Here, you’ll find information about the city of Salta, what to visit, how to travel about the city and beyond.
Salta is in a region bordered with Bolivia and Chile where the Andes mountain range runs through. The region has a diverse culture, influenced by the history of its native people, the Andean and folkloric spirit and its gaucho traditions. You’ll find this present in the city of Salta, which makes it a very special place. It’s also a very traditional, religious and mostly conservative city, where the people are friendly, warm and easy-going.
Salta city is, unsurprisingly, the capital of its region. It’s a picturesque colonial city, which is often referred to as ‘Salta La Linda’ or ‘Salta the Beautiful’. The centre of the city is definitely beautiful with old colonial white buildings and cobbled streets. Many of the streets are lined with trees, which make the city a rather green city. In spring, many of the trees produce oranges, which have a delicious scented blossom. Others produce gorgeous brightly coloured red, purple, pink and yellow flowers, which fill the streets with so much colour.
The main square, the Plaza 9 de junio, has its own share of flowering trees and enormous towering palm trees. It’s a beautiful well-kept plaza with the focal point being the statue of General Arenales, who fought for Salta’s independence and was the city’s governor in 1824. Surrounding the plaza is an impressive cathedral, the old town hall and many museums and public buildings. As with any plaza that we have visited in South America, it is the central social hub. At about 1pm, it’s packed with students just finishing school and families meeting on their lunch breaks from work. It also has many nice restaurants and bars, which are always full of tourists on sunny days.
Around the plaza is also the main shopping area, particularly on the pedestrian street of Florida. Here, you’ll find a variety of shops, getting cheaper as you get closer to Avenida San Martin and the market nearby (see Mercado Municipal below). Another popular, and certainly more upmarket, shopping area is the Alta Noa centre in the northeast of the city on Avenida Virrey Toledo. Inside you’ll also find a number of fast-food places and the more modern of the two cinemas in Salta. Check out the Hoytes cinema website for film times – you’ll find a few films in English with Spanish subtitles.
What to visit in Salta
MAAM Museum – This is a great museum with lots of information about the history of the region. It focuses mainly on the spread of the Incan empire and has many artefacts and videos on show. The most interesting things to see in the museum are the mummies, which were discovered in the mountains in the region. They have been fantastically preserved and are fascinating to see. There are three of them, but only one mummy is displayed at a time in order to better preserve them. Entrance fee for foreign tourists is AR$ 90.
It’s interesting to note that the mummies displayed in the MAAM raise mixed feelings here in Salta. Many people believe that they should have been left in their tombs in the mountains where they were found. These three mummies were children sacrificed as an offering to the gods and to mother earth, or Pachamama, which would have been a hugely important ritual ceremony performed by the Incas. For some people, it is a lack of respect for the dead and it is wrong to profit off of it. Others, particularly those who live in the towns in the Valles Calchaquíes, still hold this spiritual belief of Pachamama, which is a connection to their native culture and past.
El Teatro Provincial – Salta is fantastic for its variety of concerts and shows on offer at this theatre on the main plaza. Best of all, they are free! (Look out for the concerts that say ‘entrada libre y gratuita’). Most weeks, there is a performance from the symphony orchestra, who often have a special guest joining them. There are also other shows from various singers and bands throughout the year. Although these are not free, tickets are relatively cheap. The website is not very helpful, but if you visit the theatre, there is a list of forthcoming events on the doors.
El Cabildo – This is another museum on the plaza. El Cabildo, which is the old town hall, is a beautiful white building with its balcony overlooking the plaza. Here, you can find out about Salta’s history through artefacts, old photos, art and even a collection of old carriages and cars. AR$ 90 entrance for foreign tourists.
Museum of Fine Arts / Museo de Bellas Artes – This art gallery is located on Avenida Belgrano – about 10 minutes from the main plaza. It’s an interesting gallery with some great pieces, but it won’t take you long to get round it. Free to enter.
Museum of Contemporary Art / Museo de Arte Contemporaneo – You’ll find this on the plaza next to the theatre. On the ground floor as you enter, there is an exhibition of local artists, usually students from the art college, which is regularly updated. Upstairs, they have a more permanent exhibition of larger pieces of work by a variety of national and international artists. Some really fantastic artwork that’s worth seeing. Free to enter.
Convento de San Bernardo – A beautiful old white building dating back to the end of the 16th-beginning of the 17th century. It’s even more special when lit-up at night time. It’s only open in the mornings, from 06:30-08:30am. They have a little shop too, which sells some small cakes and religious souvenirs.
Mercado Municipal – the main municipal market is located on Florida and San Martín streets (5 minutes from the main plaza). It’s an indoor market selling fantastic quality fruit and veg, as well as meat and fish and other food products. It’s a great place to find a variety of different herbs and spices. There are also loads of cheap places to eat here too.
