Salta, in northwestern Argentina, is one of the most biodiverse regions in all of South America and quickly becoming a hot spot for adventure tourism. It’s a province located at the foot of the Andes that is roughly double the size of Scotland and home to a capital city of the same name.
Largely-untouched ecosystems and landscapes including high mountains, jungle, salt flats, deserts and more are best explored by boat, bike, horseback, hiking, kayaking or even a train into the clouds. Vineyards, architecture, museums and more suit those who prefer to stay on a flat(er) footing. Salta’s city center offers a handful of boutique hotels, lots of charm and some serious steak (and wine).
The list of things to do in Salta is surprisingly long, but the seven below will give you a feel of what’s possible in town and on day trips into the province.
Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds)
Tren a las Nubes is one of the world’s great train rides. While the excursion will take an entire day, the train trip has been abbreviated so that tourists can hit the highlights including crossing the La Polvorilla viaduct, which spans a massive desert canyon. Travelers ascend to 13,842 feet (4,220 meters) from Salta and end in the Puna, typically returning by bus.
MAAM (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology)
Located in the city of Salta, the MAAM (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology) was created to safeguard, showcase and study the Children of Llullaillaco, three perfectly preserved mummies of the Inca Civilization, discovered in 1999. They’re considered one of the most significant archaeological finds of our time. Elsewhere in the museum, enjoy an insight into the Inca culture
Cuesta del Obispo
Cuesta del Obispo connects the valley of Lerma with the high Calchaquí valley. It’s scenic, rustic and full of hairpin turns, ending above the clouds on a cactus plain for spectacular views. Navigate it yourself only if you’re an experienced driver, otherwise, take a tour (trekking and mountain biking tours are incredibly popular).
Some of the highest vineyards in the world grow in the Calchaquí Valleys, located in southwest Salta. They have a wine route that connects more than 35 wineries passing historical towns, archaeological sites along the way. Torrontes and Malbec are indeed highlights but Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Viognier, and others.
Bird watching is one of the best things to do in Salta. After all, 661 of 1000 bird species found in Argentina live here. I took a fantastic half-day bird watching tour with Clark Adventures in Salta’s Reserva del Huaico which is only about 20 minutes from the city center.
We saw 32 different types of birds including parakeets and toucans. We did not spot any jaguars, but they live here, too. Our guide, Mario Mosqueira, is one of the most experienced bird guides in Northern Argentina and has been leading these tours for 15 years.
Clark Adventures specializes in bird watching tours but also offers safaris to national parks and trekking expeditions.
Salinas Grandes Salt Flats
These gorgeous salt flats are the result of a large lake that dried up in the Holocene. Salinas Grandes Salt Flats is now a 525-sq-km crust of salt up to 0.5m thick. Getting there involves driving up a hill, alongside the Tren a las Nubes tracks. If you take the train, you’ll have the option to stop at the salt flats (check your tour/tickets).
Iglesia San Francisco
Salta’s postcard-worthy image is the facade of this famous church, now a National Historic Monument. While its history dates back to 1625, it’s been rebuilt a few times since. Walk inside to see brilliant frescoes on the walls and ceilings (no photos are allowed inside).
Getting to Salta
The flight from Buenos Aires took about 2.5 hours each way and was relatively easy. My LATAM flight left from the AEP airport (there are no flights to Salta from EZE airport). I took the opportunity to spend the night at Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires on the way out and Faena Buenos Aires on the way home.