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Quebrada de Humahuaca



High up in the Andean north of Argentina, a traveller can experience it all: colourful canyons, colonial cities and a thriving indigenous culture. The area is not only blessed with a temperate climate and awesome beauty, but with one of the friendliest local cultures of the region. It is easy to see why Argentineans love the region of Salta: its beauty, its preservation of indigenous traditions and heritage, its affordable prices, and its proximity.



Only an hour by plane from Buenos Aires, the regional capital of Salta is an old Spanish settlement filled with great restaurants and known for its bustling nightlife.



This popular city is also a perfect hub for either independent trips or guided tours of the region. Possibility abounds, giving adventure-hungry travelers plenty of worthwhile options.



By far the most rewarding trip is that of the North Circuit. A focal part of this route is Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow valley stretching 155 kilometers across the province of Jujuy. This rugged tear in the earth is flanked by equally dynamic scenery: Altiplano to the west and north, sub-Andean hills to the east, and warm valleys to the south.



Since the first hunter-gatherer society unpacked and settled down in the region 10,000 years ago, Quebrada de Humahuaca has served as an economic, social, and cultural crossroads: it was a caravan road for the Inca Empire in the 15th century, an important link between the Viceroyalty of RĂ­o de la Plata and the Viceroyalty of Peru, and more recently a battleground during the Argentine War of Independence. The area also boasts a network of prehistoric remains. Given its historical and cultural significance, it is no surprise that Quebrada de Humahuaca has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



At the mouth of the canyon is the tiny village of Purmamarca, surrounded by the polychrome Cerro de los Siete Colores (the hills of the seven colours). A short hike up to one of the hills will reward one with a splendid view of the village and the valley. For those who want to see a salina, (an enormous salt lake) it’s only a one-hour trip easily done in a local taxi.



The next village in the Humahuaca valley is the ancient Tilcara, situated on the Río Grande river. Above the modern village is the reconstructed pre-Columbian city of Pucará with its intriguing pyramid. Little is known about the inhabitants who erected the fortified town. The Incas, who ruled the region for only for 50 years before the Spanish Conquistadores arrived, destroyed most of the site.



Further down the canyon is Humahuaca, a small town filled with delicate colonial details; cobblestone-paved streets, white Spanish-style houses and lively plazas. There is a large indigenous Quechua population, whose fine quality handicrafts and sonorous traditional music add to the town’s popularity. Some restaurants even offer live traditional folklore music, often starting late—nothing before 10 p.m.!



Three hours north, near the Bolivian border, is yet another historic pearl, the village of Iruya, population 300. The lack of traffic (barring the occasional public bus which only arrives twice a day) in this three street village truly takes you back in time. