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Published: November 10th 2007
Salta from Cerro San Bernardo
This is the rewarding view after the hike to the summit of Cerro San Bernardo.
Twenty hours after leaving Asuncion we finally arrived at our next destination, Salta, in North-West Argentina. This was the longest bus journey of our trip so far and we were a little unfortunate in that neither of the buses we took had "cama" facilities: I'm not sure such a thing exists in Paraguay, whilst the only bus with spaces from Resistencia to Salta was semi-cama. It might not seem that big a deal but for me it's the fine line between a good night's sleep and staying awake most of the night!
At 7am we made it to Salta and were immediately talked into a hostel nearby for 45 pesos. Well, that solved the accommodation problem anyway. Salta is at 1190m altitude so after such a long journey we should probably have taken it easy, but, being the gluttons for punishment that we are, we instead decided to do a climb. A fairly straightforward one though, up to the summit of Cerro San Bernardo, a prominent peak overlooking the city. Cerro San Bernardo is well geared up for visitors with a cafe and shop at the summit, and even a cable car running to the top. There are 1070 steps
The Cabildo is a lovely building on the main square, housing the Historical Museum.
to the top, and it´s a tough enough climb, especially on a hot day. We encountered many locals running up - don't know how they can do this. The best time to visit is in the morning when the sun is shining over the city, and before it gets too hot. There was a haze over the city when we reached the summit, at a height of 1458m, making the views less impressive than on a clear day. However, this was our first proper view of the distant, high peaks of the Andes. Quite a moment! We liked this hike so much we did the same thing to the following day - and it does get easier the more you do it.
Salta has a good number of museums, the most bizarre of which is the MAAM (High Mountain Archaeological Museum), whose main exhibit is a preserved child's body from a sacred burial site found near the summit of Cerro Llullaillaco, at approx 6700 metres altitude, during a National Geographic excavation in 1999. Three bodies were recovered though only one was on display when we visited. It´s a fascinating, though slightly unnerving, sight. The museum tells the story of
At New Time Cafe
This was our favourite cafe in Salta. It's on a corner of the main square, and from the terrace there are great views of the Cabildo (pictured) and Cerro San Bernardo
the expedition as well as showing the body and other artifacts from the find. It's one of the more expensive museums in Argentina, at 10 pesos per person, though you can visit for free on weekdays between 9 and 10am. Though judging from our visit this is the time when all the local schools visit, so though you save 10 pesos there'll be lots of noise!
Salto's most impressive building, in my opinion, is the Cabildo, which is on one corner of the large main square, Plaza 9 de Julio. It was built in 1783 and is one of the few fully intact cabildos found in the country. It houses the History Museum of the North, which has exhibits on the Argentine War of Independence: in particular, displays about Guemes, the local hero in this war. The best thing about the museum is the building it is housed in with its open courtyards and beautiful balconies. There are good views of the main square and of Cerro San Bernardo from the arched balcony on the second floor.
As well as having good museums, Salta has some impressive churches. One, in particular, stood out: Iglesia San Francisco. It has
a very striking plum-coloured exterior which means you can't really miss it. It´s located a few blocks east of the main square, on Calle Caseros, and consists of a large church, a tall tower and a small museum. The interior is less ornate but contains some interesting statues, and like all Salta's churches, it´s a great place to take shelter from the heat on a hot day.
Much or our time in Salta was spent relaxing on the main square or in the cafes and bars around the centre. After a few days in the city we were starting to really like it here. It is a fantastic city in which to unwind, and I think it has just knocked Buenos Aires off the top of my places-to-live-in-were-I-to-settle-in-Argentina list. A few days later we met up with two fellow travelbloggers who have done just that. Russ and Trish are English teachers living in Salta and we spent a fun evening with them drinking beer & swapping travel stories.
From Salta we made an excursion into the mountains, to Cachi in the famous Calchaquies Valleys. The long bus journey took about 4.5 hours, but with so much beautiful scenery
Cuesta del Obispo
This switchback road offers excellent views over the Quebrada on the way to Cachi
on route, especially during the switchback roads of the Cuesta del Obispo, the journey passed quickly. Cachi is a quiet place, though very much on the tourist track. We found accommodation for 40 pesos a night (cheapest of the trip so far!). We felt the altitude much more at Cachi than Tilcara, though it's at a similar height. Perhaps it was the heat but after a day hike to Cachi Adentro we were both shattered. Once again our quest to climb a high Andean peak ended in failure, as we couldn't find sufficient information or even a guide who could tell us about the trip. The best known guide in Cachi was on a trek at the time so we had to content ourselves with hiking in the valleys. But believe me, in 30 degree heat at altitude, that was more than enough.
There is a nice church in Cachi, and a hillside cemetery from where you have good views of the town, and especially of the 6000m + peaks of Nevado de Cachi. We later learned from a local who showed us around El Toro that hillside cemeteries are common in the Calchiques Valley, the idea being that
View of the Nevado de Cachi
From the hillside cemetery in Cachi there are nice views of the snow topped Nevado de Cachi in the distance
the dead are closer to God.
The most important and attractive building in Cachi is the Church of San Jose, located on the main square, with a beautiful white facade crowned by 3 bells and a cross. The interior is fairly plain and simple, and contains paintings related to the stations of the cross, a decorated altar and an impressive pulpit. If it's a hot day when you visit Cachi the cool interior is a great place to escape the heat.
Some of the remains of a pre-Inca settlement can be seen 2km south-west of Cachi at El Tero, which is an easy hike from the village. The tourist office supply a map showing the route. At first we weren't sure we had reached the correct site as it seemed little more than a few holes in the ground, but a local guide, Faviola, who was on hand gave us an interesting tour (she spoke no English but spoke slowly enough for us to follow) of the ruins and explained what the various areas were used for. Only a small number of the ruins have been excavated and there are many similar sites around the area awaiting discovery.
Cemeteries in the Calchaquies Valley are often located higher up from the towns. The idea, according to a local guide we spoke to in Cachi, is that the final resting places are closer to God.
To get the most out of this site it's best to have a guide and if you wait long enough one will probably show up (or you could ask at the tourist office and see the rest of the town's sites with a hired guide). Faviola also gave us some very useful information about Cachi and the surrounding region. We weren't really sure if we should pay her or not, and she said it was voluntary so we left her a small tip.
There is so much to see in Salta province that you really need to budget a lot of time to get it all done. We spent over a week in the province and still felt like we had only scratched the surface. It's a fantastic area to explore with beautiful scenery, friendly people and plenty to see and do.
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