Saying Farewell to Argentina in Salta

Salta feels completely different from the rest of Argentina. Our taxi driver was dressed like a gaucho: beret, red plaid button-down shirt tucked into his jeans, with a giant belt buckle and high boots. As we rode into the centre from the airport we could see the difference in people's faces; they look more indigenous, with darker complexions and simpler clothing. It was a refreshing change and made us excited for our next few weeks in Bolivia and Peru.

The name, Salta means "the very beautiful one" in the Aymara language. When we told Argentines that we would be visiting here their faces would always brighten. Everyone told us how beautiful it is and how we must see this or that. For us it was like wandering around a larger, busier Colonia del Sacramento; the city has some of the most well-preserved colonial architecture in Argentina. It was founded in 1582 by Spaniards moving south from Peru.

Salta has many colourful churches to explore, like the Iglesia San Francisco.

While we could have taken a long bus ride out to Cafayate or participated in any number of adventure activities in the surrounding hills and mountains, we chose to relax instead and adopted the ambling pace of the locals during our time there. Several museums are worth a look but we chose the Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana (High Mountain Archaeology Museum) under the advice of our mates, Jess and Jamie over at Adventures with Cloud People. In 1999 explorers found the mummified bodies of three children who had been offered up as human sacrifices by the Incas. The discovery took place at the peak of the Llullaillaco volcano, which at 6,739 metres is one of the highest and most important mountains of America. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, low humidity, low temperature and thermal stability in the place they were found, the bodies are almost perfectly preserved.

Uniformed schoolchildren make their way across the square.

The bodies are rotated every six months so that only one is on display at a time. We saw the body of a nearly seven year old boy, which was probably the least confronting of the three based on the photos we saw of the other two. He was seated, with his head and legs bent, his knees covering his face. The sacrificed children were those of the elite, which is difficult for us to understand considering how pampered and protected the children of the wealthy and famous are in our society. It was an honour for them to be participants in the ritual of sacrifice and they were not thought to die, but to be with their loved ones for eternity. It is difficult for me to witness their fate as objects in a museum - I don't think that is something anyone would want for their remains. At least I know I wouldn't. The preservation of the bodies is a very important phenomenon in the field of archaeology, however, which cannot be denied.

Salta's main plaza is lined with orange trees.

We previously said that it was difficult to find great food in Argentina, diversity being a major factor in this statement. Not so in Salta, where we found delicious Mexican and Middle Eastern food as well as a restaurant specializing in "high mountain cuisine," with delicious interpretations of local ingredients. Salta also has plenty of great parrillas and a happening nightlife scene. We were sure to try the local Torrontes, which is my new favourite white wine variety.

A beautiful building on the Plaza 9 Julio.

On the morning we headed out of Salta on our way to Bolivia, we caught the sunrise over the city. As we drove further and further north, past the Humahuaca Canyon and the Tropic of Capricorn, the landscape changed from green to brown. Parts of it looked as if we had already entered Bolivia, with a few people dressed in traditional garb wandering the streets in tiny towns next to the highway. Our only problem was that Argentina did not want to let us go. The border officials in La Quiaca actually gave us trouble leaving the country, requesting money and a list of the people in our group before they would stamp our passports. I've heard of travellers having border difficulty entering a country, but never leaving one. After almost an hour we were on our way, bound for a new adventure in the fourth South American country on our journey.

The sun rises over Salta, Argentina.

I'll leave you with images from our drive through northwest Argentina on our way to Bolivia.


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10 years ago

I’m enjoying your photography. the nature is great, but that little school kids are sooo cute!

They were cute! Love how they are walking in line with the rope…

10 years ago

Been researching locations for my big trip next year and really never came across Salta or for that matter saw any other blogs about it. Then a few weeks ago I read an article about Torrontes and bought a bottle at the store and it was from Salta, so now coupled with your amazing post it is on my radar and will be at the top of my Argentine itinerary. Thanks! It is my new favorite wine as well, possibly the perfect summer wine! 

Reply to  Scott

That’s so great, Scott – really glad to hear that our post helped convince you to visit the region! Be sure to allow yourself several days to see the surrounding areas as well (including Cafayate, which we are so sad to have missed). It really is a special part of Argentina. SO agree with you – we adore Torrontes. Hope we’ll be able to find it in our local wine shop when we finally find a place to call home for awhile. =)

10 years ago

I missed this when I was down there last time and sooooo need to get back. And don’t get me started on missing Mendoza and the wine region also 🙁

Reply to  Michael Hodson

Oh no! You MUST come back…both Salta/Cafayate and Mendoza have spectacular wines…I feel a little disappointed in you, Michael 😉

10 years ago

Beautiful pictures, I really love the colors of those mountains and hills! I’m thinking about the mummified kids – must have been an interesting/strange site to see. I’m sure at that time not even a hint of being in a museum ever crossed any of their minds!

Reply to  Mark Wiens

Thanks so much =) You’re right, they probably thought the kids would never be found, much less the perfect preservation aspect. It really is unbelievable. In Bolivia we saw another small museum with corpses that had some skin still intact…amazing what the high altitudes can do.

10 years ago

Awww, those kids are so cute!  Stylish hats they’re rockin’.  😉  And great photos of the mountains!

Thanks so much – they were adorable! =)

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