Posted by on Jun 3, 2013


Salta contrasted with Iguazú and the Misiones region of Argentina quite spectacularly. After only 1:40 in the plane, I went from a moist, Darwin-like climate to a dry autumn Mediterranean one. Situated in Lerma Valley in far north-western Argentina at an altitude of 1,200 meters, Salta is home to over 550,000 inhabitants and is close to the border of Bolivia to the north and Chile to the west.

I arrived at the airport in the middle of the afternoon and, hefting my backpack, I clomped out into the hot dry car park, baking in the sun.  Now airports it would seem are not built to be entered or exited from by foot. Buses, cars, taxis and aeroplanes can all make dignified entries and exits but the humble, loner pedestrian must contend with the somewhat humiliating prospect of walking along the side of the exit road, or trudge the ankle-deep grass on the verge to make his exit. He is made to feel stupid for his lack of willingness to comply with the cabal of airport and transport companies who are in it for all they can get. Airports are by necessity remote from the city centre, but universally this fact is exploited (aka ‘privatised’) so as to insure that the stranded, ignorant traveller is wrung of as much of their travel budget as is humanly possible without starting a riot. 70 pesos for a taxi to the centre, or 2.5 pesos on the bus which travels along the road outside the airport. I walked out to the road, but I was the only person in 2 plane-fulls who did.

Despite having never been to Spain, Salta is more what I would call consistent with Spanish architecture from Toledo and southern Spain, being nothing like that of Buenos Aires. Gone is the French architecture and horrible concrete apartment stacks that characterise Argentina’s largest metropolis. Here the buildings are lower, built of a rendered brick and the more traditional constructions sport tiled roofs. Streets are narrow, uncontrolled and often choked with cars.


I had managed to find a couch in Salta, not an altogether easy task in a small city (only half a million!) but couldn’t go until Saturday meaning I had two nights at a hostel. After dumping my bag (I shouted myself a room upgrade with some of the difference I saved in the fare from the airport), I went out to explore my surroundings. Once again I found myself walking the streets as the sun was setting, only these were not grand avenues or wide boulevards, but cramped streets full of movement and the blaring impatience and disarray that constitutes Argentinean traffic congestion. Mitigating the mayhem were the pastel colours that descended on the city with the setting sun, igniting the sky in fiery shades of pink and orange behind the silhouette of the cathedral tower.

I spent Thursday evening and all of Friday walking around the city. Where previously the streets had been lined with tall elegant trees, the streets of Salta were full of fruit bearing citrus trees, whose compact size and dark leaves were testament to the drier climate.


Salta is an old city, founded in 1582 by the Spaniard Hernando de Lerma as an important way-station for communications between the all important Viceroyalty of Peru (Virreinato del Perú) and the burgeoning port of Buenos Aires. It was included in the Viceroyalty of Perú for two centuries before being annexed to the newly created Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata – modern day Argentina. Movements set in motion by the Peninsular War in Spain began the birth of Argentinean nationhood through the Revolución de Mayo in 1810 and the later Argentinean War of Independence. The Spanish control of the area ended with a decisive victory by the Salteños under the command of general Martín Miguel de Güemes in 1813. Consistent with military aggrandisement and ubiquitous masculine hegemony, it was alongside Plaza Güemes that I had lunch the following day, and not for instance, Plaza María Constanza Alvaredo or another of the doubtless many anonymous women heroines who played unsung roles of great importance in the in the success and prosperity of Salta.


Argentina seems determined to mix opposing ends of the architectural design spectrum into its cities. Charming old buildings characterise certain districts which are then graced with whatever modern marvel the School-of-the-Straight-Line can foist upon it. The Monoblock is one such example. This ghastly rectangular behemoth dwarfs its surroundings, a grim edifice of darkening concrete and gaunt glass that looks as though it were taken, unmodified, from some bleak, abandoned soviet outpost.


There’s a hill behind Salta called Cerro San Bernardo and for those who want a view of Salta from above, they can choose from three options – road, path and chairlift. I climbed the hundreds of stone stairs zigzagging backwards and forwards up the side of the hill. Panting and sweating I slogged the last stairs to find myself graced with a dramatic, and yes once again late afternoon, vista of the city and surrounding valley. In the distance, sunlight poured down through a gap in the clouds, its rays clearly visible in the not to clear atmosphere. With my hosts, I later saw the city from above at night – different, but still dramatic. I descended in the chairlift.