The Amazing Variety of N.W Argentina

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Is there anywhere else in the world that has so much stunning variety of scenery and diversity of species in such a comparatively small area? We can’t say we know the answer but with our biased view, think it’s pretty unlikely.

Whilst we are not keen on rattling off loads of numbers, the following may help put Salta Province into context. Argentina is just over ten times the size of the UK and the Province of Salta, on its own, is larger than England.

The population of the province, however, is only about 1.3 million with 800,000 of these living in the City of Salta. This leaves a lot of space for other stuff!

The region is dominated by the mountains and foothills of the Andes and within a couple of hours you can travel from the buzz of the city into the total silence of the Salinas Grandes (salt flats) or to the Altiplano at over 4500 meters.

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The foothills and mountains of the Andes make for stunning scenery at all times of the year. The lower hills are green for most of the year and the high Andes offer a glimpse into the tumultuous earth movements of the past. 

On the desert plains across the region the scenery ranges from hosts of cacti, standing upright as though ready for battle, surrounded by huge expanses of flat desert scrubland only broken by the sightings of Rhia or Lllama and Vicuňa.

The beautiful serenity of the Cloud Forest (also known as the Yungas) not far out of the city provides great examples of plant symbiosis, where moss and bromeliads cling to the trees in large numbers , creating a cool and mysterious environment.

The temperate valleys that contain lakes and rivers that run off of the Yungas and mountains complete the breadth of geographical environments that are present in this highly diverse area.

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The variety of geographical environments ensures that there is a massive diversity of wild life in the province of Salta.

In our three National Parks, El Rey, Baritũ and Los Cardones it is possible to see a number of wild cats; Jaguar, Cougar, and Panther if you are very lucky!

In the parks and across other parts of the province Tapirs, Anteaters, Armadillo, Fox and even Cayman which are quite easy to spot. The famous Llama, Vicuňa and Guanaco are numerous across the Altiplano, but you have to keep your eyes peeled as they easily meld into their environments.

Birds of all shapes and sizes can be found in all areas with Toucan, Chuňa, and parrots being the most colourful. There are a huge variety of birds of prey as well as the spectacular Condor the iconic bird of the Andes, worshiped by the Inca people and many civilizations before them.

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The history of the peoples and places of Salta province is still an area of great interest to visitors. To meet the indigenous peoples of the High Plain and the Yungas. You may also come across the Wichi people of the Chaco. To see how these people live in this modern age is quite remarkable. They have difficult lives with many challenges.

There are many opportunities to look into the past, to the time of the Inca and other pre-columbian peoples at archeological sites across the region. The famous ruins of Quilmes which was once inhabited by the mighty Calchaqui indians is located just outside the beautiful town of Cafayate. Going up into the Andes from Salta the ruins of Santa Rosa de Tastil are hidden off of the road leading up to the Altiplano these are a must see for those interested in early south american settlements.

You can see why we think we do pretty well on the variety front. This is only a glimpse. Come and join us in our search for more…Ian


The Markets of Argentina

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One of the joys of Latin America are the many and various markets. Its is possible to buy everything from household goods to fruit to T shirts to crafts on a street side market if you know where to look!

Every large town has a market, usually covered, selling meat, fish, vegetables and fruit alongside spices,  grains,  nuts, local cheeses and flowers. The stalls are usually grouped by type and there is considerable friendly rivalry. The meat stalls sell every type of animal product imaginable and unidentifiable innards are displayed alongside trotters as well as the usual cuts of meat and chicken.

There are usually plenty of places to eat too, and although they do not look too savoury, the produce is good quality, hot and cheap and safe  because there is a very quick turnover.  Empanadas and corn dishes are always popular

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Tourism hubs such as Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Cafayate have extensive craft markets. Woollen goods are widely available in traditional styles and a myriad of colours, most people invest in an Andean hat after a trip to the Salt flats ! There are also all sorts of basket weave, jewelry, pottery and wooden carvings. You can find everything from cocktail sticks to salad servers, and  cooking pots to tapestries They make attractive and inexpensive souvenirs and gifts. Many of the carvings are based on traditional Wichi designs using various differing coloured  hardwoods found in the Chaco region like Palo Santo or Bulnesia Sarmiento (green), Guayacán or Caesalpinia Paraguariensis (dark brown), iscayante and algarrobo or Locust tree (both reddish) and Palo Blanco or Phyllostylon Rhamnoides (light brown or yellowish).

Most of the small villages and towns have their own markets which sell similar produce  but because they are used by the locals the prices are more competitive.

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Working towns like Tilcara, have a profusion of  ferreterias ( ironmongers) and household goods shops amongst the coffee bars and hostels but the hub of the town is the central market.

The best place in northern Argentina to buy fresh lamb, goats cheese, pickles, andean potatoes and beans of every description. Alongside the fruit and food market is what is known as the American Feria, this where clothes donated in the USA are sold to locals through a collaborative.

It is possible to find real bargains at very cheap prices, some still have store labels on them.  There is plenty for children here too with toy stalls and sweets and the inevitable dogs chasing around. The touristy craft market is around the town plaza and really comes alive in the evenings when it is serenaded by the competing penas (folk music)

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My local market is the San Martin Mercado in Salta and I love the vibrant atmosphere with all the  colours, aromas  and noise.  I learnt early on not to plan menus then shop, as recommended in all house thrift and cookery books, as all produce here is seasonal.

However learning to live with the seasons is great and although many vegetables are slightly odd shapes and the fruit very ripe, the flavours are amazing and it is a pleasure to find new ways to cook or adapt favourite recipes. I am still an oddity here as most locals shop for vegetables on a daily basis and Im still in the  weekly mode, partly because we live a little out of town and its the habit of a lifetime, but fruit is definitely best bought on an as you need it basis.

Finally its ok to haggle if you are buying multiple items. Most market traders will round down or offer additional fruit to make change easier

Happy shopping ! Ceri