bolivia and Chile, but that’s fine as it just means you get to eat more of them! At 20-30 pesos (~0.30-0.50 USD) each these yummy parcels are the perfect cheap lunch. The best ones I found were at La Salteneria Empanadas, which I basically visited everyday!
Of course I can’t talk about food in Argentina and not mention steak. It’s one of the things Argentina is famous for and for good reason. I don’t know what it is but the steak here is out of this world. It’s also huge! You can order your preferred cut (I shared one steak with a friend as a single steak was 600g!) or get a parrillada (mixed grill plate) to share, but either way I’d definitely share it with more people than they advise. El Charrua Restaurante y Parrillada was recommended by my hostel and it didn’t disappoint. And at only 950 pesos (~16 USD) per person for steak, sides, bread, dessert and too many carafes of red wine I’m seriously considering moving to Argentina!
Walk Around Town
The centre of Salta is really pretty. Plaza 9 de Julio marks the centre of the city and is filled with people lazing on the grass eating ice cream or sipping a cerveza in one of the surrounding cafés. Around the plaza you’ll find lots of bars and restaurants with al fresco seating, perfect for whiling away an afternoon.
Right on the main square lies the pink Catedral Basilica de Salta but walk around the surrounding streets and you’ll discover some other beautiful churches. There’s Iglesia San Francisco with its dark pink facade and the blue domed Iglesia la Vina which is amazing inside.
Get the Cable Car or Hike to Cerro San Bernardo
If you want an amazing view of the city the best place to head to is Cerro San Bernardo. You can take the cable car up for 400 pesos (~6.70 USD) return, but I decided to take the chance to get some exercise and take the stairs. The walk up only takes about 25 minutes and at the top there’s some outdoor gym equipment if you want to continue your workout. Otherwise there are ice cream sellers, and even a wine truck, so you can eat and drink whilst taking in the views of the city.
What to Do in Salta: Take a Trip to the Mountains in the North
As soon as you get north of the city you’ll be confronted by stunning vistas of colourful mountains. In amongst these are two main attractions, namely the Hornocal o Cerro de 14 Colores (14 Colour Mountain) and the Cerro de los Siete Colores (7 Colour Mountain).
To get up here you have two options: rent a car in Salta or take the bus. Car rental is pretty cheap if you can find a group to split the costs with, but as I was travelling alone I decided to take the bus. From the main bus station in Salta you can catch the Balut bus towards La Quiaca at 5:30am, 7am, 10:30am, 3:30pm, 10pm and midnight. However, I wouldn’t recommend the latest two as the views on the drive are amazing so you’ll want to be able to look out the window.
There are a few different towns up north where the bus stops and where you can choose to base yourself. I chose Humahuaca which is the furthest north and the town closest to the 14 Colour Mountain. But alternatively you could choose to stay in Tilcara, which is probably the busiest most touristy town in the area, or Purmamarca which is the town closest to the 7 Colour Mountain. You can get local buses quite regularly between all these towns so regardless of which one you choose to base yourself in you can still visit the others.
My bus to Humahuaca cost 630 pesos (~10 USD) and took about 5 hours. With this and all the buses I took along the route I simply turned up at the bus station and bought my ticket 15 minutes before it was due to leave, so there is definitely no need to book in advance.
Humahuaca is a small little town which can be explored in an hour or two with a walk to the main square and the Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia. There’s also a nice little hike only 20 minutes from town to the Pena Blanca, which are white rock formations which you can climb up for views over the town.
14 Colour Mountain
The main attraction here though is of course a visit to the Hornocal of the 14 Colour Mountain. It is located 24km from town but if you don’t have your own car you can grab any one of the minivans that sit just before the bridge on the crossroad of Salta Street and Av. Belgrano. These charge 400 pesos (~6.70 USD) per person to take you there and back, but unless you negotiate the price for a private taxi you will need to wait until the minivan is full before it leaves.
Another alternative is to hitchhike. It’s one road up to the mountain so it’s pretty much guaranteed that every car going that way is visiting the Hornocal. Together with a Brazilian guy from my hostel I waited about 30 minutes before a lovely German man in a campervan stopped and gave us a lift to the top.
The drive up is amazing – a windy road climbing higher and higher into the mountains. The road isn’t in amazing condition so the drive takes about 45 minutes and just before you reach the parking lot there is a man who charges 80 pesos (~1.30 USD) per car for entry. You are then greeted by the incredible sight of the 14 Colour Mountain. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy on the day I went so the colours weren’t as bright as they would be on a clear day, but it was still amazing and you can totally see where it gets its name from.
The trip to the 14 Colour Mountain can easily be completed in 3-4 hours so as I was back in Humahuaca by lunchtime and wasn’t in a rush to leave that day, I decided to visit the nearby town of Uquia. It’s only 20 minutes from Humahuaca and you can take the Evilina bus which has a set timetable (it’s worth taking a photo of this when you first arrive at the Humahuaca bus terminal) or the Vestido bus which seems to just leave when it’s full.
From Uquia you can hike to the Quebrada de las Señoritas. Again the weather was against me and I had to cut my hike short as a big thunderstorm started after only 20 minutes, but apparently the hike only takes about an hour in total and the photos I’ve seen look really cool, so if you have good weather and some time it sounds like its worth doing.
On my final day I decided to visit Purmamarca and the 7 Colour Mountain before heading back to Salta. As with Uquia you can take the Evelina bus directly there or the Vestido bus to Tilcara and then change there and get another bus to Purmamarca. It takes about 1-1.5 hours from Humahuaca and once you arrive you can walk the 3km loop around the Paseo de los Colorados for views of the different red hues of the mountain. The walk is really easy and every time you turn a corner the views seem to get better. Purmamarca is also a cute little town to explore and a great place to do some shopping. There are tons of shops selling pottery plus your standard alpaca jumpers, and a market in the main square.
Getting back to Salta is again really easy. There are direct buses, but if one isn’t running around the time you want to leave then take a bus to Jujuy first and from there buy a ticket to Salta. I took the 1.15pm bus from Purmamarca to Jujuy then the 3.30pm bus from Jujuy to Salta, getting me into Salta with loads of time to prepare for another excellent steak dinner to reward myself for my (albeit not very long) hikes of the last two days.
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