I’ve always been curious about the north of Argentina, and finally I’m here! I first arrived to Salta, the capital of the Province of Salta, on a late Thursday night in May. The mornings and evenings are cold, but the afternoon sun shines down, begging you to remove your scarf.
Whenever I told someone I was coming to Salta, they all wanted to tell me how much they loved it, though everyone was vague in their reasons when I asked why. They just loved it. The most concrete answer I got was “I felt like I was more on vacation than a backpacker.” Take that as you wish, I’m still trying to figure it out.
The population of Salta is 618,375, which is obviously several times smaller than its big brother Buenos Aires, though it oscillates between feeling big city/small city. The buildings all feel old and several crumbling, and are generally not higher than two stories tall, which gives the place a more “quaint” feeling. However, when viewing the city from atop the giant hill, reachable by cable car, one can’t help but notice how sprawling it all feels, as white buildings spread off into the distance.
While I chose to stay one week in Salta, it’s entirely possible to hit the highlights in just one day. Here I’ll lay out a general itinerary for what you can do in one day in “Salta La Linda.” The following plan can work for any day except Sunday, when the city essentially shuts down.
Head over to the peatonal (foot traffic) area of the city on Calle Florida and Calle Alberdi. On Google Maps, these are the thinner streets in the center of the yellow area near Plaza 9 de Julio. You can find several traditional cafes in this area, offering the “desayuno” (breakfast) menu. They will have chalkboards out front announcing the day’s promos.
A common desayuno promo would be cafe con leche (or tea, or a submarino- warm milk with chocolate mixed in) with a choice of media lunas (croissants) or tortilla (like a dried layered bread), for 300 pesos ($1.50 usd). You can also choose to add a tostada (toasted ham/cheese sandwich) for a slightly higher price.
Once you finish breakfast, take a stroll through these peatonal streets, which are bustling with people going about their business, street buskers, folks selling you socks and masks, and small kiosks selling popcorn, cotton candy, and garrapiñadas (do yourself a favor and try these candied peanuts, they’re delicious).
10:30am: Plaza 9 de Julio
The 9th of July is Argentina’s Independence Day, and they love a good excuse to name something after it. This plaza marks the center of the city and is surrounded on all 4 sides by the Cabildo, the Basilica, and several restaurants and cafes with outdoor patios. The plaza itself is reminiscent of Cordoba’s Plaza San Martin, with Salta’s hero in the center, Juan Antonio de Arenales, a Spanish/Argentine soldier who assisted in the independence of Argentina. The plaza is scattered with benches, fountains, palm trees, and orange trees that remind of Seville, Spain.
Enjoy a coffee at one of these cafe patios, or just take a lap around the plaza to appreciate its beauty. Though you should definitely expect these cafes to be slightly higher than the rest of the city, due obviously to their prime location.
Both the Cabildo and the Basilica are free to enter. The Basilica closes to the public at noon, so I suggest heading there first to wander this magnificent building, and admire its architecture. Once done there, head across the plaza to the Cabildo. All major cities in Argentina have a cabildo, and generally they are all very similar. They’ll tell you the history of the city, the history of the construction of the building, antique findings from the past, like pottery from the Incas, and several religious paintings and icons. The cabildo has a second story where you can take in the plaza and its marvelous flora.
Head on over to the Mercado Municipal San Miguel. Inside you’ll find the standard market fare: spices, veggies, fish, slaughtered animals being cut up, sweaters, knick knacks, and the best part- a food court. Inside the food court are several different restaurants, each with their own colored tables marking their territory. I sat at the turquoise colored tables because I liked the girl working there. She was the first person who approached me when I entered and explained the various food items.
I was looking for typical foods of the region, and I found exactly that here! I got one tamale con carne picante (with spicy meat), and one humita dulce (sweet corn). The humita is very much like a tamale in texture, though slightly smoother. It is a mash of corn, with two options- dulce (sweet) or salado (salty). I went for the sweet one, and was not disappointed. I wanted something to contrast with my spicy tamale, and I made the right choice! I was honestly not that hungry when I ate, but ended up finishing it all. I couldn’t help myself. Don’t forget to add the aji picante (red sauce). It will take your meal from a 9 to a 10!
Alternate Lunch Spot: If you prefer to eat alfresco, head over to the Paseo de la Familia on Calle Catamarca (between C. San Luis & C. La Rioja). There is a long row of what appear to be old and shuttered down store fronts. However, it also appears that people rent them out and open them up as small kitchens. They grill on the street. It was definitely a unique experience eating there and the food was absolutely delicious. I had matambre, which I watched the man cook in front of me on the grill while I sat at my outdoor dining table, accompanied by the sounds of generators, loud music, and traffic. The matambre came with rice, salad, and soup for a total of 700 pesos ($3.33 usd).
1pm: Parque San Martin & the Teleferico
Just about 8 blocks down the street from the market you’ll find the San Martin Park. At the end of the park, to the right you’ll see a market, and to the left you’ll see the Teleferico. Take a stroll through the local market. It’s actually bigger than it looks, and it’s full of items such as alpaca sweaters, mate cups, and other touristy items.
Once you tire of the market, head across the street to the Teleferico. The cost is 600 pesos ($3 usd) each way. However, there is a walking path all the way to the top if you prefer the exercise. You can opt to walk or take the cable car either way. I opted for the ride up, and the walk down.
Just note that if you do want to walk, the stairs begin at the Monument General Martin Miguel de Guemes, which is a 15-minute walk from the Teleferico station in Parque San Martin.
Regardless of how you go, you’ll eventually reach the Cerro San Bernardo, where you’ll be treated to an amazing view of the city, as well as several Instagram worthy moments. There really isn’t a whole lot at the top of the cerro other than a restaurant, a cafe, a wine truck, and a few shops. There are also a few artificial waterfalls around, as well as, of course, the city sign SALTA to prove you were there!
If you decide to follow the steps down, rather than return in the cable car, the path is pretty well marked. It begins near the waterfalls. Then just keep following the signs for ‘decenso.’
4pm: Light Snack
Depending on how much time you spend up on the cerro, you may have a little time to make it over to La Ollita (La Rioja 111) for the best empanadas of your life. They close at 4:30, so if you want to make it, plan accordingly! This is a very local place and it feels like you’re walking into someone’s private home, but fear not, and follow the ‘entrada’ signs!
Argentines love their afternoon ‘merienda,’ or snack. This can consist of anything from media lunas and cafe con leche, to tostadas, to a beer. I love a good merienda de cervezas! There are a few different craft beer bars around the city, but the one I recommend is Un Bar de Fuegitos (San Juan 430, A4400 Salta). It’s pretty quiet during the week, but it is open every day, and has a fantastic variety of locally made craft beers. They also have a food menu as well.
9Pm: Dinner and Peña
Here in Argentina, they can’t get enough of a late dinner, and in Salta they love a good peña, which is essentially a restaurant with live folkloric music. The most famous in Salta is a place called La Casona del Molino (Cnel, Luis Burela 1, A4400 Salta). It’s a bit outside of the center, and therefore more authentic and less touristy. The place is huge and has several rooms, including outdoor patio sections. In each room, there is someone playing folkloric guitar, and in many cases people clapping along while they consume their sangria and empanadas. I absolutely recommend coming here to really feel the vibe of Salta. I also recommend making a reservation so you’re not stuck sitting outside in the winter, or inside in the summer (0387 434-2835).