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Argentina: Quebrada de Humahuaca

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Quebrada de Humahuaca | Argentina | Americas

[Visited: August 2015]

As soon as we have secured a rental car at the airport of Jujuy, we head north, pass Jujuy city and drive straight to the beginning of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, the valley of the Rio Grande. The road climbs all the time, and we soon see mountains and cardones, the huge cacti that are common in northern Argentina, around us. Our first real stop is at the Posto de Hornillos, an old settlement around a station where people and animals could rest on their long way towards Bolivia. There is a tiny colonial church, and a small museum where the history can be seen in leather suitcases, carriages, painted wooden cases, kitchen utensils, and the like. This region was also important in the struggle for an independent Argentina. From here, it is a short drive to Maimará, behind which we see the Paletas del Pintor, or Painter's Palet: a range of rugged, rocky mountains in various colours. It is a preparation of the kind of mountains for which the Quebrada de Humahuaca is famous. The cemetery on one of the hills of Maimará turns out to be scenic, with cardones and views of the mountains behind. Close to Maimará lies Tilcara, where we arrive just before the night sets in.

Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): The colourful mountain range of Hornocal near Humahuaca

We are out at sunrise the next day, and drive further north. The sky is clear and the early sunlight gives the mountains on our left deep, intense colours. We drive off the highway towards a particularly red mountain, best seen from the almost dry riverbed. A little further north, we find the famous church of Uquía, but it is still closed, and we continue towards the north. At Humahuaca, the visitor office turns out to be closed, and while we have breakfast, an entrepreneurial guy on a motorbike approaches us, and offers his services as a guide to visit the Hornocal, claiming that it is impossible to find the way on ourselves. After driving the ripio, or unsealed, road up, with signs, and passing a herd of vicuña, the lama-like animal that only lives in the wild and is protected, we reach the viewpoint at around 4300 metres above sea level. Below and ahead of us: the long and wild range of the Hornocal, with what our guide claims are 14 colours. Besides those, the shape of the mountain is curious, with upwards pointing arrow heads. We walk down a trail to come closer to the Hornocal. It turns out that the valley we see right below the mountains can be hiked, and I dream about how it would be to hike up close to those amazing mountains, and see the lakes that our guide tells us lie behind it. But that will have to wait for another occasion. We are on our way back to Humahuaca, and first have to walk uphill in the thin air. On our descent, we see another herd of vicuñas, and great views of the valley below us. Clouds are moving in when we leave our guide at his motorbike, and we explore this main town of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. Cobblestone streets, colonial houses, plazas, a remarkable tower at the municipal building, and a monument with statues on a hilltop are but few of the sights.

Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Old adobe tower and cardones in the town of Humahuaca

On our way back south, we stop at the church of Uquía, where we find plenty of people coming out minivans and large buses - what a difference with that morning when we were the only ones. But most flock around the souvenir stalls, and we have a good view of the remarkable paintings inside for which the church is famous: they depict innocent looking angels, until you realize they actually carry weapons, making them quite unique. The other noticeable detail here is that cardones wood is used for the confession box; pretty convenient considering the wood has holes all over. On our last day, we first have to remove a layer of ice on our car, and then visit the pucará of Tilcara: an ancient, pre-Incan settlement from the indigenous people who were able to control traffic through the valley. The Incas and later Spanish destroyed the place, but the stone walls have been reconstructed amidst fields of cardones. It is an exceptionally bright morning and the light on the mountains around us is fabulous. The cemetery at the foot of the hill contains circular holes in which one or more persons were buried. During a stroll through the streets of Tilcara, the wind suddenly picks up, and sends sand into the air. After a visit to the Salinas Grandes salt lake, we end up in Purmamarca, where we hike around the Cerro de Siete Colores, or Mountain with Seven Colours. We are now closer to the layers of colours than the day before at Hornocal, and even though there is still sand and dust in the air, the views are nevertheless fantastic. From this mountain wonder world, it is only one hour drive back to Jujuy.

Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Cerro de los Siete Colores near Purmamarca
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Intense colours of the mountains in the Quebrada de Humahuaca between Tilcara and Uquía
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): The landscape at the south side of the Quebrada de Humahuaca
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Colourful mountains near Purmamarca
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Colourful mountains near Maimará also known as the Paletas del Pintor
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Some of the graves at the cemetery of Maimará
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Early morning light on the colourful mountain range north of Tilcara
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Reconstructed walls of the pre-Incan settlement or pucará of Tilcara
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): The colourful mountains seen in the morning at Tilcara
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Cardones grow abundantly on the hill on which the pucará of Tilcara is located
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Ceremony in which local ladies offer food and drinks to Pachamama
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Detailed old painted box in the small museum of Posto de Hornillos
Picture of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Argentina): Interior of the church of Uquía with paintings of armed angels and cactus furniture

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