I don't recommend making the long-distance drive to Argentina's Northwest; it's safer and much easier to fly or take the bus, and hire a car when you get there.
By Plane -- Flights land at Martín Miguel De Güemes International Airport, RN 51 (tel. 387/424-2904), 8km (5 1/4 miles) from the city center. Aerolíneas Argentinas (tel. 0810/222-86527 or 387/431-0862; www.aerolineas.com.ar) flies three times a day, at 7am, 2:40pm, and 6:30pm. Andes Líneas Aéreas (tel. 0810/122-26337 or 387/424-9214; www.andesonline.com) flies from Buenos Aires at 8am every day (some flights make a stop in Córdoba) and LAN (tel. 387/424-8881; www.lan.com) flies twice a day, at midday and in the afternoon. Nonstop flights from Buenos Aires take 2 hours and cost between $200 and $210 (£136-£142) each way, depending on the season and availability. A shuttle bus travels between the airport and town for about $3 (£2) one-way; a taxi into town will run about $6 (£4.05).
By Bus -- The Terminal de Omnibus, or central bus station, is at Avenida H. Yrigoyen and Abraham Cornejo (tel. 387/401-1143). Buses arrive from Buenos Aires (18 hr.; $85/£57) and travel to San Salvador de Jujuy (2 1/2 hr.; $6/£4.05) and other cities in the region. Chevalier (tel. 387/431-2819) and La Veloz del Norte (tel. 387/401-2164) are the main bus companies.
The tourism office, Secretaría de Turismo de Salta, Buenos Aires 93 (tel. 387/431-0950 or 387/431-0640; www.turismosalta.gov.ar), will provide you with maps and information on dining, lodging, and sightseeing in the region. It can also help you arrange individual or group tours. It's open every day from 9am to 9pm. In Buenos Aires, obtain information about Salta from the Casa de Salta in Buenos Aires, Sáenz Pena 933 (tel. 11/4326-1314). It's open weekdays 10am to 6pm. A decent Internet source for the latest in Salta's wining-and-dining places is www.infovipsalta.com.
Salta is small and easy to explore on foot, but be careful; drivers here are pedestrian-blind, and the summer sun in the afternoon can be stifling. The Peatonal Florida is Salta's pedestrian walking street -- a smaller version of Calle Florida in Buenos Aires -- where most of the city's shops are. The main sites are centered on Plaza 9 de Julio, with a monument to General Arenales in the center and a beautiful baroque cathedral at its edge. Built in 1858, the Catedral is considered Argentina's best-preserved colonial church. All the other attractions here, except the Salta Tram and the Tren a las Nubes, are within easy walking distance.
By Bus -- A great new innovation is Bus Turistico Salta, 20 de Febrero 796 (tel. 387/422-7798; www.busturisticosalta.com), a shuttle service that takes visitors around the city in high-tech open-top buses. You can get on and off from any of the 14 stops and get the next bus that comes along, on average, every 25 minutes. The service starts at 9:30am and carries on until 8pm (with a pause from 1-4pm for siesta). Tickets cost $10 (£6.80) and can be bought on the bus when you board at any of the brightly painted stop signs. The route is as follows: Balcarce Street, Batalla de Salta, Palacio Legislativo, the Cathedral, Convento, Monumento a Quemes, Virrey, Portezuelo, Parque San Martín, La Viña, Paseo de los Poetas, the Mercado Artesanal, and Cabildo.
Renting a Car -- Noa Rent a Car, Buenos Aires 1 Local 6 (tel. 387/431-0740), has subcompacts and four-wheel-drives. Rentacar Noroeste, Buenos Aires 88, Local 10 (tel. 387/421-8999; www.rentacarnoroeste.com.ar), is located close by and offers reasonable rates. There are several car-rental offices on Caseros street and at the airport, most notably: Hertz, Caseros 374 (tel. 387/421-6785), and the airport (tel. 387/24-0113); Avis, Caseros 420 (tel. 387/421-2181), and at the airport (tel. 387/424-2289); and Budget, Caseros 421 (tel. 387/421-1953; www.budget.com.ar). Rates range from $45 to $90 (£31-£61) per day.
Renting a Bicycle/Motorbike -- Pura Vida, Mendoza 443 (no phone), rents bicycles for $12 (£8.20) for 24 hours. The store is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 4 to 9pm. A passport is required as guarantee.
The Train to the Clouds -- The Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) is one of the world's great railroad experiences -- a breathtaking ride that climbs to 4,220m (13,842 ft.) without the help of cable tracks. The journey takes you 434km (269 miles), through 21 tunnels and over 13 viaducts and 29 bridges, culminating in the stunning La Polvorilla viaduct. You will cross magnificent landscapes, making your way from the multicolored Lerma valley through the deep canyons and rugged peaks of the Quebrada del Toro and on to the desolate desert plateau of La Puña. The train stops at the peak, where your tour guide (there's one in each car) will describe the region's topography and check that everyone is breathing fine and not suffering from altitude sickness. In the small town of San Antonio de los Cobres, you'll have a chance to buy handicrafts, ponchos, and other textile goods from the indigenous people. The 15-hour ride includes a small breakfast, lunch, and a folkloric show with regional music and dance. A restaurant, post office, communications center, and infirmary are among the first-class passenger cars. The ride makes for a fascinating experience, but be prepared for a very long day, as departure is at 7am and the train returns at 11pm. Always check ahead, as cancellations are common.
For more information, contact General Belgrano Train Station, Ameghino and Balcarce (tel. 387/421-5658), or Tren a las Nubes Buenos Aires Office, Av. Córdoba 650 (tel. 11/5246-6666; www.trenalasnubes.com.ar). The train operates from April to November and departs Salta's General Belgrano Station.
Tickets cost $140 (£95), including breakfast and lunch, and can be purchased at any of Salta's conventional travel agencies.
Currency Exchange -- Exchange money at the airport, at Dinar Exchange, Mitre and España (tel. 387/432-2600; Mon-Fri 9am-1:30pm and 5-8pm; Sat 10am-3pm), or at Banco de La Nación, Mitre and Belgrano (tel. 387/431-1909; Mon-Fri 9am-2pm). Traveler's checks can be changed at Masventas, España 666 (tel. 387/431-0298; www.masventasnet.com.ar; Mon-Fri 9am-1:30pm and 5-8pm).
Emergency -- Dial tel. 911 for police, tel. 100 for fire, and tel. 107 for an ambulance. The tourism police are located on Calle Mitre 23 (tel. 387/437-3199; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Hospital -- Saint Bernard Hospital is at Dr. M. Boedo 69 (tel. 387/431-8320).
Laundry -- Sol de Mayo, 25 de Mayo 755 (tel. 387/431-9718), provides a same-day service with free delivery, as does Florencia, Ibazeta 640 (tel. 387/432-2048).
Spanish Classes -- Bien Argentina (tel. 387/15-475-0679 [cell]; www.bien-argentino.com.ar) will hook you up with some local teachers.
Tour Operators -- Explore the region with Saltur Turismo, Caseros 485 (tel. 387/421-2012), or Incauca Turismo, Mitre 274 Local 33 (tel. 387/422-7568; www.incaucaturismo.com). La Vinia, Alberdi 453 (tel. 387/421-9099), is a conventional agency that will help out with flights and packages all over Argentina. The tourist office also recommends English-speaking guides. Ferro Turismo, Buenos Aires 191 (tel. 387/431-5314; www.ferroturismo.todowebsalta.com.ar), organizes bus excursions along the Tren a las Nubes railway as far as the famous La Polvorilla viaduct.