Updated May 14th, 2019.
This article page is about a ‘trip in the trip’. The author hired a car in Salta, Argentina and drove through Salta, Jujuy and Tucuman provinces during approx. one week. For more destination guides, check out our Argentina Backpacking guide!
Salta is the main city in the region and the ‘Things to Do’ in this guide are areas around Salta that really deserve a visit! Here is a map outlining the journey:
An Intro to Salta City
Salta is a city in the northwestern part of Argentina known for its typical colonial style and surrounded by some of the wonderful landscapes of South America. It’s known as “Salta, la linda” (Salta, the beautiful) and it’s absolutely a must for all the backpackers who are travelling in South America.
The main church in Salta city
Surged during the last decade of the 16th century to serve as outpost against ‘indios’ and as a link between Lima and Buenos Aires, Salta became very important during the Argentinian independence in 19th century.
After the independence, the city fell in a period of financial trouble until the last decade of 19th century when the building of a railway and a massive immigration gave the city a better economic outlook.
Nowadays Salta shows itself as a culturalcentrer, loved by national and international tourism, a very safe places and with all kind of accommodation and services. Finally, Salta is, after Mendoza, the most important Argentinian province for wine production: a very pleasant end after a day out in the heat of Puna!
Where to Stay in Salta
Salta is safe, full of tourists and backpackers. No worries if you didn’t make a reservation in advance as there are plenty of places where you can just walk in.
The majority of hostels are cheap and well served and with good hygienic standards. One that I remember with pleasure is Hostel las Rejas, which is in the very centre and helps with cyclo and bike hire.
Other great options include:
Casa De Las Flores – A straight-forward hotel that offers clean, comfortable and admittedly quite small private rooms from $20 USD. The owner Belén is a hit with almost all that stay there.
Habitaciones en Salta – Choosing a name for your business that exactly matches the search term people use when they are looking for what you offer must be a very smart move. Unsurprisingly enough, if you’re after an habitación en Salta, Habitaciones en Salta can provide you with one, for more or less $19 USD. It’s cheap, cheerful and friendly. The only downside is that it’s a little way from the centre of the city.
Accueillant Hostel Salta is another no-frills hostel, but one with a very nice atmosphere. The price is great too, with dorms starting around $8 USD. Privates cost $29.
Things to do in Salta
In the city of Salta itself, you can enjoy a lot of activities! You’ll pass a day walking through the beautiful colonial center, visiting the shocking Museum of High Mountain Archeology (MAAM) with its three famous ‘child mummies’.
You can also enjoy spectacular views from the city’s cableway. When the night sets in making the outline of the nearby mountains disappear… what’s better than a good Locro (typical Andean plate) eaten with a sweet wine at Posada Doña Eugenia, one of the best restaurants downtown!
You can end your night with a drink sitting out of one of the many typical bars that stand on lively Calle Balcarce, the centre of the nightlife of Salta.
Heading out of the city into Salta, Jujuy & Tucuman Provinces…
Cierro Siete Colores – 2 hours from Salta
About a two-hour journey from Salta you’ll discover a small and unusual village called Purmamarca. Above the town itself stands the incredible seven-color mountain.
Over thousands of years through a complex geological history, the mountain has gained a peculiar range of colours. The pictures (not photoshopped!) will testify better than any word the magnificence of this spot! Just see for yourself…
On the road to Cierro Siete Colores
We promise the colours in this photo are true to life!
Tilcara – 2.5 hours from Salta
Tilcara is a small ancient town in the province of Jujuy. Its origins date back to the pre-Columbian period, as well as many other places in the Humahuaca valley, even if the structure that we see today belongs to the colonial days.
Here you can visit the Pucarà of Tilcara (Pre-Columbian settlements) and the relaxed atmosphere of the town make it a perfect place to rest one or two night during your trip in the northern part of the province.
Many backpackers stop here (Staying in the popular Hostel – Casa Los Moldes) on their way to Purmamarca, Iruya, Salinas Grandes or to Bolivia.
