The day was crystal-clear as we entered Salta from the south on Route 68. Afternoon temperatures hovered in the low-80s, with practically no humidity and a gentle breeze. The rental car’s air conditioner had died three days ago, so Salta’s fine weather was a welcome change from the heat of the southern deserts.
Hidden away in Argentina’s far northwest and ringed with mountains, Salta looks huge when compared to the small gaucho towns we passed through on the way from Cafayate. And with almost 400,000 people, it’s in fact the biggest city in the region.
You can see what I’m talking about in this video I shot from the highway above the city.
Salta is a city that defied my attempts to label it. It’s the best-preserved Spanish colonial city in Argentina…but it also has a blend of native Andean and gaucho overtones that make it unique in my experience.
It’s a traditional Spanish colonial town, yet Salta has the infrastructure and backbone that you’d expect in a large city in Argentina. You can drink the water…the streets are clean, safe, and well-maintained…and you’ll enjoy the shopping, restaurants, and cultural activities that Salta offers.
On one hand you can appreciate the artisan markets that reflect Salta’s pre-Hispanic Incan roots. But you can also enjoy the weekly concerts from the symphony orchestra…or shows at the theater or cinema…or an exhibition at the center for the arts.
The main square—Plaza 9 de Julio—is the energetic epicenter of Salta, where you’ll see hundreds of Salteños and visitors bustling about most any time of the day. Salta’s stately neoclassical Cathedral overlooks the town square. And around the square’s perimeter, you’ll see the French-style Museum of Contemporary Art, the city’s town hall (now also a museum) and the neoclassical Museum of High Mountain Archeology.
And that’s not to mention the plaza’s score of sidewalk cafes and restaurants, from which you can relax and sample Salta’s cuisine. And even these restaurants will reflect the blend of cultures here, mixing Andean fare like humitas, with world-class pasta dishes brought by Salta’s Italian immigrants. (A humita is a corn cake made with fresh corn, sautéed onions and some spices… wrapped in a corn husk and boiled.)
I found the properties in Salta to be reasonable. They’re not in the bargain-basement category, but neither are they expensive. All in all, I considered Salta’s real estate a good value when considering the city’s First-World infrastructure and enjoyable amenities.
I looked at a brand-new one-bedroom apartment for just $55,000. It was on the edge of town in one of the city’s nicest neighborhoods. In the same area (Barrio Grand Bourg) I saw a large 2,580-square-foot house going for an asking price of $210,000. It sat on a well-manicured lawn and even had a heated pool.
If you’d rather live in the historic district, you’ll find properties a bit more expensive. Prices are about twice those of the outlying areas, but it may be well worth it from a lifestyle perspective.
The best buy I found in the historic center was a 1,600-square-foot apartment located a few blocks from the main plaza. In a modern building, it includes a large terrace with a view of the city and mountains. The asking price is $200,000.
If you want a giant colonial-style home, a well-kept 3,400-square-foot house with an interior courtyard will set you back about $330,000.
Of course the closer you are to the square (or a famous historic site) the more you’ll pay. (The giant house mentioned above is just around the corner from a famous 16th-century monastery.)
The trip to Salta is fairly convenient from my home in Uruguay…but it’s a long haul from the U.S., including a connection in Buenos Aires. For the U.S. expats in the area however, its relative remoteness is part of the attraction of the area, and one of the reasons they came.
If you’d like a Spanish-colonial city that’s truly off the beaten path—with a rich cultural scene, amenities, and infrastructure—then Salta will be well worth a visit.
See my full report on Salta, including a more detailed property review, in the March issue of International Living magazine—available now to subscribers. (Read more about the magazine, and how to become a subscriber, here.)