With a pleasant climate all year round and some incredible Andean landscapes nearby, Salta is the biggest spot for tourism in the Northwest of Argentina for good reason. However, this beautiful colonial town still retains a slower paced, rural vibe.
Time stands still in certain parts of the city with its preserved cobblestone streets and Spanish architecture. Founded in 1582, Salta didn’t receive as many European immigrants as some parts of the country, so it’s retained a lot of indigenous traditions and influence.
Commonly referred to as Salta la Linda (or “Salta the Pretty”), this town provides visitors the opportunity to experience Quechan and Andean culture and try regional foods – like the best empanadas in the country (so they say). But if you decide to get out of the city and into the countryside, you’re in for some of the best drives in Argentina, great mountain scenery, and adventure.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Salta:
1. Plaza 9 de Julio
Start your wandering around Salta in the city’s main square, Plaza 9 de Julio, where you’ll find Spanish colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and cafes along the edge of the palm tree-lined plaza.
You’ll see the magnificent neoclassical Catedral Basílica de Salta which is possibly the most recognizable sight in the city.
The church’s exterior is light pink and the interior is made up of brilliant golds, greens, and blues.
Visitors can venture inside (and attend church services on Sundays if they like) where the ashes of revolutionary war hero General Martin Miguel de Güemes are housed, plus a small museum of religious relics.
You can also explore El Cabildo, the 18th-century colonial town hall in the plaza, where there’s a lovely courtyard filled with flowers and a historical museum with Incan artifacts and information on the war for Argentine independence.
2. Museo Arqueologia de Alta Montana (MAAM)
If you only hit one museum in the city, this should be it for sure.
Dedicated to anthropology and preserving Andean culture, the biggest draw of the MAAM are the mummified Inca children discovered by scientists in 1999 at the Llullaillaco Volcano.
The three children were perfectly preserved by icy conditions at the summit after historians believe that the Incas sacrificed them as an offering to the gods in a fertility ceremony around 1490. Their hair, clothes, and even internal organs remained intact due to the excellent preservation.
The museum only displays one mummy at a time (in an airtight glass case), and rotates them every 6 months to keep them well-preserved.
Though it’s a small museum, there’s lots of artifacts and insight into Incan culture and mountain archaeology with excellent English and Spanish descriptions.
3. Museo Pajcha Arte Etnico
Okay, so if you’re going to visit two museums in Salta, this should be the second one.
It’s a bit off the beaten path and it’s not your average museum.
Museo Pajcha is actually a private collection with limited hours – you have to ring the doorbell to enter! – but it’s got an outstanding exhibition of indigenous art, artifacts, and interesting information.
There are a lot of historical pieces showing how the pre-Columbian world and Andean culture has influenced contemporary life and art.
You’ll see textiles, masks, pottery, musical instruments, and photographs, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to meet the owner and curator for a personal and enthusiastic tour.
This museum is a bit of a hidden gem located about a 10-minute walk from the center, but well worth it if you can spare the time!
4. Cerro San Bernardo
You’ve got to get to the top of this hill for fabulous panoramic views of the city.
It’s a great place to have a picnic on a sunny day or watch the sunset in the evenings.
Take advantage of the food vendors up top where you can buy packets of chips and a beer or two, and sometimes you’ll even find a guy selling bottles of wine.
There’s a cable car – the teleférico – that goes up and down from the top of the hill, but you should definitely walk at least one way.
The path up the hill begins behind Güemes Monument in the city, and the cable car leaves from Parque San Martín, which is also worth a gander.
At the top of Cerro San Bernardo you’ll find lots of lookout points, a few terraced gardens, and a monument to the Battle of Salta.
5. Shop at the Artisan Markets
Buy all the traditional Argentine souvenirs you could ever need at the two artisan markets in the city.
We’re talking textiles, leather, indigenous handicrafts, and ceramics.
The Mercado Artesanal is located a little outside the city center in a restored colonial millhouse.
