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 centeras 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 Heart of Gaucho Country
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 with 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. Rainfall is low-moderate (27.5 inches per year), with most rain falling between November and March. The Spanish founded Salta in 1582, several years prior to Buenos Aires. But Salta, as part of the Inca Empire, was an important city long before the arrival of the Spanish. And the Incas left a strong cultural infiuence in the area, which you'll see in today's celebrations, traditions and cuisine.
Getting to know Salta
The historic center, known locally as microcentrois, 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. On Salta's center square, Plaza 9 de Julio, you'll find its famous neoclassical cathedral, the French-style Museum of Contemporary Art, the city's town hall (now also a museum) and the neoclassical Museum of High Mountain Archaeology, known for its Incan artifacts. And just around the corner, you'll enjoy the best downtown shopping in the city on its two pedestrian streets, Alberdi and Florida. A few blocks away, you'll see the ornate and majestic San Francisco church, not far from the 16th-century San Bernardo convent, still in use today. Nightlife in Salta is lively, varied and safe, as visitors enjoy its many pubs, cafes and casinos. Most of this activity is concentrated in the area around the train station, known as La Balcarce also the site of a famous craft street market on the weekends. You'll find that the Spanish siesta tradition is still observed here, and most of the shops in the city shut down between 1:00 p.m and 5:00 p.m.
City Living from $72,000
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. You can call the owner on her cell at +54 (387) 155-806-644. She speaks a little English, but speak slowly. 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. It's listed with Arias Propiedades. Call +54 (387)421-7488, see: Propiedadesarias.com.ar. 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 fioor. The asking price is $200,000. For more information, call +54 (387) 422-2213.
Great Deals on the Edge of Town
I found a couple of areas outside the town proper that also deserved a closer look. Barrio Grand Bourg is an upscale neighborhood on the northwest edge of Salta, with quiet, clean streets, larger modern homes and big lots. And thanks to its elevated position, some areas have good views to the city. Prices in Barrio Grand Bourg are generally less than in Centro. I saw a solid brick house with a tile roof on a green, manicured lot. With three bedrooms, two baths and a modern kitchen, this 2,580-square-foot home has a two-car garage and a heated pool. At an asking price
of $210,000, it comes in at just $875 per meter ($81 per square foot). It's available from Veyka. See: Inmobiliariaveyka.com.ar. This is less than half the price you'd pay in Centro for this clean, quiet, suburban setting. Of course, you don't have the convenience of downtown living, so it may be a tradeoff. But there is frequent bus service to Centro from Grand Bourg, so you can go downtown without owning a car. I also saw some brand-new, one bedroom/one-bath condos that just came on the market in Grand Bourg. With a balcony and carport, the asking price is $55,000. For more information, write to Horacio Bielli Propiedades at email@example.com or see: Bielli.com.ar. Southeast of town, you'll find the La Pedrera riverside development. It's a just-launched 30-acre project on a small river, about a mile from town, offering 82 lots of 800 square meters and larger. The project has underground utilities, but otherwise is amenity-freeaside from five acres of park space. Two houses were already under
construction during my visit to the site. The price of the lots is 55 pesos per square meter, which works out to $11,300 for an 800-meter lot on the river or $14,000 for a quarter-acre. Limited financing is available. It's an excellent deal for a second home site. And since there is no build requirement, I think it's also a good buy-and-hold opportunity. You can see a video I made of this project
here: Intliving.com/pedrera. For more information, contact Patricia L. Velez, tel. +54 (387) 422-8279, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is Salta for You?
The only down side I see to life in Salta is that it's a long haul when coming from the U.S., requiring a connection in Buenos Aires. Otherwise, if you'd like a Spanish Colonial city, but one with theater, art, music, and a solid Argentine infrastructurethen Salta may well be for you.