Parque San Martin – Although not the prettiest park, it is usually a lively place to go. There are some green spaces to sit about in and you can hire a pedallo on the pond – although the water is a bit brown and doesn’t look too inviting. There is also a market, which is probably the cheapest place to buy souvenirs and handicrafts.
Cerro San Bernardo – From the Parque San Martin, you can get a cable car, or teleférico, up to the top of San Bernardo Hill. It costs about AR$ 45 for a single journey and AR$ 90 for return. I’d suggest doing a single journey up in the cable car and then walking back down.
At the top of San Bernardo you have great views of the city and surrounding mountains. It’s also a very well-kept area with plants and waterfalls. There’s a café, a couple of souvenir shops, an antique market and even an outdoor gym. You can also hire bikes and they offer free aerobic classes on certain days.
There is a path and lots of steps through a wooded area to get back down the hill. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the bottom. Watch out for hummingbirds and other wildlife in the trees. Many people use this path as a fitness route, so you’ll pass many runners.
At the bottom, you’ll get to the Guemes Monument.
General Guemes Monument – There’s not much to do here, but it’s a pleasant place to sit in the sunshine drinking your maté (traditional tea drunk out of a metal straw). There are a couple of stalls selling more souvenirs and usually someone selling ice-creams or popcorn. The monument is impressive too. General Guemes was a military leader and another governor of Salta at the beginning of the 19th century. He’s a bit of a big deal here in Salta as he helped defend the region against the Spanish armies in the war of independence. You’ll find lots of things named after him, including Plaza Guemes.
Plaza Guemes and Balcarce Street– These are great places to go at the weekend. On Saturdays, there is an artisanal market with stalls surrounding the Plaza Guemes. On Sunday these stalls and more move to the north end of Balcarce Street. Although not particularly cheap, you’ll find some lovely traditional and unique handmade products on offer.
During the evening, Balcarce street becomes the centre of Salteñan nightlife. The restaurants and bars open up, spilling out onto the streets particularly in summer. It’s a lively fun place to go to watch a peña, traditional music played in the restaurants, while eating an asado, grilled meat. You can also see live bands of other types of music perform here on some nights. From about 2am, the nightclubs start to fill up as the night begins for clubbers.
Parque Bicentenario – This park was opened in 2014, so is relatively new and still growing and developing. It has lots of open space, a lake, a children’s play area and a skate park. They also offer free Zumba classes in the afternoons. It’s free to enter and situated on the outskirts of the city, but is easily reached by the Saeta buses (see below) numbers 6a, 6C, 5C.
Getting around Salta
Salta is an easy nice-sized city to walk about. All the main points of interest are within walking distance. However, you can also use the local bus service, Saeta, which is really cheap and runs a very frequent service. You have to get a Saeta card and top it up from one of the kioskos – there is one on the main plaza by the theatre where you can do this. To see the bus routes, consult Saeta’s website here.
If you want to get out of the city, it’s very easy and can be quite cheap to catch a bus. Within 10 minutes, you can be out in the countryside and you have the view of mountains and open fields. The Saeta local buses have a pretty wide network and can take you to towns in the region over an hour away for less than a dollar. Places such as Cabra Coral, San Lorenzo, La Caldera and Campo Quijano are a nice place to visit for a relaxing afternoon stroll in the countryside.
There is also a train station in Salta, which can be found at the end of Balcarce Street. Here, you can catch the Tren a las Nubes, or Train to the Clouds, which is now only a tourist service. The train leaves every Saturday early morning and returns at about midnight. As its name suggests, the journey takes you up high into the mountains, stopping at various points along the way.
Travel beyond Salta
To go further field, head to the bus station – El Terminal Terrestre, near the San Martin park, about 15 minutes walk from the main plaza. Here you can get regional, national and international buses. Within the region in the Valles Calchaquíes, there are beautiful towns to visit, such as Tilcara, Cachí and Cafayate. They are all within a 3-6 hours journey so are perfect for a weekend away. For more information, visit this section of my website.
To cross the border, you have Chile to the west, Bolivia to the north and Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil in the northeast. To get to Chile, you can get an 11 hour bus to San Pedro de Atacama. To Bolivia, you’ll have to take a 5-6 hour bus to the border town of La Quiaca or Aguas Blancas. From there you can get another 3 hour bus to the pretty town and vineyards of Tarija. To get to Paraguay, you’ll have to get a 12 hour bus to Resistencia and then you can get a 5 hour bus over the border to Asuncion. To travel to Uruguay, you can travel to Buenos Aires and then get the ferry across the river. For getting to Brazil, I’d suggest taking the bus to Iguazú and then crossing the border there (you can also enter Paraguay this way).
Salta also has an airport, which is about a half an hour bus journey from the centre – take the 8a bus and ask the bus driver to tell you when to get off as it’s really not obvious where the airport is. The main airlines that offer services are Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN and most flights change in Buenos Aires. A one-way flight to the capital is usually between US$200-300. Foreigners pay more.