Salta Province in Argentina

on Monday, May 10, 2010

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While many a traveler's Argentine gaze rarely moves off Buenos Aires's bountiful charms, visitors seeking a genuine gaucho experience in one of the country's most visually stunning regions have been schlepping the nearly 1,000 miles from the capital to Salta. A forward-thinking government has spent the last decade focused on connecting the region's colonial-era towns, encouraging agricultural modernization (like the young but robust wine industry), and making it easier for tourists to get an eyeful of scenery that rivals the American Southwest in natural beauty -- especially along the road from Salta to Cafayate, which is dotted by red rocks and cliffs and some two dozen wineries. The Tren a las Nubes ("train to the clouds") reopened in 2008 and now ferries passengers 13,842 feet above ground, over 269 miles on the day-long journey through mountains and desert, colonial towns and adobe villages, crossing the paths of gauchos, Indians, and European winemakers along the way. For an urban experience, Salta City's restaurants serve local cuisine that's inspired rather than parochial, and folk taverns fill with dancers and musicians playing along to the region's SalteƱa soundtrack.