The English translation of ‘Tren a las Nubes’ is ‘train to the clouds’, and that’s pretty much exactly what it is. The train leaves early in the morning from Salta’s central station and makes the long journey up to the Quebrada del Toro high up in the mountains, so high in fact that the train regularly passes through clouds. By the end of the journey the train reaches a height of 4220m, where there is a viaduct crossing the valley below – quite an engineering spectacle. The journey through the mountains reveals beautifully colored rocks, due to the numerous minerals, and travelers are likely to catch a glimpse of a llama or two. Booking ahead is a must, as it is hugely popular, but well worth the effort (and early morning departure).
Outside the city of Salta, and centered around the town of Cafayate, are the region’s main vineyards. The vineyards produce a variety of different wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, local specialty Torrentés, and Malbec, the latter of which is becoming increasingly popular in Europe. Most of the wineries offer tours and tasting, and many have a long history which they are eager to share. The most popular wineries include Domingo Hermanos, Bodega Nanni and Bodega José L. Mounier. The Salta region has growing in prominence and renown in recent years, and is beginning to rival Mendoza, the most famous wine region in Argentina. The restaurants within Salta all have extensive menus of local wines, so you can try a few before deciding which of the wineries you would like to visit.
If Bolivia’s salt flats are not on your travel itinerary, then there are alternative salinas to see closer to Salta, a journey that is possible to do in a day. The salt flats were once a lake that has now dried up, and the salt that remains is mined. The flats are at high altitude, and it is a strange sight to see such blinding white plains of salt after an uphill drive through reddish-brown rocks .The drive to the flats goes through the impressive surrounding mountains. Travelers experiencing the Tren a las Nubes also have the option to stop at the flats on the way back to the city.
The most famous and recognizable sight in the city of Salta itself is probably its cathedral. It was built between 1856 and 1882, after the previous cathedral was destroyed in an earthquake. The exterior is painted an unusual light pink shade, and it is conveniently located on Salta’s central square, Plaza 9 de Julio. Inside are the ashes of Salta’s revolutionary hero of independence, General Martín Miguel de Güemes. The cathedral is open every day to visitors mornings and evenings (it is closed in afternoons until about 5 p.m.), and of course there are services on Sunday mornings.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 6.30 a.m.-12.30 p.m., 4.30-8.30 p.m.; Sat 7.30 a.m.-12.30 p.m., 5-8.30 p.m.; Sun 7 a.m.-1 p.m., 5-9.30 p.m.
Salta’s Archaeology Museum contains a more unusual exhibit than most museums. In 1999 a group of scientists unearthed the remains of three Inca children, buried on a volcano summit under snow at 6700 meters above sea level. Due to the icy conditions, the mummies are some of the best preserved in the world, and as a result their hair, clothes and even internal organs are fully intact. The mummies are kept in airtight glass cases, and only one out of the three is on show at any one time, in order to continue their preservation. Also in the museum are numerous Inca artefacts, many just as well preserved.
Opening times: Tue-Sun 11 a.m.-7.30 p.m.
The other museum on Plaza 9 de Julio is located within the old cabildo, the colonial government building. While it is primarily a museum, this building is worth visiting simply to admire the beautiful architecture, especially in the central courtyard, which is adorned with colorful climbing plants and flowers. Exhibits within the museum itself date from the time before the Incas took over the region to Salta’s role in the wars of independence in the early 19th century. There’s a wide range of different pieces too, such as paintings, ancient artifacts, furniture and even cars.
Opening times: Tue-Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Salta Cabadilo, Plaza 9 de Julio, Salta, Argentina, +54 387 421-5340
This indoor market is a great place to grab something to eat, as well as do some shopping. There are market stalls selling fruit and vegetables, meat, cheeses, electrical items, snacks, and souvenirs, and even if you don’t feel like buying anything the bustling atmosphere is a great way to experience the local scene. The market itself covers about one whole block, and is in an area close to the central Plaza 9 de Julio, but it is not often frequented by tourists so reveals another side to the city.
For fantastic panoramic views of the city, it it possible for visitors to take a teleférico (cable car) up the San Bernardo Hill. At the top, as well as the views, there is a landscaped garden to enjoy and a small market, which mostly sells souvenirs. The most impressive sight from the top is the surrounding mountains, since it is easy to forget they are there when in the centre of Salta.
As well as the cathedral mentioned above, there are numerous smaller churches spread across Salta which are worth a visit, especially in order to appreciate the history and colonial legacy of this old city. One of the more famous churches is the Iglesia San Francisco (Church of St Francis), which is not too far from Plaza 9 de Julio. The outer walls are gold and dark red, which certainly make it stand out. The Convento de San Bernardo (Convent of St Bernard) does not allow members of the public to enter (its nuns only), but it can be appreciated from the outside, especially the ornately carved wooden door.
Iglesia San Francisco, Córdoba, Salta, Argentina, +54 387 431-0830
Convento de San Bernardo, Caseros, Salta, Argentina, +54 387 431-0092
Salta claims to be the original home of the empanada, so you can expect to find empanadas of high quality when visiting the city. Perfect for a snack or light meal, an empanada is essentially pastry wrapped around a filling, usually meat. The most popular kind is straightforward carne (beef mince with onion), but spinach and ricotta is a popular vegetarian alternative. Salta is home to El Patio de la Empanada, which is a large food hall with numerous different empanada sellers each offering different styles of flavors.