Here you can buy lots of Andean-style products like ponchos, sweaters, hats, and scarves made from llama or alpaca wool, as well as silver, ironwork, weavings, and mate gourds.
Have a drink while sitting outside at the cafe here before heading back.
On Sundays, check out the Feria Artesanal on Calle Balcarce near Avenida Entre Rios where you can find locally-made goods like clothes, jewelry, woodworkings, artwork, and even homemade sweets like jams and honeys.
6. Visit the Wine Town of Cafayate
If you’re going to Salta, you should definitely head out to the small, wine-centric town of Cafayate.
There are buses to take you there, but the drive is gorgeous and very laid back, so it’s nicer to rent a car.
You could plan your route south to include the scenic Quebrada de Cafayate or Quebrada de Humahuaca, some of the best drives in Argentina.
When you get to the heart of the second-largest wine producing region in the country, the Calchaquíes Valley, you’ll find lots of bodegas where the white wine of the Torrontés grape rules.
Cafayate has a lovely main square, a peaceful attitude, and some excellent restaurants and guesthouses.
There’s a wine museum and tons of vineyards just next to the town that are reachable by car, bike, and a few of them even on foot.
7. Drive the Cuesta del Obispo to visit Cachi
This is another outing you could tack onto a trip to Cafayate, because the drives along Ruta 68 and Ruta 33 are gorgeous.
The roads pass through breathtaking, colorful landscapes along the way to the well-preserved colonial village of Cachi, and they’re a must-do for people who love a little driving adventure.
The Cuesta del Obispo or “Bishop’s Slope” is a winding road surrounded by naturally sculpted rock formations that ascends to heights of 10,984 feet (3,348 meters). From there it’s possible to see wild condors, gorges, and the fairytale landscape of El Valle Encantado (the “Enchanted Valley”) below.
If you’re into adrenaline, you can even arrange to mountain bike down the Cuesta del Obispo.
Wander the town of Cachi for a little history, architecture, and handicraft shopping before heading back to Salta.
8. Ride the Tren a las Nubes
This is Argentina’s most famous train trip.
Though the “Train to the Clouds” is a bit overpriced and touristy and only runs from April to mid-December, it’s a must for any train enthusiast.
The railways and ascents are quite a feat of human engineering, and you’ll get to see a lot of the countryside this way.
You’ll be in for a long day, leaving Salta early in the morning and returning at night.
The train descends from the city into the Lerma Valley and up into the Quebrada del Toro, past ruins and the town of San Antonio de los Cobres, one of the highest villages in Argentina.
The train then reaches the famed La Polvorilla Viaduct that spans an immense desert canyon.
Be aware that service is notoriously unreliable and off-schedule, you may have to get on a bus for portions of the journey, and you might want to bring your own snacks!
9. Visit Las Salinas Grandes
If you’re not heading to the famous salt flats in Bolivia, this is a great day trip from Salta to see what these vast expanses of salt actually look like.
See where salt is mined from a dried lake while you take those obligatory perspective photos on gleaming, high-altitude flats.
And it’s not just the stop at Las Salinas Grandes that makes this excursion great.
Whether you DIY it or take a tour, you’ll drive through the foothills of the Andes on your route, passing villages like Tumbaya and Volcan where you can get a glimpse of true rural life.
Purmamarca, located next to the Cerro de los Siete Colores (the Hill of Seven Colors), is a vibrant town along the way that you can visit for its handicrafts market and a local lunch.
Make sure to stop at the Humahuaca Gorge and all of the dramatic mountain passes along the way for photos.
10. Eat Empanadas
Salta claims to be the birthplace of empanadas in Argentina, or at the very least, it’s rumored to have the best ones! Either way, you should definitely go on a quest to eat as many empanadas salteñas as possible while you’re here! So how are they different from typical empanadas? Salteñas are usually baked in a clay oven, they’re a bit smaller than others, and they’re usually filled with carne – sliced beef (rather than minced) – that’s mixed with things like onions, potatoes, and egg.
You can also find them filled with stewed chicken or cheese and onions.
