Pleasant Thrills in Argentina’s Far North
Salta is something of an outpost. 7 hours by bus from the Bolivian and Chilean borders, even further from Paraguay and over 1000km from the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires which is politically and culturally dominant in the country. Despite its isolated location there is quite a lot going on and if like many travellers in Salta you have just arrived from one of the neighbouring countries you will instantly feel as though you have arrived somewhere completely different. Salta is a cool place and well worth hanging around for a few days.
If you’re travelling south from Peru, Bolivia and even the very Northern towns in Argentina, you will quickly notice the people are different here. The Native American populations in the mountainous regions of Argentina’s Northern and Western neighbours seem like a distant memory. Here the people are mostly descendents of a mix of Spanish or Italian immigrants and look and dress very differently. The difference is most evident in the girls and women who no longer sport traditional Quechan dresses but the latest accessories and fashionable clothes with plenty of flesh on show.
There is certainly a certain confidence and westernised feel about the people here which will come as a sudden reminder of life back home if you’ve been travelling in South America for a while. If you started out in Buenos Aires and are now heading into the Andes, Salta may well be the last glimpse you will have of civilisation as you know it ahead of months in the more indigenous South American countries.
That’s not to say Salta is like a city in Europe or the US, far from it. It still moves to a Latin American beat and unique Argentine customs are very evident.
The Long Siesta
Once you’ve been backpacking in Argentina for any length of time you’ll probably have got used to the afternoon siesta, which sees shops and restaurants shut down. In Salta the siesta seems to last practically the entire afternoon. There are a couple of really long shopping streets which aren’t that dissimilar from ones you find in the UK or Australia with the exception that between 1pm and 5:30pm they are all shut. Between 6 and 9, especially in the summer the streets are suddenly overflowing with people who come out to do their shopping. Restaurants don’t open till about 8 and most people don’t sit down to dine till 10pm.
The Big Fiesta
The benefits of taking a long nap during the day, is that you have plenty of energy left by the time night falls. Even at dusk, it is still many hours before the nightlife in Salta truly gets going. Take a wander down the most popular bar street at 1am and you will experience a quiet scene with a few people drinking and chatting in the tables outside. By 2 or 3am (kicking out time in most Western countries) things will have really livened up as large groups of young Argentines hit the dancefloor and party till dawn. People in Argentina drink, but not too excess so getting sloshed on booze is not commonplace and won’t impress the locals.
The Salta Sights
Salta isn’t overly touristy by any stretch of the imagination which is in many ways a good thing, as it allows you to get a feel for what life is like in a real Argentine city. With just under 500,000 residents it is reasonably big and home to some beautiful buildings, churches and plazas. It’s the sort of place that’s great to have a wander and relax in one of the many parks. You can also walk or take the cable-car up to the top of Cerro San Bernardo which offers top notch views of the city and surrounding areas.
Out of town there’s some great trekking, mountain climbing and rafting opportunities amongst other popular adventure-type activities. The terrain is well suited to this sort of thing although Summer’s can be stiflingly hot so bear this in mind before setting out for the day.
Salta is also a nice place to sample Argentine cuisine. You may find some of the famous Argentinean steak houses don’t really cater to travellers on a budget, however you will notice plenty of good value pizza places (pizza is also very popular in the country). Empanadas in Argentina are another traditional snack. These tasty and cheap pastry items come with a variety of different fillings and Salta has plenty of restaurants and snack bars where you can try them. Most of the cheaper restaurants are at the end of town closest to the bus station.
Pics courtesy of b00nj and angel david ramoyo on flickr
This article was published in September 2011.