36 Hours in Salta, Argentina

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Argentina's northwestern Salta Province has long been famous for its spectacular scenery of Andean peaks, red-rock valleys and vineyards, but its central metropolis, the city of Salta, has emerged only in the last few years as a bright spot on the tourist map. Founded in 1582 by the Spanish commander Hernando de Lerma, the city has traditionally served primarily as a supply center for the Spanish mining sites located in present-day Bolivia. A concerted effort to encourage new hotels, restaurants and shops is now paying off in a stream of visitors attracted to Salta's updated colonial charm. Today, the old city center is recognized as a jewel-box-size getaway, perfect for exploring on foot and finally appreciated for its rich cultural offerings, grand neo-Classical buildings and thriving night life.

FRIDAY

4:30 p.m.1. 1,000 Steps

Get a view of the city and nearby valleys from San Bernardo Hill (Avenida Uruguay and Paseo Güemes), east of the town center. If you're feeling energetic, climb the more than 1,000 steps to the top from the path behind the equestrian statue of Martín Miguel de Güemes, who led Salta's rebels in the Argentine War of Independence. Along the way, admire the low scrub, more than a dozen shrines and the hardy locals sprinting up for exercise. If the climb sounds daunting, there's an easier way. A leisurely cable car ride from San Martín Park leads to the same panorama.

7:30 p.m.2. Local Vibe

Back on flat ground, walk over to the tree-lined Plaza 9 de Julio, the main square and Salta's heartbeat. Come evening, the plaza and the streets around it are alive with Salteños congregating at cafes and bars to unwind. One popular spot is the Argentine-Italian deli Casa Moderna (España 674; 54-387-422-0066), which despite its name first opened in the early 1900s. To indulge your oenophile side, order by the glass from the selection of wines produced in the high-altitude vineyards nearby. A glass of wine is 12 to 22 pesos, or $2.40 to $4.45, at 5 pesos to the dollar.

9 p.m.3. Llama Stroganoff

Get a taste of the Salta region's cuisine at the perpetually packed El Charrua Restaurante Parrilla, a casual place with brick and stone walls and a lively ambience. While the menu has the usual array of beef cuts standard at any Argentine parrilla, the real stars here are the dishes made with tender llama meat. While most menus around town offer it in a carpaccio style, here you will find iterations like llama stroganoff. Dinner for two costs about 300 pesos with wine.

SATURDAY

9 a.m.4. Suburban Cloud Forest

Just outside San Lorenzo, an affluent suburban village about six miles from the city, the Quebrada de San Lorenzo (San Lorenzo Gorge) nature reserve is tucked at the foot of the sub-Andean mountains. It preserves a section of the fragile environment called Yungas forest, which is found on the eastern side of the Andes. Take an uphill hike and immerse yourself in green ferns, creeks, moss and colorful fauna of a tropical cloud forest. Along the way, you may bump into farmers, descendants of the ancient Incas, riding down on horseback from their homes in the hills. You'll also see plenty of wildlife, including foxes, small deer called corzuelas, and birds including hawks and toucans.

Noon5. Jasmine Lunch

The actor Robert Duvall made the 250-acre estancia called House of Jasmines famous when he bought it to use as a vacation home. New owners have since turned it into a small luxury hotel with a restaurant, La Table de House of Jasmines (Ruta Nacional N 51, Km. 6, La Merced Chica), a good place to refuel after your morning of activity. The large, airy space overlooks sprawling grounds that are fragrant with eucalyptus trees, jasmines and roses; there is also a glass window through which diners can get a glimpse of the action in the kitchen. The midday menu lists selections like gnocchi arrabiata and salad with tomatoes, avocado, and grilled llama or chicken. Lunch for two costs about 230 pesos.

3:30 p.m. 6. Ice Children

The hours when much of the city is shut down for siesta are the ideal time to view artifacts of the region, and the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, or MAAM, on the Plaza 9 de Julio remains open all afternoon. The archaeology of the Andes is largely the story of the Inca, and the museum's artifacts trace their culture, and those of the tribes that preceded them, over thousands of years. The best-known items in the three-level space are the 500-year-old frozen bodies of three Incan children killed in a ritual sacrifice. They were discovered in 1999, amid a treasury of objects made of gold, textiles and other materials, atop 22,000-foot Mount Llullaillaco at the border of Salta Province and Chile. In the cold and dry air at the top of the mountain, the bodies were naturally mummified, and the children look eerily lifelike, as if they had just gone to sleep. Entrance to the museum is 40 pesos.

5:30 p.m.7. Crafts to Take Home

The city is littered with touristy stores selling run-of-the-mill goods like ponchos and shawls that use Andean weaving techniques, but a few shops stand out for their uncommon wares. Samponia (Caseros 468; 54-387-422-8333) sells brightly colored frames, pillows, ottomans and bowls that are handmade using traditional Incan techniques but have a distinct contemporary look. Rio del Valle Luracatao (Leguizamón 515) has rugs, throws and handbags made of hand-spun llama and alpaca wool. At El Gauchito Salteño (Caseros 760; 54-387-432-9459), pick up dulce de leche made with the extra-creamy milk from the mountain cows (25 to 50 pesos).

9:30 p.m.8. Good Food, and Ambience

The elegant candlelit room with high thatched ceilings at El Solar del Convento (Caseros 444; 54-387-421-5124) combines with warm service and simple but thoughtfully prepared food to make dinner here a good choice. Every meal starts with a free glass of local sparkling wine, and the menu includes grilled meats like steaks and chorizo as well as choices like rabbit in pineapple sauce and trout roasted with lemon, butter and wine. Dinner for two, about 240 pesos with wine.

Midnight9. Folkloric Night Life

The Salta region is famed for its peñas, traditional folk music halls where locals come with guitars and take turns playing and singing as bystanders clap along. The action starts around midnight and stretches well past 4 a.m. Arrive on the early side at La Casona del Molino (Luis Burela 1; 54-387-434-2835), a five-minute cab ride from the city center, to get a table in one of the five rooms or the spacious courtyard. Order a bottle of Argentine beer, sit back and listen to the catchy music.

SUNDAY

11 a.m.10. Faith Tour

Catch the peaceful mood of the city as it awakes by strolling to some of its picturesque churches. Start with the neo-Classical Catedral Basílica de Salta on the Plaza 9 de Julio. Then walk over to the Convento San Bernardo (Caseros 73) to admire the attractive carved door, an example of indigenous art. Finish with the Iglesia San Francisco (Cordoba 33), which has an earthen red facade and claims its 170-foot bell tower is South America's tallest.

Noon11. Empanada Overload

Salteños staunchly believe that they invented the empanada. There is a raging debate in town about where the tastiest ones can be had, but to try a selection, end your visit to the city at Patio de la Empanada (Avenida San Martín and Malvinas; 54-387-431-4484). In half a dozen stalls on a covered terrace, empanada makers serve up their own takes on the city's favorite snack -- some stuffed with pork or beef and others with cheese or vegetables. Expect to spend about 4 to 6 pesos for one.

LODGING

Kkala Boutique Hotel, Las Higueras 104, Tres Cerritos, is a six-room upscale hotel with a personable staff and a mixture of antique and modern handicraft décor. Rooms start at 1,030 pesos.

Bloomers Bed and Brunch, Vicente López 129, is a small inn in a prime location a few blocks from the Plaza 9 de Julio. Prices start at 400 pesos.

Legado Mitico Salta, Bartolomé Mitre 647, has themed rooms, in a renovated mansion. Rooms from 1,250 pesos.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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