And they’re accompanied by a spicy tomato and pepper dip, a rarity in Argentina! To try a few, head to El Patio de la Empanada for an open-air, family-run experience or La Criollita, a fave of both tourists and locals.
11. Attend a Local Peña
The people of Salta – known as Salteños – hold fast to tradition, so while you’re here don’t miss spending an evening at a peña (folk concert) where you can eat local food while watching performances of folkloric music and dancing.
There will likely be Spanish guitars, sheepskin drums, violins, and gauchos (Argentine cowboys and folk heroes). You can clap, stomp, shout, and dance along with the criolla music, a mix of Spanish and indigenous styles resulting from their blended ancestry.
It’s an integral part of rural life here, rather than just merely entertainment for tourists.
One of Salta’s most famous peñas is Peña Balderrama, where lots of Argentine bands are known to meet up.
And located on a hilltop on the outskirts of town, La Casona del Molino is another good one where gauchos and locals head to hear jam sessions of Salta’s musicians.
After sunset, you can also check out the peñas along Calle Balcarce.
12. Try the Regional Cuisine
After you’ve tasted Salta’s famous empanadas, venture out to try more regional cuisine.
That includes locro (a hearty stew of meat, corn, and potatoes), humita (steamed husks filled with corn and cheese), and tamales (steamed leaves filled with corn flour, meat, and potatoes). You can find these dishes at traditional family-run restaurants, street vendors, and markets around the city.
We recommend Paseo de la Familia for a simple, delicious street food experience where you can order tamales, lomitos (steak sandwiches), pizzas, and grilled chicken to eat while sitting at plastic tables.
Visit the Mercado San Miguel for an authentic local experience where you can wander amongst the produce and meat vendors, buy artisan cheeses, nuts, and regional sweets, and visit the “food court” area for cheap meals.
If you prefer a restaurant setting, La Vieja Estación is great for traditional Salteño cuisine and live music.
13. Visit La Quebrada de San Lorenzo
An easy day trip from Salta, you can make it to this nature reserve in the popular little Villa San Lorenzo by bus (number 7) within 30 minutes.
Cooler and more humid, it’s where the high altitude forests (las yungas) begin.
The village is also popular place for Argentine summer homes.
Enjoy the natural surroundings by hiking along the paths to viewpoints, going horseback riding, or simply enjoying mate alongside the river and waterfall.
There are plenty of tours you can take if you want to go mountain biking or birdwatching in the reserve, or you can easily do it yourself.
There are grills for those who want to bring along meat and have an asado (Argentine barbecue) or you can stop at El Castillo de San Lorenzo, a lovely historic hotel and restaurant, for a regional meal amidst the lush surroundings.
14. Hit Calle Balcarce on a Friday or Saturday Night
This lively street in Salta is filled with shops, bars, and restaurants, and it’s a great place to start your evening.
While Salta’s nightlife is much more laid back than say, the intensity of Buenos Aires, it’s still a fun place to have a great dinner, drinks at a bar or two, and then make your way to a discotheque for some dancing… but not until around 2 AM of course.
You’ll find lots of stores and street vendors, but also live music and traditional peñas.
And if you’re lucky you might catch some of the excitement and dancing that spills out onto the street at night.
15. Head to Cabra Corral Dam for Adventure Sports
A weekend favorite of local Salteños, head out about 80 kilometers from the city to the Cabra Corral Dam where there’s a reservoir created by several rivers in the Calchaquí Valley.
It’s a sort of adventure destination, which probably has something to do with all the bungee jumping you can do from the dam.
You can also go white water rafting down the Juramento River through steep canyons and class II and III rapids.
If it’s a nice day, try hiking down the trails surrounding the reservoir to look for dinosaur footprints and ancient rock paintings, or arrange to do some horseback riding.
You can also take a boat out for some fishing (there are rainbow trout in the area) or just relaxing on the water.
If you don’t feel like heading back to Salta at the end of the day, there are a few cabins you can rent to spend the night at Cabra Corral.