Travel through many-colored hills, infinite salt flats, hidden waterfalls and ruins of pre-Hispanic settlements.
The northwestern province of Jujuy boasts some of the country’s most impressive landscapes. Jujuy is known for its colorful hills and mountains, the warmth of its people, its delicious food, the connection with the Pachamama that permeates the villages of the puna and the quebrada, the friendly (domesticated) llamas and the gorgeous handmade textiles sold in local markets.
A trip to Jujuy might be a chance to relax in the peaceful quiet of nature or the possibility to exert yourself on high altitude hikes and outdoor activities. The good news is that there are experiences and tours for people interested in either.
Because the distance between these three towns is short, we recommend choosing one as your base. The town of Purmamarca is perhaps the most picturesque, at the foot of the magnificent Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors) and en route to the Salinas Grandes salt flats. Tilcara, only 26 km from Purmamarca, is the biggest town, with the greatest variety of services and restaurants. There is even a campus of the University of Buenos Aires. Humahuaca, 45 km from Tilcara, is perhaps the site that best represents the local culture.
We recommend spending at least one day in each of these destinations, but it’s ideal to take a longer trip. Between the towns there are many more places to visit – Maimara ecological wineries, the Salinas Grandes salt flats (where you can learn about the manual process of salt extraction) and more. We recommend spending two days in the Purmamarca area, another two days in Tilcara and surrounding area and one day in Humahuaca.
Purmamarca is a beautiful and serene town surrounded by the most incredible natural phenomena. Located only 65 km from Jujuy Capital or 187 km from Salta, it’s home to the spectacular Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors). You’ll be able to see the hill and its colors from almost any part of the town, but for an easy hike and a small entrance fee paid to the local community (AR$10), you can climb El Porito for the best view. From El Porito you’ll be able to see the whole town and get great photos. At sunset people go there to drink mate.
Locals say that the light, particularly in the morning and at sunset, makes the landscape change color. You’re sure to see this when you cross the Paseo de los Colorados, a 3 km road through red and violet rock formations with beautiful views. You can go by foot, bike, car or even with a caravan of llamas. It begins at one end of the town and ends at the other, close to the main square, home to the area’s best craft market. Around the square you’ll find many businesses, grocery stores and restaurants that open after 19:30hs. There are also some beautiful beautique hotels.
After leaving Purmamarca and crossing the serpentine Cuesta de Lipán, which reaches up to 4300 meters and offers breathtaking views, you’ll reach the Salinas Grandes. Hire a guide to explore this enormous, active salt flat, where different national and foreign companies and the local indigenous community extract salt and lithium. While there, you can visit the “eyes”, huge groundwater ponds in the middle of the salinas that to the local people are a mystery because they never dry up.
From Purmamarca, take route 9 north. First you’ll come across, Maimara, a small town with several attractions. We recommend the Paleta del Pintor, a colorful hill, the picturesque local cemetery on the slope facing the route and the Fernando Dupont winery (http://bodegafernandodupont.com/), the first winery in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, which produces high-altitude wines. Tilcara is just 5 km away. It’s the most developed town in the area, with more services, several restaurants, a market, a campus of the University of Buenos Aires. Just outside of town there are natural attractions such as the Garganta del Diablo waterfall and historical sites like the Pucará.
Drive 8km or hike 5km (uphill) to reach the entrance of the Garganta del Diablo. From the top there are great views of Tilcara and you’ll feel a change in the climate as well as notice a difference in vegetation. The area is managed by the native Ayllu Mama Qolla community, a population of about 80 habitants who live nearby. After paying an entrance fee and registering, you can hike through the Garganta del Diablo to reach a waterfall and return in about an hour. Although it’s not a difficult hike, it’s very important to bring shoes with traction because the stones along the path can be wet and slippery.
The Pucará de Tilcara is the reconstruction of one of the archaeological settlements of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. It was built by the Tilcaras, who until the arrival of the Spaniards had great political influence in the area. At the bottom of the hill, visit the cactus garden, where you’ll find a stone that sounds like a bell. Then climb the 70 meters to the top of the Pucará (or fort). You’ll pass different constructions such as a small neighborhood with houses, a church, graves and corrals for livestock. On the top there is a pyramid that doesn’t quite belong with the surroundings. It was built in honor of the archaeologists who discovered the site in 1908. From the top there are great views of the town and the hills surrounding it.
Further north along Route 9, you’ll reach Humahuaca. This is perhaps the town with the strongest cultural identity of the Quebrada. At night, the old-fashioned street lights light up, local music is everywhere and you’ll find delicious traditional dishes in the restaurants around the square. There are two markets where you can get the same products as in the rest of Jujuy but for better prices: aguayos (woven cloths), sweaters, hats, backpacks, sneakers and a variety of colorful souvenirs.
Drive 21 km past Humahuaca along a new, gravel road (in excellent condition) and you’ll arrive at one of the local highlights: the Serranías del Hornocal, also known as the Cerro de los 14 Colores (Hill of 14 Colors). The road ascends to 4300 meters – it’s quite curvy with switchbacks. You can hire a guided tour or take your own car without any problem. Before arriving at the viewpoint, the local community that manages the site charges an entrance fee. There are toilets available.
The Hornocal is 4761 meters high. It’s a stratified sedimentary rock formation formed by Yacoraite (an ochre, yellow, green and white limestone with iron that didn’t oxidize). It was formed at the end of the Cretaceous Period (when the last of the dinosaurs lived), 75 million years. Bordering the limestone are intense, red sedimentary formations – these are well-oxidized – creating a breathtaking contrast. The view from the top is unparalleled – it’s truly an awe-inspiring landscape. From there, you can descend by a small road, but be aware that it’s a bit of a difficult walk. High altitudes aren’t for everyone, but if you take the necessary precautions (walk slowly, breathe conscientiously) you’ll be able to enjoy the wondrous natural panoramas that await.
Where to stay?
In Purmamarca: Colores de Purmamarca, La Comarca or El Manantial del Silencio.
In Tilcara: Las Marías Hotel Boutique.
Where to eat?
In Purmamarca: Los Morteros, La Posta.
In Tilcara: Arumi Cocina de Autor, El Puente.
In Humahuaca: Las Glorias, Pacha Manka.
Excursions: ADN Travel.
One plus: from Purmamarca, by car on route 52, after 420 km (approximately 6 ½ hours) and crossing the Andes on the Paso de Jama, you will arrive at San Pedro de Atacama (Chile). It’s another trip, and a very different experience, but absolutely recommendable if you have a few more days.