Argentina: Salta *Musica Folklorica*

We arrived in Salta on April 18th after surviving our pretty relaxed 18-hour first-class bus journey from Mendoza. Salta, the biggest city in northwest Argentina, is known for its dramatic landscapes, laid-back lifestyle, and folk music. Salta is also home to a multitude of peñas, which are local gathering places for music and socializing. We first heard about Salta while we were in Buenos Aires and we’d been looking forward to visiting this lively city ever since.

Musica Folklorica

The first thing we noticed upon our arrival was that folk music was playing everywhere: inside restaurants, bars and shops as well as outside in public spaces. The music of the Andes features the sounds of flutes, string instruments and percussion. Passionate people by nature, Argentinians love their folk music and peñas are a part of everyday life for Salteños (folks from Salta).

We couldn’t resist the pull of the peñas and went out on three different nights to experience musica folklorica with the locals. Of course this meant catching a cab at 10:30 PM, eating a late dinner, and enjoying a bottle of Malbec while the musicians played their music. Look at us, acting like real Argentinians! I loved how the music took shape each night. Locals brought their guitars and flutes and took turns playing traditional folk songs while the crowd rhythmically clapped along. It was a special moment for us when the older man (pictured below) asked where we where from. Everyone clapped in our honor and then laughed good-naturedly as he sang Frank Sinatra’s classic hit, “New York, New York”. I belted out the lyrics the best I could while Harry clapped along. It was magic, pure peña magic.


Incan Ice Children 

Northwestern Argentina is the southern most region of the Inca Empire. Incan influences are visually tangible in Salta, creating a multicolored fabric blending old with new. The indigenous culture is ever present and the overall feel of the area is less European than the rest of Argentina.

The Museum of High Altitude Archaeology showcases a fascinating discovery. In 1999 a crew of archaeologists unearthed the bodies of three Incan children buried 500 years ago at 22,000 feet on top of the Andean Mount Llullaillaco. The children were killed in a ritual sacrifice and buried with youthful artifacts from their tribe. The cold and dry air preserved them and today they look eerily lifelike. One of the bodies is always on exhibit and it was pretty mind blowing to see the little girl dressed in the clothing she was wearing 500 years ago. It was a lot to wrap our minds around.

Salta: Around Town

We stayed in Salta for five days and kept ourselves busy exploring the city from top to bottom. We took the lazy way up to a fantastic vista by riding a cable car, but don’t worry, we walked the 1,000 steps back down. We happily found vendors making fresh fruit smoothies which reminded us of our stay in Santiago, Chile. I proudly sported my newish khaki travel pants with the zip-off legs all over town, looking more like a tourist than ever before. The tree-lined Plaza de 9 Julio was incredibly welcoming with its Spanish colonial architecture, grand churches and cobblestone streets.



Stunning Landscape

The landscape around Salta is truly phenomenal. One can experience high-altitude mountain peaks, deep gorges, valleys, wineries, and rainforests all in a day’s drive. We went on a fantastic day trip to Cachi, a village in the Andes. The views on this special day were spectacular.


Jujuy (hoo-hooey), Here We Come! 

We left Salta on April 23rd knowing that we only had one more week in Argentina, which was both exciting and a little sad. We never planned on spending three months exploring the country, but we sure had a great time doing so! We were very curious to see what Bolivia had in store for us. But first, we continued our journey north up to Jujuy for another few days of exploration and adventure. Yes, we agree — Jujuy is a really fun name to say!

Argentina: Mendoza *Malbec*

The wine capital of Argentina, Mendoza is a lovely city and it’s no wonder that so many people from around the world vacation here. While we loved our excursion to Chile for three weeks, returning to Argentina definitely felt like coming home.

