With Antarctica off the cards, instead of going home or staying in Buenos Aires (while a great city, I don’t think we could’ve spent two full weeks there), we had to decide what we were going to do instead.
Our travel agent was very helpful – they had an office in Buenos Aires, so we dropped in for a chat – and less than an hour later we had an alternative itinerary for the rest of our time in Argentina, with our first stop being Salta.
Literally all I knew about Salta before we went, was that they grew wine in that region. I couldn’t even have pinpointed the general area on a map. So you might be wondering why we opted for Salta over a more well known touristic area such as Patagonia.
That is a really easy answer actually, because Patagonia was one of the options given to us. But what is Patagonia really well known for? Mountains, trekking, glaciers. Glaciers are great but they would have seemed like a sad consolation prize compared to Antartica, plus we saw many glaciers in Alaska and the Rockies during our trip last year (which I still haven’t finished writing up – for shame).
So Salta it was. As mentioned, it’s in the northwest of Argentina and is both a province and a city. Salta city is located in the Lerma Valley, at 1,152m above sea level, with a population of approximately 620,000, and is a couple of hours flight from Buenos Aires.
It’s not a huge place, and there’s not that much to do inside the city itself. We walked around the historical centre, which is quite nice, as well as taking the cable car up the mountain to see a higher perspective. The view isn’t that pretty, with the city sprawling as far as it can within the large valley, but it was something to do, although it didn’t take up as much time as we’d hoped.
We also visited MAAM, Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña, which is a museum that was created to present the Llullaillaco children. These three mummified Inca children were discovered in 1999 on the slopes of the Llullaillaco volcano at over 6,000m above sea level. They were child sacrifices, and the museum displays them one at a time, along with their burial goods and information about the Inca culture.
The boy was on display when we visited, and the amount of preservation (due to the cold temperature of the mountain) is incredible – think skin, hair, teeth, facial expressions, clothing – and probably nightmare inducing for sensitive people.
After our decision to go to Salta, almost everything I read about the city/region recommended trying empanadas. Sure, okay, I thought, we’d eaten empanadas in Buenos Aires, and how good could they possibly be?
Still, Alastair and I set off on a walk to find an empanada place that was highly recommended. It was a very warm day and the sun was shining brightly, and we walked quite far – so OF COURSE when we finally arrived – we couldn’t find it!
I don’t know if the place had closed or if we were just blind (even though we did walk up and down the block a few times) but this place was nowhere to be seen. Anyway, because it was so hot and we’d walked for such a long time, we opted for lunch at the closest restaurant. They had empanadas on the menu – beef, chicken and cheese – so we ordered two of each, plus a salad and a cold beer.
And? The empanadas? Were amazing?! A billion times better than the ones we ate in Buenos Aires. And this was just at a random restaurant that wasn’t noteworthy at all.
The beef / carne one was particularly memorable, filled with beef mince, cubed potato, spring onion and hard boiled egg, all wrapped in a thin crispy skin.
And they cost 8 pesos each (less than US$0.60 at the blue dollar exchange rate at the time). Incredible.
For dinner we ate at a restaurant very close to our hotel (pictured above) – pretty much across the road – called El Charrua.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Argentina, it’s that they eat dinner quite late, like the Spanish. Most people eat dinner between 9pm-12am. I had terrible jetlag for the first week, so I really struggled with this, and often we were the first diners in restaurants.
We ate at El Charrua twice. The first time we ordered poorly, choosing this meat platter that came with two different cuts of steak and chorizo.
It came out on coals, and since the steak was all sliced quite thinly, the meat overcooked in no time.
The second time we visited, we ordered differently. We ordered a salad for one!
And then we selected a steak each. I remembered how to request it medium-rare in Spanish and our waiter was so proud of me that she gave me a thumbs up. ;p
(This is pretty much the full extent of my Spanish barring food names: please, thank you, medium-rare, good, one, two, water with gas, the bill please.)
The steak was amazing – in the list of the best steaks I’ve eaten. Perfectly cooked, well seasoned, with a good crust. The meat was so delicious.
We didn’t eat dessert, but after we asked for the bill we received a complimentary glass of limoncello. I’m only mentioning this because I’m still astounded at how something can be both so incredibly alcoholic AND sweet. It was basically alcoholic sugar.
We were in Salta for three nights, so there’s part 2 coming up soon.