Although small, there are plenty of things to do in Salta for those passing through. If you need a week’s break in your travel schedule, there’s nowhere prettier nearby — and if you want a week combining cultural sightseeing with outdoors adventure, you’re in luck as well.
Teleferico to Cerro San Bernardo
Salta’s teleferico, or cable car, starts and ends each journey in beautiful Art Deco style buildings. At the top, you are welcomed by a lush garden, some catholic statues, and views out over Salta and down the valley. The spring that starts up here is funneled through a rockery-like series of waterfalls: the sound of rushing water follows you around the summit.
Instead of catching the teleferico (ARS$15 each way), you can walk or drive to the summit. There is also a mountain-biking descent, which you can book at the summit.
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Parque San Martin
At the base of the cablecar is Parque San Martin — a large park with plenty of walkways through the grass and small cabinas selling everything from a cold drink to hard-to-find books. Hire a paddle boat and navigate your way around the small pond, or just relax with a book and a hot mate. (That’s the Argentinian tea … not that we don’t think you have good-looking friends.)
Mercado San Martin
This covered market is the ultimate people-watching spot, and a great place to pick up your fresh veges, goats cheese, and meat that comes straight from the butcher. Don’t just rummage around the few trinket shops: get your groceries, grab a beer and a slice of pizza amongst the noisy crush, and watch some Salteños go by. It’s not as glamorous as the cafes around Plaza 9 de Julio, but it’s a lot more fun.
Shopping Alto Noa
Salta’s only Shopping (which has become the Spanish word for shopping center or mall), is located at the end of Calle Entre Rios. It’s a place to hide on a rainy day, find ground coffee without pre-mixed sugar, or spend up big on American labels and a smattering of Argentine options. It also has a large cinema which plays the latest releases (English-language movies are normally dubbed in Spanish) and an international food court, although the options aren’t wide and the food is normally lower quality than in nearby restaurants.
Markets are held each Saturday and Sunday, with many of the same vendors attending both. Saturday’s are held in Parque Guemes, Sunday’s on Balcarce — near all the nightclubs and restaurants by the train station. There is little of the mass-produced tourist trinkets you might find around Plaza de Julio, but there are plenty of high-quality handmade jewelry and some food products, like honey and cheese in addition to wooden toys, art supplies and plants for sale. The markets run from around midday until the evening.
Plaza 9 de Julio / Plaza Ninth of July
Nueva de Julio is the heart of Salta, there’s plenty of people around during the day, but it is packed out in the cool of the evening. And that’s a great time to be there during summer — enjoying the buzzing atmosphere and the cool breeze.
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants surrounding the square, with inflated prices to match. Food prices aren’t horrendous, although the most budget of travellers will want to walk back a block or two, but you won’t be gouged for a coffee or quiet beer … which is definitely a pleasant surprise for a prime tourist spot.
There are several galleries burrowing through the surrounding buildings, housing various fashion shops, ice-cream vendors, and some random stores — like one for medical training equipment next to a high-end shoe store! The combination of air conditioning and window shopping can be welcome when the temperatures outside become too high.
Surrounding 9 de Julio:
El Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña
The El Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña / Museum of High Altitude Archeology (MAAM) famously houses the mummies of four Inca children found in the nearby mountains. Two of the children are on display at any given time: the ‘Queen of the Mountain’ and one of the three found ritually buried together in the 1990s. These sacrificed children were not mummified per se, but the dark, dry conditions they were kept in preserved their bodies. These are the museum’s centrepiece, so a lot of the exhibits are built around the point of ritual sacrifice in the Incan world, and the relics found with the bodies. There is also a small display on the routes connecting the Incan empire.
The Cathedral of Salta with a grand pink façade is the final burial place of local independence hero, Guemes — the Parque Guemes is just a few blocks away. There are some interesting religious artworks inside: it’s well worth sticking your head in and taking a look.
The Northern History Museum, in the Cabildo
The Museo histórico del Norte is housed in the fantastic Cabildo building on the south of the square.
There are several rooms around two colonnaded squares, and a smaller balcony facing the square. The first room covers prehistory, from 8,000 to the Inca era, with collections of implements, pottery and funeral urns. The rest of the museum includes exhibitions on the colonial and early independent period, with a little from the early 20th century. It is pleasant to walk in the shade of the colonnades; crossing the courtyards can be hot.
Although there’s nothing outstanding in the museum, at ARS$5 it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour. Entry is free between 9am – 10am, so consider making it part of a cultural morning of museums around the square.
No, not McDonalds but the Museo de Arte Contemporario — the Contemporary Art Gallery of Salta. This place seems to transform every few weeks with an ever-rotating series of displays – making it a vibrant artistic space.The entrance is next to the main theatre, and it’s obvious that the ground floor is open for visitors. What you might miss are the stairs leading up to the much larger gallery space on the second floor.
An excellent private gallery and museum, the collections of pre-Colombian, colonial era and modern indigenous art have been brought together from much of South America. There are especially strong collections of Mapuche silvercraft and interesting textiles which contrast different cultures and times. One wing deals exclusively with religious art, exploring how indigenous tribes and colonists tried to make sense of Christian iconography. Worth a visit if just to encounter the exuberant and confusingly multilingual vice-Director and the intense owner and director.