Salta Backpacking – What to Expect in Argentina’s North

Salta cable car

Salta is something of an outpost. It’s seven hours by bus from the Bolivian and Chilean borders, even further from Paraguay and almost 1500 km from the Argentine capital Buenos Aires. 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. It’s really a cool place to hang around for a few days with lots to see and do in and around the city. Here are 5 things to know about Salta backpacking.

5 Things about Backpacking Salta

The People

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 descendants 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.

There is certainly a more westernised or even European feel here which may come as a bit of a bolt out of the blue if you arrive having spent months travelling in the Andes. If you started out in Buenos Aires and are now heading north, Salta may well be the last glimpse you will have of civilisation as you know it ahead of your travels 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 many 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 for example, with the exception that between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. they are all shut.

Following the long siesta, the early evening, especially in the summer, sees the streets overflowing with people who come out to do their shopping. Restaurants don’t open until about 8:00 p.m. and most people don’t sit down to dine until a couple of hours after that.

The Big Fiesta

Salta beer
Salta via audrey_sel, CC BY-SA 2.0

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 1:00 a.m. and you may experience a quiet scene with a few people drinking local beer and chatting at the tables outside.

By 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. though, things will have really livened up as large groups of young Argentines hit the dancefloor and party till dawn. People in Argentina drink, but rarely for the sole purpose of getting drunk with dancing and socialising a bigger part of the nightlife culture.

The Salta Sights

Salta cable car
Salta via Jesús Dehesa, CC BY-ND 2.0

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 Teleferico up to the top of Cerro San Bernardo which offers fabulous 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 summers can be stiflingly hot so bear this in mind before setting out for the day. Many of the best locations are some way from the city too so it can be worth renting a car for the day if you’re a group.


Argentine food - empanadas

Salta is also an excellent place to sample Argentine cuisine. You may find some of the famous Argentinian steak houses don’t really cater to travellers on a budget, however you will notice plenty of good value pizza joints (pizza is also very popular in the country).

Empanadas are another traditional and popular snack in Salta and across Argentina, which features in our rundown of the best places to travel in 2023. 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.

This article on Salta backpacking was last updated in December 2022.

Salta Backpacking – What to Expect in Argentina’s North

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