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Salta la Linda - An Orange and Ochre Utopia

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by David Michael (subscribe)
Husband. Father. Recreational writer. If you enjoy my articles, please click 'like' and consider subscribing. Topics and suggestions always welcome.
Published February 21st 2015
The Unique and Authentic Agentinian Experience
Salta la Linda

Salta province north west argentina cafayate countryside panorama
The typical orange and ochre tinged Salta countryside

When western visitors travel to Argentina, most of them make their way to Buenos Aires (the tango capital and 'Paris of the Americas'), the wine rich Mendoza at the foot of the Andes or the beautiful southern Patagonian region for its skiing and lakes.

A province that isn't often included on tourist itineraries is the northern and quintessentially South American Province of Salta. Salta is known throughout Argentina as Salta la Linda, or en InglÚs, Salta the Beautiful. Salta's beauty is unique among Argentina's diverse landscapes.

Salta is located in Argentina's more arid north west and is most easily reached via a 2 hour connecting flight from the Jorge Newbery Domestic Airport in Buenos Aires. Approaching Salta from the sky for the first time you cannot help but be impressed with the vast green, orange and ochre tinged landscapes and mountainous horizons.

Salta province north west argentina salta city view from cerro san bernado
The view from Mount Saint Bernard overlooking Salta City

The city of Salta itself is a gorgeous Spanish colonial inspired town with a population of approximately 620,000 and countless architectural and cultural reminders of its storied history and heritage.

Salta province north west argentina Salta city town centre cabildo
The dusky sun setting on the city centre's Spanish colonial 'Cabildo' building


Salta province north west argentina salta city basilica de san francisco cathedral catedral
Salta Cathedral on the left, Basilica of Saint Francis on the right

Apart from the beauty of the city itself, Salta's other main attraction is that it can serve as a basecamp for numerous day trips to the unique and varied landscapes, towns and villages that the province contains. If you are lucky enough to visit the amazing and isolated Salta, make sure you include day trips to the following 4 towns.

Cafayate

A 2 hour tour bus ride from Salta (not including stops along the way), the 185km route to Cafayate takes you through a tortured but strangely fascinating landscape. The closer you get to Cafayate, the more gradually the landscape changes from a washed out green to varying shades of orange and ochre. Despite the arid nature of the land, the soils and rock formations give a warmth to the terrain that slowly imprints itself within you.

Salta province north west argentina cafayate countryside panorama
The arid but impressive Cafayate terrain

Along the way you'll come across many unique and interesting geological formations such as the half canyon colloquially known as 'The Devils's Throat' and the natural 'Amphitheatre' with what locals claim has perfect acoustics and has actually hosted small classical concerts. The more you see, the more you begin to get a feel for what local life must be like in this somewhat desolate but paradoxically rich province.

Salta province north west argentina cafayate devil's throat amphitheatre natural rock geological formations
Unusual geological formations: The 'Devil's Throat' to the left and the 'Amphitheatre' to the right

Once you arrive at the town of Cafayate itself, you are transported back in time to an authentic South American provincial town dripping with 'new world' Latin colonial charm. Many of the standing structures are hundreds of years old and the more modern buildings faithfully adhere to the centuries old Spanish colonial style architecture to ensure that the town retains its unique charm.

Salta province north west argentina cafayate main street orange autumn leaves
Orange autumn leaves lining the main street of Cafayate

The town of Cafayate survives mainly on agriculture and tourism. Any tour bringing visitors here will include a trip to one of the local vineyards to sample the excellent quality wines that the warmth and humidity of the local climate produces. The local specialty is the relatively unknown (in western circles at least) torrontes, a delicious white wine with deep, crisp fruit flavours.

Visitors are encouraged to drink in the quaint charms of the town, literally with an array of wine tastings and figuratively with a leisurely stroll around the town to appreciate the architecture and to try the delightful local produce. The llama salami being a must try.

Salta province north west argentina cafayate torrontes vineyard winery local llama salami
Cafayate local produce: Torrontes grapes, local wines, local handmade llama salami


Cachi

Salta province north west argentina cachi plateau cactus cacti tour bus orange
Even the tour bus is orange

The town of Cachi is located on a large natural level plateau over 3000m above sea level. The 150km trip from Salta city takes you along a spectacular winding climb, up green but mostly treeless mountainside.

Salta province north west argentina cachi plateau cactus cacti
The steep and winding climb up to Cachi's plateau home

Once the ascent has been completed, the terrain rather suddenly flattens out into a vast semi-barren landscape, dotted with iconic native South American cacti. The scene has you subconsciously reaching for a sombrero and matching poncho.

Salta province north west argentina cachi plateau cactus cacti
The vast cactus plains of Cachi

As you continue to traverse your way through the vast cactus strewn fields and draw nearer to the town of Cachi, the orange and ochre tinges in the soil and rock strata begin to appear more frequently.