Impressive Irrigation

Interestingly, Mendoza is actually an oasis in a desert. How is it that the streets are lined with trees and grapes grow aplenty, you ask? Thanks to the Inca’s brilliant engineering, there’s an intricate irrigation system that provides water throughout the city and into the countryside. All of the water comes from snow melt off the Andes. So the next time you open a bottle of delicious Malbec you might want to toast the Inca Empire.


The Independent Wine Tour 

Mendoza is saturated with hundreds of wineries and there are unlimited tours promising a perfect day sampling delicious wines. As you might know by now, Harry and I aren’t the biggest fans of going on a tour when we can do it just as well, or better, on our own. Despite protests from our hotel receptionist, who couldn’t believe we didn’t want to book a tour, we hopped on a local bus for an hour ride to one of Mendoza’s wine hot spots, Lujan de Cuyo.

The local bus was bumpy. And crowded. And it stopped approximately 197 times between Mendoza and our destination. Ready to drink some wine, we were relieved to finally get off the bus. We walked for a while, asked a nice man for directions, and then walked some more. A mile later we arrived at the gates of the winery. The gates were closed and the man wouldn’t let us in because we didn’t have reservations. “Why aren’t you on a tour?” he asked us.

With our independent heads hanging in defeat we walked a mile back to catch a bus to Mendoza. Lesson learned.

The Legitimate Wine Tour

The next day we threw in our towels and went on an official tour to wine country. We visited two wineries and an olive oil factory. It was a beautiful fall day, our mini van was comfortable and we tasted some delicious wine. Our favorite winery was Domiciano de Barrancas, a family owned business that specializes in harvesting their grapes at night. We received a very informative tour and generous samples of their wines. Production is small and most of their wine is exported to the US and Germany because the wine market is so saturated in Argentina. We bought a bottle of Malbec from the winery for $6.50, a great deal considering it sells for approximately $40 in the states.


The olive oil factory was also family owned and operated. We learned about the relatively simple process of crushing the whole olive, seeds included, with an enormous stone wheel. Then the mash is pressed through a series of screens to extract the oil. Only 15% of an olive is actually oil, so you can imagine how many olives it takes to fill a liter bottle. The tour ended after sampling a nice array of olive oils, some infused with fresh herbs.


Drink Up, It’s the Law

How’s this for a fabulous law: every establishment in the Mendoza region that sells food must also sell wine! Yes, even Mc Donald’s has wine on their menu.

Plate of the Day 

Argentinians love their afternoon naps, so you can count of many shops (restaurants and grocery stores included) being closed all afternoon. While I love this practice in theory, it totally makes buying lunch for two hungry Americans tricky. Introducing “Plate of the Day”, a concept that Harry has fully embraced. It’s simple. Many coffee shops and bakeries will offer a basic plate of food at a reasonable price…. you eat what they’ve prepared for the day, usually some kind of meat with rice or french fries (Argentine’s love their french fries!).

In this photo Harry’s about to eat meatballs and french fries, his first Plate of the Day since we returned from Chile. In the foreground of the photo you’ll see my lunch, the typical salad of lettuce, carrots and tomatoes sitting side-by-side. Not very exciting.

Here’s what IS exciting — finding a Mexican restaurant! Eating chips and salsa with a Margarita is a rare treat indeed and just one more reason to adore Mendoza.


Around Town

We walked up to the top of Cerro de Gloria (the Hill of Glory) to take in the views of Mendoza spread out below the foothills of the Andes. We were beyond impressed with the 14-ton bronze monument paying tribute to the liberation of Argentina. We walked through the extensive San Martin Park, a city park that’s a hub for recreation activities. Always in search of yummy, local and affordable food, we also found a fantastic empanada shop a few blocks away from our hotel that we visited a few times.


Northbound to Salta, Argentina

We had a wonderfully relaxing stay in Mendoza, but we were looking forward to heading up north to the city of Salta. The Salta region is famed for its ‘penas’, or gathering places, where locals go for folk music and socializing. But first we needed to survive another long haul, this time an 18-hour bus ride! Stay tuned….