Top Things To Do and See in Salta, Argentina

The area around Salta is home to atmospheric desert landscapes
The area around Salta is home to atmospheric desert landscapes | © Martin Lindsay / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Bethany Currie
7 August 2021

Packed with stunning architecture, Salta, in the northwest of Argentina, is quickly becoming one of the country’s must-sees. Surrounded by rugged natural landscapes, mountains, vineyards and valleys, this destination offers plenty to see and do.

Bodega José L. Mounier

Winery
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Beyond Salta, vineyards cluster around the town of Cafayate, producing diverse wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, local specialty Torrentés and Malbec. This region is beginning to rival Mendoza – the most famous in Argentina – and we love Bodega José L.Mounier, in Finca Las Nubes, on the Ruta Del Vino. The high elevation makes whites just right, along with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontés. A day spent among the glossy greenery includes cellar tours, tastings and lunch with a view on the veranda.

Iglesia San Francisco (St. Francis Church and Convent)

Church
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Argentina South America Iglesia San Francisco Church Salta City Salta South America town
© Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Dating from 1582, the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco is one of the most visited sights in Salta. It’s easy to spot with its eye-catching white pillars and bright terracotta-and-gold facade. A double whammy of construction issues and a terrible fire in the mid-18th century resulted in structural alterations over time and the present church has a striking neoclassical style, evidently informed (especially in the domes) by the Spanish cathedrals of Zamora. There’s a pretty garden cloister, for quiet contemplation.

El Patio de la Empanada

Market, Food Stall, Food Stand, Argentina
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When you’re ready for a bite, head to this clutch of kiosks dishing up that Salta speciality, the humble empanada. El Patio De La Empanada, on the corner of Avenida St Martin and Esteco, offers can offer 14 varieties of these flavour-packed pockets including triangular empanadas Arabes, filled with minced beef and jazzed-up with lemon, onions, red peppers, tomatoes and olives.

Tren a las Nubes

Natural Feature
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The “train to the clouds” leaves Salta’s central station early for the long journey up to the Quebrada del Toro. This gorge is so high up in the mountains that the train regularly passes through clouds. Ultimately you ascend to 4,220m (13,845ft), where a viaduct crosses the valley below – quite the spectacle. En route, you will see rocks colored beautifully by minerals – and you’ll certainly glimpse a llama or two. Booking ahead is a must, as this spot is hugely popular but well worth the effort – not to mention the crack-of-dawn departure.

Salinas Grandes Salt Flats

Natural Feature
Map View

If you can’t make it to Bolivia’s celebrated salt flats, make the easy day trip from Salta to this smaller collection. It’s odd, at such high altitude, to see such blinding white plains after an uphill drive through reddish-brown rocks. The way passes through awesome mountains and, if you’re taking the Tren a las Nubes, you’ll get the chance to stop off at the flats on the way back to the city.

Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña

Building, Museum
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Museum of High Altitude Archaeology (MAAM), Salta, Argentina
© Bjanka Kadic / Alamy Stock Photo
Among the many Inca artifacts in this museum, you’ll encounter possibly the strangest sight in all your travels: the bodies of three Inca children buried for some 500 years under snow and ice – unearthed in 1999 by scientists on a volcano summit 6,700m (21,982ft) above sea level. They are kept in airtight glass cases and only one out of the three is on show at any given time – this helps ensure they remain among the best-preserved mummies in the world with hair, clothes and even internal organs fully intact.

Catedral Basílica de Salta

Cathedral
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Built between 1856 and 1882, after the previous incarnation was destroyed in an earthquake, Salta’s cathedral is the city’s premier attraction. Take in the exterior from Salta’s central square, Plaza 9 de Julio – it’s eye-catching stuff, painted in an ethereal light pink shade. Inside are the ashes of Salta’s revolutionary hero of independence, General Martín Miguel de Güemes, with the cathedral open every day to visitors.

Cabildo and Museo Histórico del Norte

Building, Museum
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There’s plenty to distract you for a couple of hours at this museum on Plaza 9 de Julio, set in the old cabildo, or colonial government building. Exhibits span the ages, stretching from the pre-Inca era to the early 19th century. Learn about Salta’s role in the wars of independence through paintings, ancient artefacts, furniture and even cars. After you’ve wandered, admire the beautiful architecture, especially in the central courtyard, which is adorned with colorful climbing plants and flowers.

Mercado Municipal San Miguel

Market, Argentina
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Stomach pangs? Check out this indoor market for something to eat. There are market stalls selling fruit and vegetables, meat, cheeses and snacks, as well as electrical good and souvenirs. Even if you don’t feel like buying anything, the sheer din of the place is a great way to immerse yourself in the currents of day-to-day Salta. Close to Plaza 9 de Julio, the market itself covers about one whole block and doesn’t attract many tourists, giving you a fresh insight into the city.

Cerro San Bernardo

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
On top of the hill Cerro San Bernardo, final station of the cable car Teleferico San Bernado, colonial city of Salta in NW Argentina, Latin America
© Wolfgang Diederich / Alamy Stock Photo

You’ve had your Salta close-up. Now it’s time to get the bigger picture. Hop aboard the teleférico (cable car) that ferries sightseers up the San Bernardo Hill. At the top, as well as the incomparable city views, there is a landscaped garden in which to while away an hour or two, not to mention a small market selling perfectly decent souvenirs. The most impressive thing from up here is the outlook over the surrounding mountains, which you may fail to appreciate whilst wandering the centre of Salta.

Jo Fernandez-Corugedo contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on August 7, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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