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I just got back from 6 days in Salta. It was some of the most spectacular scenery I ever saw. 4 days of driving around the different canyons and gorges and every day the scenery was different. I could have easily stayed another couple of days and seen more.
Salta city is very cute and worth spending a day walking around in. Try to squeeze in a visit to MAAM (Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montaña) to see the artifacts and 500-year old mummy of a young Incan girl which is amazingly well preserved and lifelike. There is some debate about whether or not this should be on public display and I can see both sides of the argument, but it´s an incredible experience none the less. The museum shop is also the best shopping I found in Salta, high quality craftsmanship using traditional methods and a great selection of prints, handicrafts and weaving.

There are tons of tour companies in Salta. Be sure to book with one that does small groups so you are in a 4×4 or minivan. There are some places the big busses can´t go (and obviously, it´s less pleasant). I arranged some of my tours beforehand and went with Nordic Travel.  The English guides were great and they were very flexible about stopping for picture taking as we went along. There are lots of excursions available, I did 4 one-day trips (in order of favorites):

  • Tren de los Nubes with Salines Grandes – the salt flats are incredible. 25 square miles of blinding white salt. The trip to get out there is also breath taking and follows the path of the currently benched Tren de los Nubes. It´s an 11 hour tour but totally worth it. Originally I was disappointed he train wasn´t working but I now think it´s much better to do by car.  You see 90% of the same scenery and you can make stops.
  • Humuacha – more details on this and the other tours later, I´m tired
  • Cachi
  • Cafayate

On our first winery tour the other 2 people in our group had gone to 743 Bistro for dinner the night before and raved about it, so we had to try. As an appreciator of wine, I have to say it was one of the coolest dining experiences I ever had. The story goes that a group of local chefs from the area winery restaurants used to get together regularly to test out food/wine pairings on each other. One of them (Lukas) decided to turn it into a full fledged concept with the help of one of his friends. They rented a house and the restaurant is in the living room (only about 5 tables) facing a small garden. It´s a set menu of 15 mini-courses that changes each season. 3 Courses for each wine. After each course, diners are asked if they felt the pairing was correct and explained the chef´s rationale for matching that dish to the particular wine. It was really amazing how each course could make the same wine taste completely different. There is a strong emphasis on local ingredients as well as local wines. Start to finish it´s about a 4 hour meal. The portions are small and relatively light so you don´t leave feeling completely overstuffed. It´s a bit much to do after a day of tastings but if you can squeeze it in, I highly recommend it. Call ahead for reservations. About U$D40 pp.

My mom and I had a GREAT time in Mendoza. Mendoza is a hot destination so I recommend arranging your hotel in advance (unlike we did) in order to get a spot at one of the cute boutique hotels. We ended up in a sub-par hotel that I won´t bother to mention. The city itself is cute and nice to walk around in for a half a day, but there isn´t a ton to see or do in the city itself.
We arranged tours with Grape Vine Tours beforehand (My mom had seen them mentioned in a NY Times travel article). They were great, the groups were never more than 4 (unlike some other companies that use large tour busses). The guides were extremely knowledgeable and fun. The tasting lunches in the wineries were excellent (make sure your tour includes a lunch at Ruca Malen)! They took us to see mainly small boutique wineries (or micro-wineries). We did 2 one-day winery tours broken up with a daytrip into the mountains to see the Inca bridge, the national park to catch a glimpse of Aconcagua (the largest peak in South America) and Seven Colors Rock- also arranged by Grapvine.

My favorite wine is Melipal, which also is a great visit and the best tasting (sit down with olives, raisins and walnuts) but my other favorite winery visits were:

  • O.Fournier – a crazy space age facility with amazing views.
  • Tapiz – I´m not a huge fan of their wines but the tour is excellent and you really get to witness the whole process (tasting the grapes from the different varietals, tasting the wine during different stages of fermentation).

Now that I have been here for a few weeks, I think I can confidently make recommendations of where to stay. Keep in mind that taxis are pretty cheap (a 10 min ride usually costs me about $2.50) and the Subte is user-friendly, cheap and can get you pretty much everywhere during the day. I´m still intimidated to take the bus on my own, but that´s because my Spanish is so bad.

Las Canitas – a little bit out of the way, but v cute with lots of trees, cafes and restaurants. Nice for a longer stay and more bang for your buck if you´re renting a vacation apartment.

Palermo – yes, this is where a lot of the expats hang out however there are weekend markets, nice bars, the best shopping I have found in the city and tons of restaurants. It also the largest (by far) neighborhood in BA: I prefer Palermo Viejo to Palermo Hollywood, personally but it doesn´t make a big difference.

Barrio Norte – I think this is the best bet if you´re on a budget. There´s not a whole lot going on in Barrio Norte itself but it borders with Parlemo Viejo and Recoleta. You get a great location and it´s a lot cheaper than staying in either of those. I can get pretty much wherever I want to go by walking for 20 minutes.

A word about San Telmo – this is where you want to walk around during the day, but not where you want to stay. It´s cute but v touristy and not that exciting at night. I don´t think it would enhance your visit to stay here.

If you´re here for a week or longer, it´s worth it to get an apartment. Not only is it less expensive, it´s nice to have some space and a kitchen (and many incl made service). I found my place on craigslist, however www.apartmentsba.com is also a good place to look.

Cicerones is a non-profit that matches proud Porteños with visitors to go on 4-hour custom walking tours. You fill in a form outlining the kinds of things you are interested in (art, architecture, sports, etc), the area(s) of BA you are keen to see and they match you with a volunteer. I had a great time with my Cicerone, Ariel. He picked me up and we took the subte down to San Telmo and then continued on to La Boca and took the bus back up to Barrio Norte. Because the guides are volunteers they are not professionally trained, they are sharing ´´their´´ Buenos Aires with you. It is free, but the visitor is responsible for covering costs (transportation costs, any entrance fees and in my case, beer).

I arrived in Buenos Aires VERY early yesterday and settled into my studio apartment I rented for a month. I think I´m in Barrio Norte but different maps seem to tell me different things… today I wandered around Recoleta and had the cheapest afternoon at the salon ever ($3 to get my brows dealt with – and it was a pretty nice place!!). Not speaking Spanish made it interesting and before I looked in the mirror I imagined myself with Greta Garbo eyebrows, which thankfully was not the case. Tomorrow I will try to sort out the Spanish lessons and SIM card (apparently I need my passport to get one..who knew?).

Luckily my corner store is run by Chinese people, otherwise I would have starved. OK, that´s an exaggeration but Mandarin did some in handy – esp when I went to pay and realized I forgot my wallet at home. The staff were pretty surprised (and entertained) to hear a gringa bust out the Putonghua .

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