Salta, Argentina: A Colonial City With Small Town Appeal

As I crested the final hill on Argentina’s scenic Route Nine, the city of Salta appeared shimmering before me in the morning light. Unable to avoid the temptation to take a quick video of the valley spreading out for miles into the distance, I pulled my rental car into a no-parking zone.

Ringed by tall peaks in Argentina’s far northwestern highlands, this is a city that defies labeling. Widely known as Argentina’s best-preserved colonial city, Salta is still not exactly “Spanish America”…but it’s not typical “Argentina,” either.

Unlike faraway Buenos Aires, Salta in many ways resembles other Spanish Colonial cities found in the Andes, with its food, customs and ethnic mix. But unlike most of these cities, it boasts a high-grade infrastructure (with drinkable water), and a state of cleanliness and preservation that’s hard to find elsewhere.

It has the facilities and amenities of a large city…with the comfort, safety and hominess of a small town.

Then there’s the cultural scene, which offers theater, cinema and an arts center…as well as a symphony orchestra and contemporary art museum. And best of all, it’s affordable to live here.

Life in Salta costs a fraction of what it does in Buenos Aires, and you can buy a comfortable apartment downtown for less than $75,000.

The city of Salta is the capital of Argentina’s Salta province, which borders Chile, Bolivia, and Paraguay. It’s a dramatic and diverse province in the heart of gaucho country, home to lush valleys, wind-blown desert, and 13,000 foot snow-capped peaks.

Salta itself enjoys one of Argentina’s best climates. A medium-size city—374,000 inhabitants—it’s perched at an altitude of 3,850 feet. Average summertime highs are in the low 80s Fahrenheit, with nights in the low 60s. In winter, you can expect days in the high 60s and nights in the mid 30s.

The historic center—known locally as microcentro—is where you’ll find most of Salta’s attractions, cobblestoned streets and colonial architecture…including lots of classic buildings dating from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

In general, when looking at real estate you should avoid the run-down areas on the south side of the city…but you’ll find good sectors most everywhere else downtown.

I found a wide selection of properties available in the historic district. However, be advised that few authentic colonials ever hit the market…so most advertised “colonial” properties are in fact “colonial-style,” rather than from the actual colonial period.

One such house I looked at is a huge, two-story colonial-style home of 3,460 square feet, with five bedrooms, five baths, a maid’s quarters, three-car garage and an interior garden. The asking price is $330,000.

Two-bedroom apartments start at about $55,000. But for the ones I’d live in myself, you’ll pay from $72,000 downtown, and more like $95,000 in the actual historic district.

For $72,000, I found a brand-new two-bedroom apartment with a balcony, carport and lots of elegant wood trim. It’s on the north edge of the downtown—two blocks from a large park—on a street that has several restorations going on.

My favorite property in the historic district was a 1,600-square-foot apartment located a few blocks from the main plaza. In a modern building, it includes three bedrooms and two baths, with service quarters, garage and a large terrace with a view of the city and mountains. It occupies the entire floor. The asking price is $200,000.

In the March issue of International Living magazine, I give a full report on Salta and the properties available there, including contact information. To read my full Salta article, subscribe to the IL magazine.