Wine, art and archaeology: three unmissable museums in Salta

Museums to visit in Salta

Salta, a province in northern Argentina, has a range of different cultural experiences to offer including a number of museums dedicated to local history and tradition. Here, we share three museums to visit in Salta that you won’t want to miss out on: a space dedicated to the artist James Turrell at Bodega Colomé; the MAAM (Museum of High Mountain Archaeology), which was recently named for the second consecutive year as the Best Museum in Argentina, and the Museum of Vineyards and Wine in Cafayate.

Essential museums to visit in Salta

Museums to visit in Salta

The James Turrell Museum at Bodega Colomé

The journey to Molinos, where Colomé is located, is an experience in itself, running through a landscape of a thousand colors and ancient mountain scenery. Starting out from the city of Salta, once must drive up the snaking roads of the Cuesta del Obispo, cross the Valle Encantado and the Parque Nacional Los Cardones, and span the Recta del Tin Tin (among many other geographic and historic attractions) before you get to the winery, which is set at a height of 7545 feet above sea level.

After you’ve tasted their excellent wines and enjoyed the amenities at the hotel and restaurant, the visit includes a tour of the museum whose collection consists of five decades of the work of Californian artist James Turrell, the wizard of light. It is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding museums to visit in Salta. 

The building has a surface area of 1700m2 and was built on the artist’s instructions. It opened in 2009 and belongs to the Hess Art Collection (Donald and Úrsula Hess, the winery’s owners, decided to dedicate their museum entirely to the eponymous contemporary artist renowned for his work with light and space).

You won’t find any hanging paintings or sculptures here (except for sketches in the entrance hall). All there is, is light (natural and artificial) arranged to generate a range of emotions among viewers. As the tour goes on, viewers will grow increasingly bewitched and curious, wondering about the nature of light; its density, weight and power to create illusions.  

The works exhibited include “Spread 2003” (a large hall one climbs up a staircase to reach, lit with blue light. Once there, the visitor feels as though they’re floating in a void) and “Unseen Blue 2002” (an interior patio with a view of the sky that provides a 27-minute view of the colors of the sunset, lying on the floor. This experience is exclusive to hotel guests).  

“My hope is to create a situation in which the viewer can get involved and begin to look for themselves. To make it their experience,” says Turrell. 

When you leave, the silence of the mountain and chance to sample some of the best wines Salta has to offer make the experience complete as many different kinds of art come together.

Ruta Provincial 54 Km.  21 km from Molinos, Salta. Tel.: +54 3868-494200. Reservations must be made in advance. Entrance to the Museo James Turrell is included with a wine tasting. More information is available at: https://www.bodegacolome.com/turismo/

Museums to visit in Salta

Museo Arqueología de Alta Montaña (Museum of High Mountain Archaeology, MAAM)

In the center of the city of Salta, close to Plaza 9 de Julio, one finds the MAAM, which was chosen in 2022 for the second consecutive year as the best museum of Argentina in Tripadvisor’s Traveler’s Choice awards, which are voted on by travelers from across the world. Undoubtedly, one of the most rewarding museums to visit in Salta.  

Its collection is made up of archaeological exhibits related to ancestral Inca practices in the high mountains. Highlights include the mummies and sacred possessions of three children discovered in 1999 at the peak of the Llullaillaco Volcano in the Andes.

After extensive research, it was determined that they were offerings to the gods made during the sacrifice ceremony known as Capacocha, a ritual the Incas performed in gratitude to the sun following plagues or natural disasters, around 500 years ago.  

The elements featured among the different offerings were made with materials from different regions and had symbolic meaning as well as offering clues about the different activities, roles and hierarchies of Inca worship.  

The Llullaillaco mummies were extremely well-preserved thanks to the high-altitude atmosphere (over 10,000 feet) in which they remained for centuries.  

Today they are kept in specially built capsules that provide an all-round view of the bodies, with an atmosphere of 2% oxygen, a stable temperature of -20°C, and UV and IR filtered lighting to ensure their continued conservation.  

There are three mummies, which are considered to be the best preserved in the world:  

  • The Maiden, a 15 year old girl with braided hair and crossed legs.  
  • The Boy, 7 years old, with a white feather headdress and colored blankets, and
  • The Lightning Girl, 6 years old, whose face, arms and ceremonial objects were partially scorched by a lightning strike.

Bartolomé Mitre 77, Salta City.  Tuesday to Sunday, from 11AM to 7PM. https://www.maam.gob.ar/

Museums to visit in Salta

Museo de la Vid y el Vino (Museum of Vineyards and Wine)

In Cafayate, the home of the wine industry of the Calchaquí Valleys, one finds another one of these museums to visit in Salta: it is on the Wine Tour circuit, and opened in 2011, expanding on a previous museum known as “The Enchanted Winery.”  

The museum is divided into three large sections: one begins with “Vineyard Memories” where educational materials, audiovisual installations and interactive models including a stream running through the museum and images of harvesters that greet the visitors are used to teach about the life cycle of the vine and wine’s relationship with the soil, climate, water and the work of people in the region.    

The tour then moves on to what was formerly the Enchanted Winery, with its original vats traditionally used to ferment the wines. 

In the second gallery, “Wine Memories” tells the story of Calchaquí viticulture and the information is accompanied by historic objects such as a wooden press, objects from the fields and ancient winemaking tools. 

There’s also a restaurant where one can enjoy excellent Salteñan empanadas and traditional dishes such as locro, all accompanied, of course, by delicious wines. Try the Torrontés, an icon of Salta winemaking, as well as the Malbec and Tannat.

The museum’s opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 9AM to 6PM. https://www.culturasalta.gov.ar/organismos/museo-de-la-vid-y-el-vino/18

Of course, these are only a few of the many museums to visit in Salta, where you’ll soon find out why it’s known as “La Linda” (The Beautiful).

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