“Some lazy days in Salta”
(a page from my Travel Journal)
I reached Salta , a small city in the north of Argentina, at 8pm in the dark, after a spectacular bus ride over the Andes from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. I took a taxi from the bus terminal to the hotel I’d booked in the city centre. They’d run out of standard rooms so they upgraded me to an Executive room which was huge and had a bed big enough for three! After that simple, totally overpriced hotel in San Pedro de Atacama (where there was no hot water on most days), I was happy to indulge myself with a long hot shower! Heaven! The hotel also had very reasonable laundry rates so I had a big bagful ready in no time.
Later that evening, I walked to Plaza 9 de Julio (9th of July Square) which is Salta’s main square. I was completely bowled over. Before my arrival in Salta, I had some reservations about spending six nights there so I booked three and left the other three nights open.
As I walked around the colourful, floodlit square with its stately colonial buildings, tall swaying palms, absolutely gorgeous pink cathedral and buzzing terraces, I knew it: I could easily spend six nights here! I chose a small restaurant at the main square to have dinner. A Danish couple sat next to me and we started talking….. and didn’t stop till it was way past 2am!!
I spent the next few days just walking around the city centre. I felt totally exhausted after my high-altitude desert adventures so I decided to take it easy for a few days.
Salta is a great place to chill. All the highlights are within walking distance and a shady terrace is never far away. It’s a relatively small city (about 0.5 million inhabitants) but it’s very lively. There are many shops, museums, good restaurants and lovely churches to visit plus the people are very friendly. The best part: the city council offers free wifi coverage throughout the city. Most cafés also offer free wifi. Awesome!
I visited the cathedral and the equally gorgeous San Francisco church, and the Museum of Anthropology which had several Incan mummies on display (fascinating stuff); walked around the main square a dozen times and checked out every one of its terraces(!); strolled up and down the city’s grid streets; took the cable-car up to the San Bernardo Hill where I had a great view of the city; and I slept a lot!
The food is ok, though there’s one charming restaurant I really like called El Solar del Convento which has fantastic Bife de Lomos (sirloins). I went there several times and the waiters were very generous with glasses of complimentary bubbles – needless to say, we became best friends very soon.
After four days of chilling, I’d regained my energy and enthusiasm and decided to book an excursion into the countryside, to a small mountain village called Cafayate (which also happens to be the region’s main wine-producing area). The next day, I was picked up at 7:30am for the drive to Cafayate. Oh, there was a car accident right in front of the hotel at the main square and can you believe it… it took about ten police officers just a few minutes to arrive at the scene but 40 minutes (!!) for the ambulance to arrive. The forensic experts arrived before the ambulance! And the two young men who were hurt in the crash laid on the road while traffic was diverted around them. I just stood there watching these scenes in complete amazement while I waited for my pick-up.
Anyway, back to my excursion. Salta is situated in a broad valley and we passed many tobacco (the main crop in this region) plantations. After about two hours, we reached the little hamlet of Alemania, at the entrance to the Quebrada de Las Conches (or the Las Conches Gorge). The route through the gorge was truly stunning. The mountains in these parts are made up of ancient layers of sedimentary rock full of different types of minerals such as iron and copper. As the mountains were formed (by the forces of tectonic plates crashing into one another and pushing the earth upwards), the layers were exposed, giving the gorge its colourful, stripy appearance. Erosion by wind, water and frost did the rest and the result is a magnificent landscape of towering multi-coloured mountains and extraordinary rock formations.
Along the way, we stopped at various viewpoints as well as points of interest such as the Devil’s Throat and the Amphitheatre. As we exited the gorge, the landscape became flat again and the vineyards of Cafayate appeared.
The town itself is rather quaint, with broad tree-lined avenues, many restaurants and handicraft markets. We visited the nearby Nanni winery for a wine-tasting (this region specialises in the Torrontes grape which is fruity and fresh, reminiscent of a Gewurztraminer-Chardonnay blend). It was a glorious drive back to Salta through the breathtaking gorge.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the Salta region in northern Argentina but wow, it certainly was worth the visit.
Other Travel Journal entries include:
- The spectacular bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta (Chile/Argentina)
- Mystical Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile)
- My great laundry adventure (Bariloche, Argentina)
- A little piece of heaven (Bora Bora, French Polynesia)
- That rock star feeling in the Lost World (Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina)
- Getting over my Jaws complex (Lang Tengah, Malaysia)
- The wonders of Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
- A desert full of wonders (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)