Salta province north west argentina cachi plateau cactus cacti
Dry and desolate in the foreground, snow-capped mountains on the horizon

Just before entering the town, you pass by one of Salta's most iconic provincial scenes. Large fields with an overabundance of locally grown and harvested chilies laid out to dry in the sun. Once the relentless sun has completed the drying process, the chilies are ground into paprika, which is used throughout Argentina and exported overseas.

Salta province north west argentina cachi plateau cactus cacti chili fields paprika sun dried
The crimson fields of local sun dried chilies

As is typical of these remote towns and villages, Cachi is completely Spanish colonial in style, from the archetypal white arched Cabildo down to the cobblestoned streets. If visiting, make sure to sample some of the rich and hearty local beef and llama stews.

Salta province north west argentina cachi plateau cactus cacti town square church
Cachi's town square with familiar arched cabildo and local church


Salta province north west argentina cachi plateau cactus cacti local stew
A selection of local beef and llama stews offered at a rustic and simple outdoor restaurant


Purmamarca

Salta province north west argentina purmamarca cerro de siete colores mountain of seven colours
An iconic Purmamarca street scene with the mount of the seven colours in the background

The little provincial village of Purmamarca is often a day-trip tour stop on the way to the town of Humahuaca in the neighbouring province of Jujuy. Purmamarca is famous for its 'Cerro de Siete Colores', or 'mountain of seven colours' in English. You will not be able to find a more vivid example of this extraordinary geological phenomenon anywhere else. The exposed mountainside displays seven layered rock types of seven different colours, almost like a geological rainbow.

Salta province north west argentina purmamarca cerro de siete colores mountain of seven colours
The impressive and geologically unique mountain of seven colours

Besides the geological attractions, you can wander the village and browse the authentic local arts and craft at the various street stalls. The town also displays some excellent examples of new construction faithfully embracing the town's architectural and cultural heritage

Salta province north west argentina purmamarca cerro de siete colores mountain of seven colours modern style spanish colonial
A recent construction in Purmamarca that has faithfully retained the town's colonial history and architecture


Salta province north west argentina purmamarca cerro de siete colores mountain of seven colours cactus crucifix cross carved
A local hand carved wooden crucifix and cactus wood, a locally used construction material

Humahuaca

Humahuaca is located to Salta's north, just over the border of the neighbouring province of Jujuy. The route from Salta city will take you through Purmamarca and continue north until you reach Humahuaca. The now familiar orange and ochre tinged vistas are a constant companion along the way.

Salta province north west argentina humahuaca jujuy landscapes
You can't travel far without orange or ochre colours appearing in rock or soil

The trip to Humahuaca exposes you to elements of both Spanish and native Indian cultures. Along the way you are able to stop and carefully look through the few remaining and partially restored regional native Indian ruins. These come nothing close to Machu Pichu, but they are fascinating none-the-less and provide an insight into the small scale civilization of the agricultural minded former inhabitants of this land.

Salta province north west argentina humahuaca jujuy landscapes native indian ruins
Partially restored ancient native Indian ruins

More remarkable geological sights are to be seen before you reach Humahuaca including the 'Pollera de la Colla' or 'Indian woman's skirt' so called for the shape and colours of the hillside formation.

Salta province north west argentina humahuaca jujuy landscapes Pollera de la Colla Indian woman's skirt
The 'Pollera de la Colla' or 'Indian woman's skirt' to the left


Also the impressive 'Paleta del Pintor' or 'Painter's palette', with its unique formation and colouring resembling the used palette of an artist.

Salta province north west argentina humahuaca jujuy landscapes paleta del pintor
The strange but geologically fascinating 'Painter's Palette'

Once you reach Humahuaca, you cannot miss the city's centrepiece, the grand orange tinged Monument of Independence and the imposing rocky stairs leading to it.

Salta province north west argentina humahuaca jujuy landscapes monument of independence
Humahuaca's famous monument to independence

Make sure to wander the quaint cobbled streets and check out the amazing and abundant hand crafted tapestries, pottery, woodwork and more that the skilled locals produce - skills that have been passed from generation to generation for hundreds of years.

Salta province north west argentina humahuaca jujuy landscapes local arts and crafts
Humahuaca's local genuine arts and crafts
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Why? A beautiful authentic South American experience
When: All year round
Where: Salta - North West Argentina
Your Comment
Congratulations on getting third place.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12030) 1301 days ago
Welcome to WEN David. Great to see the priorities evident in your bio.
by Jenny Rossiter (score: 3|4046) 1310 days ago
Thank you for the pictorial visit to Salta la Linda. It certainly looks to be a beautiful place in the world. I most liked the 'de Siete Colores' and the carved crucifix. Hope you went home with a sombrero and poncho or other treasures.
by Jenny Rossiter (score: 3|4046) 1310 days ago
I predict a competition gold for this article. (And yes this is a generous concession from a fellow competitor).
by Jenny Rossiter (score: 3|4046) 1310 days ago
Magnificent photos, well done
by Steve Hudson (score: 3|1245) 1310 days ago
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