Below follows our trip report for Salta:
So Salta…where do we start?! This surely is our favourite part of Argentina visited, by a long mile!
Before I get into the detail, it’s worth starting off with some basics as we experienced it. Salta is quite a poorer, and therefore cheaper, than the locations we visited so far (BsAs, El Calafate and Bariloche). It’s certainly much warmer (which makes us glad we saved it for the end of our trip, and it felt more like a holiday away from a cold and stormy UK). People here are also friendlier (if that is possible) than elsewhere on our trip.
In general, breakfasts in Salta do not offer any warm / cooked food (bacon, sausages & egg) but instead had freshly baked pastries and cakes of all sorts (which we avoided, even on holiday). Still fresh orange juice though, which we appreciated with every breakfast so far.
We arrived just before midnight and got a taxi into town for AR$70. Our hotel was Hotel del Antiguo Convento (AR$490 per night, cash only, book through their website) very quaint and beautiful small courtyards around which the rooms are situated. Extremely helpful & knowledgeable staff.
Had a lie-in after our late arrival the previous night before we headed into town – first off to 666 Espana to enquire about transferring USD for collection in AR$ at a great rate (although not quite the dollar blue rate)…you can read more about it here: http://www.fodors.com/community/south-america/stop-press-near-dolar-blue-rate-with-usd-transfers-into-argentina.cfm
We visited all the main attractions in town pretty quickly: the churches, square and a number of small shops, before taking the teleferique up to San Bernardo Hill for AR$50 pp. Beautiful gardens and water features at the top, with a number of stalls selling all sorts of local trinkets at very reasonable prices (we have collected fridge magnets from every one of our stops so far, as is our habit), and you can also find some nice shawls and handbags (my wife’s department) as well as “mate” cups (as you an everywhere, but here at very reasonable prices despite the fact that it’s a typical “tourist location”). Pretty views over the city and worth a 20 minute walk-around at the top of the hill. A hike up the hill instead of the teleferique would have taken around 20 minutes, so easily doable…we just couldn’t be bothered!
We collected our hire car at Avis (booked a couple of weeks earlier for AR$1661 plus insurance of AR$132, all payable in advance despite our booking confirmation saying “pay on return”, but the merchant insisted, plus an extra AR$350 at the end of the trip as we travelled 350km more than the 600km allowed under our agreement) late afternoon and ventured to the nearby San Lorenzo. Getting out of Salta and to San Lorenzo was easy enough, but Salta was a bit of a struggle to get back into and to our hotel with their one way roads. Look out for red square signs with white lines / blobs, some marked “Contramano”…I advise you not to enter those roads! In San Lorenzo we dined at El Duende de la Quebrada which was beautiful restaurant / shop, fantastic setting, exceptionally friendly staff and cheap but great food.
The next morning we set off to Purmamarca. Instead of the main road north, we ventured across the mountains and took the road via San Antonio, which was a great call. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time – it’s an all day trip, particularly if you’re not used to driving dirt roads which is most of the road there. Be sure to stick to the speed limit unless you have plenty of driving experience on dirt roads, as they can be “slippery”. Beautiful scenery and we visited the pre-Incan ruins - very much worth the 30 minute stop. You’ll spot the cemetery right next to the road on the left and the road leading up to the ruins start at the far right, top side of the cemetery. We picked up 3 ladies hitchhiking on the way to San Antonio, the little mining town, just under an hour away. Here we stopped at the Tourist Information office in the centre of town and visited the train station on the edge of town and quaint church (back in the centre) before we had lunch at Tripadvisor’s recommended Quinoa Real (cheap, tasty!). Carrying on from there, you’ll eventually (about an hour's drive, if I recall correctly) spot the salt plains to your left. We drove for a while alongside the salt plains and soon after a settlement called Tres Morros (with another cemetery on the top of a small hill on the left side of the road) just before the T-junction right towards Purmamarca) did we spot a turn-off to the salt flats to the left. About another 1 km along from the turn-off and you’re onto the salt flats for some stunning pictures (and collection of a full bag of salt!) Back on the main road, we reached the T-junction and turned right to take the stunning pass across the mountains towards Purmamarca. We didn’t arrive in time for sunset there (we set off too late from Salta) but we took in some stunning views over the pass with the setting sun, and got to our hotel La Comarca at twilight. We walked into town from the hotel (about 1km) – it’s small and only one of the three restaurants (Pena el Rincon de Claudia Vilte) were open around 22:00. Local musicians performed live music, which was pretty, but quite loud, so not ideal for dinner conversation. The food was "very average" and prices relatively cheap.
