Visiting the Quebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina
Wondering if you should visit the Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy, Argentina?
I had thoughts about visiting the north of Argentina when I met one of those nomadic types (you know – not like me, someone away less than a year but an ACTUAL nomad that left home like 5 years ago to be on the road). They mentioned the Quebrada de Humahuaca as a way of showing off. “People say Rainbow Mountain in Bolivia is good,” he said “But that is overcrowded and there are too many tourists. Barely anybody goes to the 14 coloured mountaines of northern Argentina!”
I really hadn’t planned to go to northern Argentina. I had big beach shaped plans – La Serana, the vineyards of Chile. That was until I spent 2 days in San Pedro de Atacama, had a nervous breakdown about paying £7 for a sandwich (SAN PEDRO IS SO F*CKING EXPENSIVE) and booked the first coach to Jujuy via Salta (which I went on after going to a weird desert rave – did not feel good).
Where is Quebrada de Humahuaca? Where should I stay?
Quebrada is Spanish for ravine. It is basically a valley or mountain range in a place called Humahuaca. However Humahuaca itself is a bit of a one horse town. Salta is nearby – definately worth a visit – but too far away for a day trip (about 5 hours 1 way). Jujuy is a much easier base.
Other nearby towns are Jujuy, Purmamarca and Tilcara. Some people encompass Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Tilcara as part of the Quebrada as there is the cerro de los siete colores (mountain of 7 colours) in Purmamarca AND the cerro de catorce colores (mountain of 14 colours) in Humahuaca (also known as El Hornocal).
Can I visit the Quebrada de Humahuaca as day trips?
Both Humahuaca, Tilcara and Purmamarca are easy enough to visit for the day from Jujuy, as are some of the other small villages surrounding the Quebrada. I used Jujuy as my base for all 3 villages – the villages are all small and charming in their own way, but very quiet. Others I met on the road opted to hire a car to drive around the various villages.
In hindsight (a brilliant thing) I wish I’d done the latter because it’d have saved me from two things: 1 – the headache of trying to get to the coloured mountains once in Humahuaca and 2 – it would have saved me from the French creep in the Jujuy hostel.
Yep… more on that later.
To Humahuaca from Jujuy: there is a direct bus from Jujuy and they leave relatively regularly throughout the day. A ticket was about £4 and the journey to Humahuaca was around 2 hours. In Jujuy bus station Jama Bus, Evelia and Santa Ana Cota Norte were the providers to Humahuaca but all you have to look around is for where advertises Humahuaca.
To Tilcara from Jujuy: Tilcara is 1h20 from Jujuy. The buses from Jujuy terminal were fairly regular and cost about £3.
To Purmamarca from Jujuy: Purmamarca was just 1h from Jujuy by bus! Very easy. The buses from Jujuy terminal were also regular and cost about £3.
You can also easily travel via bus between Purmamarca –> Tilcara –> Humahuaca, although I am not sure how regular services are. The villages are very small (although Purmamrca and Tilcara are pretty touristy) and the ‘bus stations’ are a small shack at the edge of town…
Visiting Quebrada de Humahuaca
Humahuca feels very small, however unlike the neighboring Purmamarca it has a more local feel. I travelled here with two people from my hostel – Jess and Max – and we kind of bummed around the town a bit and got an empanada for lunch.
I’ve got to be honest – I mean the town really was nondescript. I have nothing to say. Even the tourist centre was empty. It took eons to even find someone that understood how to get to El Hornocal. Even Giramundo Hostal failed us. How??? IT IS THE ONLY ATTRACTION IN THE TOWN HOW DID NOBODY KNOW HOW TO GET THERE?
Well – how DID you get to the mountains from Humahuaca?
Eventually on the outskirts of the very small town (less than 5 minutes walk from the square or bus station) you see a load of white vans and some taxis gathering around a bridge, each of them touting a trip to El Hornocal.
Taxi??? Lol can you not just walk the Quebrada de Humahuaca?
