Salta is off the beaten path; way off compared to Buenos Aires. But that can be a good thing. Relatively new to the tourist route, Salta is well worth a day spent walking and discovering all it has to offer. Just 15 years ago, according to the estancia’s manager, “Salta was a white space on the map.” Most of the tourists in Salta come from Argentina.
A big part of the reason it is now on the tourist map, is the Inca children found on top the volcano Llullaillaco and the museum built for keeping, preserving and exhibiting that important find (March 1999). National Geographic partially sponsored the excavation (a joint effort between the US and Peruvian and Argentinean mountaineers and archaeologists), the results of which are now housed in the MAAM, Museo Archeological de Alta Montana. The exhibit includes films of the discovery, funerary objects and accoutrements, and the three mummified children. All three children are not displayed at once, rather they are rotated. The day we visited, El Nino, (the boy) was on display. So life-like are the mummies, so real and recent looking, that it was a far more emotional experience than I was expecting. The 6 year old girl, 7 year old boy, and 15 year old maiden were dressed in their finest, given corn alcohol to drink and coca leaves to chew, and then buried on the mountain top.
The exhibit discussed the ceremonial aspect, but it was hard to get around that when the children looked so real, almost alive. The atmospheric conditions at 6,739 meters (22,109 feet) freeze-dried the bodies and mummified them naturally. This museum alone was worth the visit to Salta, but we saw so much more.
We walked from the bus station into the main square, Plaza 9 de Julio, passing many historic buildings along the way, some of them Beaux Arts style. For the most part, the buildings were not restored, save for a few around the main plaza, now museums.
We visited two such museums, the Museo Historico Del Norte, and the Casa de Gobierno, from 1913, in the Art Nouveau style. The MAAM was my favorite, but they were all worthwhile. The Historical Museum of the North is considered the best preserved and most complete “Cabildo” in all of Argentina. It dates to as far back as 1626, but is most representative of buildings from 1789 to 1807.
We took a short break for lemonadas, browsed through the stalls of a market, then had a nice lunch on the main square.
There was less graffiti here in Salta than Buenos Aires, and I actually liked this painting on a building.
A little more shopping and walking around while waiting for the church to reopen for afternoon visits. We learned that the black and red colors of the ponchos worn by the gauchos during the war symbolized red for blood and black for death.
At 5 pm the Iglesia y Convento San Francisco church opened its door for visitors. It is being restored on the exterior, and is fashionably covered in a faux exterior. That was a nice change from the usual ugly construction scaffolding.
The taxis were cheap and numerous, costing only $2 – $3 for rides to the market and the bus station from Plaza 9 de Julio. The 1 hour and 15 minute bus out and back from the estancia was only $2 each way.