Salta, Argentina, founded in 1582, still has a very Spanish feel. That's ironic, because this city 800 mi/1,290 km northwest of Buenos Aires is where the decisive battle for Argentine independence from Spain took place. There is also plenty of Inca history mixed in. The capital of the Salta province, it offers a few days' worth of sightseeing while retaining a relaxed small-city ambience.

Today, the city offers some nice self-guided walking tours: There are quite a few colonial buildings, some converted into museums, that are worth a look. The main plaza, 9 de Julio, is an enticing place to while away an afternoon at an outdoor cafe. Be sure to try Andean foods while in Salta—the empanadas and corn-based dishes such as tamales and humitas are delicious. Llama appears on many menus.

Tobacco is grown in deep gorges around the outskirts of town, a few wineries are established and there's a 700-ft-/215-m-long, 190-ft-/60-m-high train viaduct. For an overview of the city, take a cable car from Parque San Martin up to Cerro San Bernardo.

Excursions can be made from Salta to Cafayate or Jujuy. The heavily promoted Train to the Clouds offers a round-trip of 215 mi/350 km (Salta-La Polvorilla viaduct-Salta) passing over mountain ranges, deep gorges and beautiful scenery (the very earth seems to change colors, depending on the time of day). A startling feat of engineering and one of the great train adventures in the world, the ride takes a full day. Altitude sickness can be a problem—the viaduct is 13,845 ft/4,220 m above sea level.

About 55 mi/90 km east of Salta is El Rey National Park, which is full of birds and other wildlife. The park was created to protect Argentina's southernmost subtropical forest. Plan a night in Salta, or two nights if you're seeing area attractions.

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