Located north of Salta, almost in Bolivia, the Quebrada de Humahuaca is a place unlike anything else in Argentina. A gorge in between two mountain ranges offers multi-coloured hills, forests of cacti, a unique culture and many historical sights. It is not a surprise that this valley was declared a world heritage site by Unesco.
There are several ways of visiting the Quebrada de Humahuaca. The easiest but also most rushed one is by going on an organised tour from Salta. These tours will take you all the way up to Humahuaca, give you half an hour at major sights and will then drive you back to Salta.
The far more relaxed way that allows you to take in places at your own pace is to hire a car and spend a night in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. If you decide to go by yourself, here are some of the highlights you should not miss:
#1 See the multi-coloured mountains
The Quebrada de Humahuaca is known for its colourful mountains. Driving through the gorge, you will find many places where you can take in the multi-coloured rocks.
In the morning, your best bet is to see the hill of seven colours near Purmamarca. It is most colourful if you come here before lunchtime. The colours are barely visible in the evening.
After lunch, the eastern side of the gorge lights up with colours. You should both take in the Painter’s Palette near Maimara and the Rainbow Mountains just south of it.
you can easily spend all day driving around, looking at the colourful mountains
#2 Stroll through the village of Humahuaca
Humahuaca is a cute little village in the northern gorge. Its centre consists of cobblestone streets and adobe houses. Next to the town square, you can find the oldest building in the region, a church, and the cabildo. The latter is a beautiful white building worth taking a look at. From here, you can also climb up to the Independence Monument and enjoy the view of the valley.
During the day, the town is full of tourists but it all quiets down when the tour buses leave.
1 – 2h
#3 Visit the ruins at Pucará de Tilcara
These ruins date from the 11th to the 15th century. The village had a strategic location on top of a hill and, standing here, you have a great view over the surrounding valleys.
People’s main occupation was, as hard as it is to believe in this dry climate, agriculture. They mainly grew potatoes that they then traded for salt whenever llama caravans arrived from the salt flats some hundred kilometers away.
While walking through the reconstructed village, look out for the tombs next to the house entrances. Locals would bury the dead close to them and exhume them once a year, to celebrate their passing into the next world.
#4 Shop in Purmamarca
The pretty town of Purmamarca, at the bottom of the Hill of Seven Colours, is where you want to go if you’re looking for souvenirs. Around the main plaza, you will find many stalls offering woven goods, from jackets to blankets, scarfs or bags. If you’re heading up into the Andes, this is a great place to stock up on warm clothes.
#5 Eat llama stew
Llama meat is a local specialty. If you haven’t had it yet, the Quebrada de Humahuaca is a great place to try. Restaurants all along the valley serve llama filet or stew but a great place to try it is the village of Humahuaca. Here, you will find a high concentration of restaurants offering authentic local dishes.
For those of you who are wondering what llama is like, personally, I think that it tastes a lot like pork (no, for once it is not like chicken). I went for the stew, which was delicious and which I can highly recommend.