La Comarca is a pretty hotel, very spacious with a kitchen area, living area, bedroom and bathroom, again great service and an extensive (but no hot food, although they were happy to cook us eggs when requested) buffet.
We were up before sunrise and hiked the short walk up the hill on the northern side of Purmamarca for a sunrise view of the Hill of Seven Colours (Cerro de los Siete Colores). Sunrise was at 06:35 but the sun only touched the tip of the lower hill 50 minutes later (this will vary slightly as the seasons change, of course) for a beautiful sunrise view of the Hill of Seven Colours.
Breakfast back at the hotel and we set off early towards Cafayate which is around 380km away. Picked up some hitchhikers early on and they journeyed with us all the way to near Salta – two young Argentinean friends with a lot of luggage and made for some interesting conversation and a great help when we had to turn off the main road into Jujuy to refuel, as it wasn’t the easiest to find a filling station (the first one we found since our departure from Salta). Some more stunning mountain views from Purmamarca to Jujuy along a very pretty, narrow, windy road from Jujuy to Vaqueros, just before Salta, where we stopped for lunch.
Almost the entire road from Purmamarca to Cafayate is tarred, so it was much easier driving than the previous day, but a long drive still. Quite tricky to get from Salta onto the right road to Cafayate as turn-offs (in this region at least) were often not sign-posted! Got really annoyed at one point with the poor logic of whoever was in charge of road signs. Distances are often out by a few kilometres also, by the way. The first half of the road from Salta to Cafayate was an easy one, and here we picked up another hitchhiker (this time a female police officer – but my worry that she was going to pick me up on my barefoot driving, often slightly over the speed limit, was unsubstantiated).
And then, for the second half of the road from Salta to Cafayate, we took in what was probably the most scenic and stunning views of any road journey we ever made. Instead of the 2 hours which I thought we’d cover the 180km in, it took us more than 4 hours. So many spots for fantastic colourful pictures which, in our view, far surpassed the view of the Hill of Seven Colours in Purmamarca. Look out for the signs by the road which marks the landmarks and views, every single one of which is worth a visit. We drove with the setting sun which made for some brilliant photo opportunities. Make sure you have plenty of water with you if you’re driving during the day – the desert is hot and dusty (as one might expect!) and hydration becomes important!
We arrived at the Cafayate Wine Resort (Vinas de Cafayate, AR$780 per night), our hotel, at dusk – just in time to take in the stunning setting. It’s about 1km out of town, which wasn’t a problem as we had a car, but you can also borrow their bicycles to venture into town along the dirt road. While the room was very basic (nothing more needed), as before, the staff was exceptionally friendly and the breakfast extensive (but again, no cooked food). Highly recommended. Wi-Fi here was faster than elsewhere and gave us a good opportunity to catch up with a few logistics. We had dinner at Las Marias right next to the square and for a tourist location the food was great and fairly cheap. We met an old (80 years) man who talked non-stop, and we find it quite amusing. With our broken Spanish and help from Google Translate, we made out that his wife passed away 27 years ago but all was well with his 37 year old girlfriend!
Lie-in (check-out was only at midday) and we spent a further 2 hours in town having a look round the shops (we knew it would be the last opportunity for cheap shopping before heading on to Iguazu) and made our way back. Some more stops along the desert mountains for views we missed the previous day. You can fill the car up at the last settlement before Salta (around 14km this side of Salta) where soon after you have to turn left at the big circle / roundabout under the autopista to the airport – again not signposted…aaaaarrrrggghhh! Got to Salta just in time for our 19:05 departure to Iguazu, only to find the flight delayed by an hour. At Iguazu airport we got a taxi to town for AR$110 to the Sheraton located in the park. More about this in our trip report for Iguazu, following soon!
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Below follows our trip report for Salta: