Salta, a cultural gem in the foothills of the Argentinian Andes
Written by Keator Cheng
On 24 May 2024

Nestled in the Lerma Valley at the foothills of the Andes, Salta is a city rich in charm, vibrant culture and natural beauty.

Known for its well-preserved Spanish architecture, colourful festivals and unique Andean traditions, Salta offers an immersive experience for travellers seeking a blend of history, culture and adventure.

Historical and architectural highlights

Salta, often referred to as Salta la Linda (Salta the Beautiful), contains well-preserved colonial architecture that transports visitors back to the Spanish colonial era. The city’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, characterised by its cobblestone streets, grand churches and elegant plazas.

  • Plaza 9 de Julio: The heart of Salta, this central square is surrounded by historic buildings featuring the stunning Catedral de Salta. The cathedral’s ornate façade and lavish interior are must-sees.
  • Cabildo de Salta: This historical building served as the city’s town hall and now houses the Historical Museum of the North, showcasing artifacts from Salta’s colonial past.
  • San Francisco Church and Convent: Known for its striking red and gold façade, this church is an architectural masterpiece and an important religious site in Salta.

Cultural experiences

Salta is a hub of cultural activities, deeply rooted in indigenous and colonial traditions. The city’s cultural scene is vibrant and diverse, offering numerous opportunities to engage with local heritage.

  • Museum of High Altitude Archaeology (MAAM): This museum is home to the famous Inca mummies, including the ‘Children of Llullaillaco’, three mummified children discovered on the summit of Mount Llullaillaco. The museum provides insight into the Inca civilisation and its rituals.
  • Folklore Music and Dance: Salta is known for its traditional folklore music, characterised by the sounds of the charango and bombo drum. Local peñas (folk music venues) offer live music, dance and delicious regional cuisine, providing an authentic cultural experience.
  • Güemes Museum: Dedicated to General Martín Miguel de Güemes, a national hero in Argentina’s War of Independence, this museum offers an in-depth look at his life and contributions.

Festivals and celebrations

Salta hosts several colourful festivals throughout the year, reflecting its rich cultural heritage and community spirit.

  • Carnaval de Salta: Celebrated in February, this festival features parades, music, dance and traditional costumes. It is a lively event that showcases the vibrant spirit of Salta’s residents.
  • Fiesta Nacional de la Pachamama: Held in August, this festival honours Pachamama (Mother Earth) with traditional ceremonies, music and dance. It is an important cultural event for the indigenous communities in the region.
  • Semana Santa: Holy Week in Salta is marked by solemn processions, re-enactments of biblical events and various religious ceremonies, reflecting the city’s deep-rooted Catholic traditions.
Photo by Hector Ramon Perez on Unsplash

Natural beauty and outdoor adventures

Beyond its cultural attractions, Salta is surrounded by stunning natural landscapes that offer a plethora of outdoor activities.

  • Quebrada de Humahuaca: A UNESCO World Heritage site, this picturesque valley is known for its dramatic rock formations and vibrant colours. It is an excellent destination for hiking and photography.
  • Cafayate: Famous for its high-altitude vineyards, Cafayate is a scenic town in the Calchaquí Valleys. Wine tours and tastings, especially of the region’s signature Torrontés wine, are popular activities here.
  • Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds): This spectacular train ride takes you through the Andean mountains, offering breath-taking views of the rugged landscape. It’s one of the highest railways in the world, reaching over 4,200m above sea level.
Photo by DEBY RODRIGUEZ on Unsplash

Gastronomic delights

Salta’s culinary scene is a delightful blend of indigenous and Spanish influences, featuring hearty dishes that reflect the region’s bountiful agricultural produce.

  • Empanadas Salteñas: These savory pastries are a must-try, filled with beef, chicken or cheese and seasoned with regional spices.
  • Locro: A traditional Andean stew made with corn, beans, potatoes and meat, often enjoyed during national holidays and festivals.
  • Humita: A dish made from corn, cheese, and spices, traditionally wrapped in corn husks and steamed.

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