First 24 hours: Salta, Argentina
The Andean highlands are home to huge peaks, sweeping Puna and some fine food, but it’s the colonial city of Salta that will leave you truly breathless, says Daniel Neilson
It’s not just the mountains of the Andes that take your breath away – explore colonial architecture and sweeping Puna in Argentina’s hip north-west
‘ Salta la Linda’ (‘Salta the Beautiful’) is the charming and entirely accurate sobriquet given to this charismatic city in north-western Argentina. The colonial buildings around its sizeable central plaza set the scene for one of the most interesting and, yes, joyfully aesthetic cities in Argentina.
Despite its somewhat Andalucían appearance, Salta is the heart of Andean Argentina, a region characterised by its mountain culture, which has more in common with Bolivia or Peru than cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. This spirit is summed up in its food, in particular a hearty stew called locro, typically made with meat, corn and Andean potatoes, found throughout this region.
But it is perhaps music that defines Salta more than any other aspect, and it is heard everywhere. A visit to a peña, an evening of music, food and wine, is an essential part of any visit. Brush up on your Salteña folklore by searching out tracks by groups such as Los Chalchaleros, Los Nocheros and ‘Chango’ Spasiuk beforehand.
Be sure to also bag a window seat when flying in. From the air, you’ll be able to see the 50 shades of red that paint the Andean foothills that surround Salta. Beyond – out of the left-hand-side of the plane, looking west – you’ll be able to view the 6,000m-high snow-capped peaks of the Andes proper, and the arid Puna, the beautifully remote, high-altitude plateau that rises up to meet them.
At the airport
Martín Miguel de Güemes International Airport is about 8km south-west of the city. All flights from Europe and the USA go via Buenos Aires, (BA) which is a two-hour flight away. Note that most domestic connections arrive via the capital’s Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, just over 40km from BA’S main Ministro Pistarini International Airport (known as Ezeiza), so factor in a couple of hours’ transit. Salta’s airport is small, so delays and large queues are rare, and there are plenty of ATMS.
Getting into town
If taking a taxi to the city centre (about ARS140/£6), book one from a kiosk at the airport rather than hail one from outside. Transfer Salta (transfersalta.com; in Spanish) has a shuttle service ARS97 (£4), while the Corredor 8A bus goes from outside the airport (stops 108/109); ARS12.50/50P.
Other ways to arrive
Buses in Argentina are excellent. There is an extensive network across the country, and services on board are very good, often offering a full meal with wine, a nightcap, a tablet with entertainment on it and, if you’re lucky, bingo. A full cama (bed) or cama ejecutivo (executive bed) service has almost horizontal beds; book with Flechabus (flechabus.com.ar; in Spanish).