Salta lies in the Northwest of Argentina, its vast territory offers an extraordinary range of landscapes, from dry arid desert to the lush green of the sub-tropical Yungas jungle, while the generosity of its inhabitants, descendants of the Incas and inheritors of a rich cultural tradition ensures a unique experience for each visitor. The region boasts strong culinary and musical traditions derived from Spanish, Inca and pre-Inca influences.
Despite the stunning scenery, Inca ruins, a wonderful museum, unforgettable horse riding and great food and wine, Salta is a relatively unvisited region, which further adds to its charm.
Salta was an Incan stronghold from the 12th century until the beginning of the 16th century, when the Spanish conquistadores arrived. The Incahuasi ruins, perhaps the most typical of their culture, are to be found near the city of Salta and archaeologists claim that these are in fact the remains of a stronghold built during the reign of the Inca Yupanqui which served to maintain their rule over the various local tribes.
City of Salta - Customs and traditions tempered by time and taste Today, the city of Salta still has a distinctly Hispanic feel to it, an urban skyline distinguished by the colonial architecture of its original buildings and churches which has also influenced more modern construction to the point where the main square is a charming monument to neo-colonial style. The streets in the old part of the town run between old Andalusian houses with their tiled roofs, thick whitewashed walls and wrought-iron balconies brightened by scarlet and fuchsia geraniums.
Archaeological Museum - in the city centre has many fine relics of Inca civilization. Of particular interest are the items found in 1999 at an Inca sanctuary and temple near the Llullaillaco volcano in the heart of the Andes mountain range. Archaeologists discovered the exceptionally well-preserved bodies of three children who had been killed as part of a ritual sacrifice to Incan deities and, lying next to them, an astonishing collection of over 100 gold and silver statues, ornaments, ceremonial garments and ceramics which are now on display at the Museum.
The Hill of Seven Colours is a rainbow of colour which comes to life in the glow of the afternoon sun, dominated by a deep violet stripe across the middle which fades downwards into strips of turquoise, jade and sky-blue and upwards into hues of pink, orange and yellow.
Cafayate - the wine capital of the north-west with scenes of extraordinarily desolate beauty created by rock formations that rise from the arid desert in a blaze of mineral-rich colours. The road passes through the impressive Quebrada de las Conchas, Shell Canyon, with its bizarre and intensely coloured rock formations, including the impressive Devil's Gorge and the amphitheatre, a giant funnel scooped out of a cliff. One of the driest spots in the country -it is said to be sunny every single day of the year- Cafayate is famous above all for its wines and is surrounded by vineyards and wineries many of which are open to the public. The combination of altitude, climate and terroir has gained the wines of Cafayate an international reputation. One of the key factors is the altitude of its vineyards, which lie in valleys some 1600 to 2600 metres above sea level. This means strong sunshine, great differences in day and night time temperatures and thin, dry air. The first vineyards in Salta were planted in the 18th century by the Jesuits who brought the TorrontÃ©s grape with them from Spain where it was considered to be rather mediocre. However, on Argentine soil, the variety flourished and has become the country's insignia white grape producing a deliciously fruity and aromatic rich white wine.
Founded in 1594 and has changed little since then. The narrow streets are made of earth and wind sleepily up the mountainside between the small whitewashed houses that are mostly grouped around the main square. The principal building there is the church, above whose door is inscribed the date on which it was built -1648- a simple construction, with adobe walls, cactus wood beams and a thatched roof. The other eye-catching feature of the square is the market where local craftsmen and women display their skills in weaving llama and sheep's wool rugs, throws and other garments, firing ceramics -plates, bowls, cups and mugs decorated with ancient Incan symbols- and hand-carving cactus wood bowls.
The Canyon of Humahuaca lies in the northernmost province of Jujuy, the true kingdom of the Andes. It is the province with the largest population of indigenous Indians from many different tribes who still worship Pacha Mama. Here, Catholic religious customs coexist with ancient traditions and rituals from well before the Spanish arrival. The Quebrada, or canyon, declared a Unesco World Heritage site, sets a giant palette of jewel-painted slabs of rock arching across the mountain sides at MaimarÃ¡, the "Paleta del Pintor", testimony to the rich variety of minerals to be found there, from the dark blood tints of iron and magnesium to the corroded green of copper and sulphurous yellows. The air is perfectly, almost sacredly still: the wildlife is quiet and timid and the infinitesimal movement of a lizard against the stones or a buzzard high overhead do not detract from the palpable peace of the immense landscape.