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Three Reasons to Visit Northwestern Argentina

by Teresa Bitler

Jul 31, 2019

Teresa Bitler


Although remote, northern Argentina boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes in South America. Fly into Salta, and spend a day or two admiring its colonial architecture and visiting its outstanding museums. Then, venture beyond to discover two more of the region’s wonders.


Catedral Basílica de Salta.

Catedral Basílica de Salta. Photo: Teresa Bitler


Founded in 1582, Salta is the largest city in the region and boasts a downtown area with some of the best examples of colonial architecture in South America. Take a self-guided tour beginning in Plaza 9 de Julio, the city’s main square. If your kids are old enough to be respectful, check out the ornate Catedral Basílica de Salta, located across the street from the plaza. After, sample empanadas, pizza or ice cream at one of the cafés there.


One block away on Caseros Street, check out Iglesia San Francisco. With its terra cotta-colored walls and bell tower, it’s the city’s most recognizable landmark. Walk through the church, pop in the small museum and spend some time shopping at the neighborhood boutiques.


Salta has excellent museums, too. Don’t miss the Museo Arqueologia de Alta Montana. Known for housing the mummified bodies of three Inca children, it has displays on Incan and Andean culture. Museo Guemes honors local hero General Martin Miguel de Guemes through engaging exhibits and films (with English subtitles) detailing his life.

Iglesia San Franisco.

Iglesia San Franisco. Photo: Teresa Bitler

Train to the Clouds

Salta is also the starting point for one of the highest altitude trains in the world, Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds). Built to transport goods from the coast of Chile through the Andes Mountains and into northwestern Argentina, the train crosses 28 bridges and 12 viaducts, travels through 21 tunnels and tackles two switchbacks on a 16-hour, round-trip journey.


The highlight of the train ride is crossing the Viaducto la Polvorilla, a curved, 735-foot long viaduct 50 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. You’ll have an opportunity to get off the train before crossing to purchase souvenirs from locals and take photos, but this is one of only two times you’ll have the opportunity to disembark. The rest of the journey, you’ll be on the train or a bus for the return. Make sure to bring plenty of activities to keep your family occupied.


Quebrada de Rio las Conchas

If you prefer to get out and stretch your legs more often, rent a car and drive south out of Salta on Route 68 toward the high-altitude wine region of Cafayate. The drive begins with rolling hills dotted by horses and other livestock. Watch for the occasional gaucho on horseback the further you get from Salta.

Argentina Landscape.

Argentina Landscape. Photo: Teresa Bitler

About a third of the way into the three-hour drive, the landscape changes to the mountains and red rocks of Quebrada de Rio las Conchas. Take the time as you drive through to stop at some of the area’s scenic overlooks and landmarks like El Anfiteatro (The Amphitheater), Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat) and El Sapo (The Toad).


Route 68 ends at Route 40, just a few miles west of Cafayate. Book a room in Cafayate and take the opportunity to visit a winery or two before returning to Salta the next day. Grace Cafayate has villas perfect for families who appreciate a separate living area and kitchen in addition to beds.


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