NO. I mean you could. But it would take hours, and you ascent 1,300m (Humahuaca village is 3000m above sea level, but El Hornocal is 4300m above sea level).
After much painful haggling we managed to bag a taxi for the same price as a bus – about £6 each for a return journey including a 1h wait at the top the mountain for us to hike around. I think I still owe Max that money… sorry mate. The drive took about 30-45 minutes on a gravel road – on the way up you see llamas and vincuñas. It is a very pretty drive and super exciting when you suddenly turn a corner to see the mountains.
My advice is two things:
1. BRING A COAT!!!! Even if its warm in Humahuaca it is bloody freeeeeeezing atop El Hornocal. 1,300m further upwards into the sky, you guys! MANOS ANDINA is a little shop in Humahuaca town which sells loads of lovely 100% llama and alpaca wool things for pretty cheap, so if you’ve left your coat in Jujuy consider buying something there.
2. Once you’re up there hike much further down to get a better spot with the mountains, and be wary of the ground which is quite spikey. You can get much better photos at the bottom. We actually lost a lot of time though as Max lost his phone, and it was exhausting stomping around with such thin air trying to find it. No worse than how it felt atop Rainbow Mountain or Laguna 69, but still.
We were up there for the full hour hiking around and eating cheetos. I had initially tried to bargain for more than 1 hour, but 1 hour is enough – it really is cold. Once I’d hiked halfway down toward the mountain and finished my crisps, I was done.
Visiting Purmamarca in the Quebrada de Humahuaca
The following day as an attempt to escape the creepy French man from my hostel (Andy – happy to name and shame) I headed to Purmamarca to hike alongside the cerros de los siete colores and visit the famous local market. This time just me, myself and I went armed with more crisps (San Pedro de Atacama was the first place in MONTHS to buy crisps and they had cheetos) and a decent iTunes playlist. After skyping Barnaby the dog in the morning, I was pumped.
Purmamarca was a bit odd – super touristy with everyone zipping in and out to see the hills. The surroundings are lovely and in comparison to Humahuaca and Tilcara – you really do get right up and close to the hills – even in Humahuaca, you couldn’t really see much until about 30 minues drive out of town and that is next to El Hornocal.
Whilst there I hiked around the coloured mountains – at approx 2,300m above sea level, I didn’t find the walk paticularly challenging. The trail is easy enough to find because of all the tourists. Or perhaps I just went on a paticularly sunny day. The walk is only 3K but I still used it as an excuse to stock up on loads of empanadas. Because Purmamarca is touristy there are tonnes of restuarants around the square where you can try Argentine empanadas (the best of all in South America, Venezuelan shortly after) and llama.
The thing that really gives Purmamarca its charm is the market set up every day in the square. Okay – its the same stuff I saw in Bolivia and Peru but northern Argentina really was for me last chance saloon to buy any of this stuff. Once I headed south towards Mendoza and Santiago all the lovely Quechuan gear was gone. Note if you go to Humahuaca AFTER Purmamarca, MANOS ANDINA does a lot of this stuff but cheaper. Still who doens’t love a market??? 🤷🏻♀️
Visiting Tilcara in the Quebrada de Humahuaca
Tilcara is a bit bigger than Pumamarca and is between Pumamarca and Humahuaca in terms of how touristy it was. As I’d already seen Humahuaca and Pumamarca, I wasn’t blown away but it is a good place to stop off if you’re driving the Quebrada de Humahuaca (rather than day trips from Jujuy like yours truly).
The bus station is a 15 minute walk from the centre of town. Garganta Del Diablo (or Devil’s Throat) is the main attraction: a 3-4 hour hike out of Tilcara with amazing views of the surrounding Quebrada de Humahuaca.
Pucara is the prime attraction in Tilcara. This pre-Inca fortification was declared as a National Monument in 2000. Pucara is the only publicly accessible archaeological site in the Quebrada de Humahuaca and was about a 30 minute walk or 5 minute cab ride from the centre. I was a bit done in with archealogical sights to be honest after months of archealogical Quechaun sites, but it was cool to see nonetheless.