Traveling on Ruta 40
Iruya – 5 hours from Salta
An incredible place to travel that will make you feel like you have entered the middle of nowhere! Despite not being so far away from the city and civilization of Salta, the hamlet of Iruya feels very isolated due to its location in between two rivers, that in the rain season threaten to trap anyone who is there.
With a car that is unprepared for two hours of unpaved road interrupted by the three rivers, even in the dry season it’s very difficult to reach the village, and this fact scores another point for the striking isolation of Iruya and its spectacular surroundings.
The amazing and isolated village of Iruya
Salinas Grandes – 7 hours from Salta
You may not have even heard of it – but the biggest salt desert in Argentina is not so different from the famous Uyuni Salt Flats of Potosì Province, Bolivia.
Whilst Bolivia’s salt desert is a backpacker rite of passage, Argentina’s version is a remote and little visited area that certainly deserves a glance!
The empty road that leads to it will really magnify the desolation of the Puna desert, with its tremendous winds and dust-devils. Somewhere over there you may find a car overturned and abandoned years ago, furthermore reinforcing the loneliness of Ruta 40, the longest road in Argentina.
Ruta 40 – heading to the Salinas Grandes
Cachi – 5.5 hours from Salta
Another little town that is really amazing where you can eat the most delicious ‘empanada saltena’. Here you’ll find a lot of beautiful arts, crafts and architectire (don’t miss the beautiful roof of the church that is made with cactus wood).
On the way to Cachi, you’ll drive by pepper growing on the cliffs and sideways of the road, sand. That feeling of desolation and other wonderful geological monuments (many unnamed as there are so many!) await you in the spectacular Cachi area.
The beautiful main square of Cachi
Cafayate – 3 hours from Salta
Finally civilization! Cafayate is a town that offers up a lot of possibilities: you can visit the famous “Ruinas de los Quilmes” just a few minutes from the center or after all that driving, you can just relax in one of the many vineyards where guides will guide you through the decadent secrets of Malbec and Cabernet – two of Argentina’s most famous wines.
There are many hostels and hotels, restaurants and pubs that you can enjoy. We stayed at ‘El balcon‘ – a clean, safe and friendly place with a great balcony.
The nearby Quilmes ruins
By bus: Salta, like most of the Argentinian cities it’s perfectly served by bus. From Buenos Aires the journey it’s from 20 to 22 hours, from Mendoza 19 hours, 12 hours from Cordoba and from Bolivia’s border – 7 hours .
By plane: You can reach Salta by plane, spending a bit more of money but saving a LOT of time. You can fly to Salta from Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Mendoza and La Paz.
By train: Unfortunately Salta is not linked by train to anywhere but San Antonio de los Cobres, with the touristy ‘Trenos de las Nubes’ and the city of Guemes. If can go from Buenos Aires to San Miguel de Tucum by train and then take a bus, but it doesn’t seems to be the best option.
All the places mentioned in this article are a bit harder to reach without your own independent transport. Local buses from Salta, Jujuy and Cafayate will bring you to Purmamarca and Tilcara.
From Tilcara there are buses that reach Iruya but they’re quite uncomfortable. If you are traveling with some friends, you should definitely consider the option of hiring a car: it will be relatively cheap and will give you massive amounts of freedom to explore this beautiful region at your own pace.
In Salta, Iruya, Cafayate and in the other big centres, plenty of tour operators can help you hire a car or help you to choose the best option to visit these incredible places.
You’ll need a car that can withstand bumpy, unpaved roads like these!
Where to go Next?
Potosì (BOLIVIA): The city of el cerro rico, that once was one of the world’s richest town thanks to its giants silver mines. Nowadays here lies the spoils of an ancient glory with all their fascinating shadows of past. It’s also the nearest city to the Salar of Uyuni – Bolivia’s salt flats.
Cordoba: The first South American University was opened here by the hands of Jesuit Friars: a colonial town where you can smell the power of Spanish conquerors and missionaries during the past centuries.
About the Writer: My name is Greg, I’m an Italian guy passionate for everything that flies. I graduated in 2011 and worked till 2013 in the informatics field, then I join a Panamanian wood working company for a different job and started traveling through latin America. In 2014 I started a new career in Argentina: I’m currently trying to be an airplane pilot! Read my blog (only in Italian) here!