Staying in Jujuy – a good base for Quebrada de Humahuaca
Jujuy is a big city with lots of amenities – restaurants, bars and Carrefour 😍 most importantly. When I wasn’t running away from that freak in my hostel I’d go to the big square and chill in the sunshine. Although even that got me into trouble….
Why??? Good lord…
This weird man with a sleeping bag approached me and I was really deep into my book (Homo Sapiens by Yuval Harari – I know I am so basic). I wasn’t in the mood to make chit chat so I pretended I didn’t understand Spanish. The bloke then switched to English. Which I also pretended I did not understand. Despite reading a big book in English.
“No English??? Ni Español???? Where you from????”
I literally panicked and said “Tibet!”
Of course he was then fascinated about life in Tibet because he had never met anyone from Tibet before. He asked me about life in Tibet, education in Tibet, politics in Tibet. I am going to be honest I did not expect this man to be so learned. And I had to respond the entire time in pretend broken English. Do you know how embarassing that is? Eventually he left me alone. But not before telling me I needed to improve my English.
What hostel did you stay in? I feel like I need to understand Creepy French Andy
I stayed at D-Gira which at the time had a 9.6 rating on Hostel World and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why. The bathrooms did not drain properly and there was no lockers. I had to ask them to hide my trusty laptop in the staff room, and one evening they temporarily lost it. I went insane and this poor Danish boy had to help me find it. Breakfast was rations of stale bread and jam. In the few months between this blog post and my visit, it unsurprisingly has dropped to a 7.0 on Hostel World.
Weird French Andy was this bloke, around my age, was from Paris but working as a chef in central London. He was absolutely taken with me from my arrival at the hostel, offering me ciggies, beer and chewing gum (who says romance isn’t dead). On the evening Jess and Max left for Salta I was bored so agreed to go out with him for a drink.
Now when a bloke asks me out for a drink, I assume he is taking me somewhere for a drink. Instead Andy stole some beers from the hostel made me wonder around Jujuy for half an hour to look for a place to sit. I don’t like beer, so I went into Carrefour and bought my own wine! 😂 Andy and I had a relatively pleasent evening in the square – largely due to the wine. I may have kissed him but eventually had to tell him to go away and leave me alone. 👀
The following day after I returned from Pumamarca, Andy wanted to apologise and take me out for a bite to eat. We went to this cheap but cheerful vegan place called El Patio. Andy had the absolute WORST table manners – he ate with his mouth open, played on his phone most of the time AND EVEN ASKED ME IF HE COULD BORROW MY NAIL CLIPPERS. AT THE TABLE!!!!! When I pointed out his manners were bad though he went INSANE. His lines included:
“I think being rude is not looking homeless people in the eye when they smile at you! Or to ignore charity! But you?? So het up on zee small things??” (I mean it is rude to not look at homeless people in the eye or not give back to society, but so is playing with your phone at the table…)
“I will not change for you! Why should I not text my friends when I am with you?? DO YOU WANT TO CONTROL ME.” – no, it is just a bit rude to go out for food with me and text the whole time…
*Grabbing a chip from his plate* “We were having a wonderful time and you get upset over ZEES. It is like you have a plate of beautiful cronchy chips, and you have 1 burnt one, and you focus on zees, only zees…”
HE THEN LUNGED OVER THE TABLE TO TRY TO KISS ME SO I PANICKED AND DUCKED AND FELL OUT OF MY SEAT.
😂 😂 😂
I ended up leaving him with the bill. I then got the first possible bus to Tilcara the following day so I didn’t have to see him, and left that evening for San Pedro de Atacama. Luckily I never saw him again. Andy – if you read this – don’t ask a woman to clip your finger nails whilst eating with her at the dinner table. And take her out for an actual drink, not just to the banks of a mingy river. I have some standards.
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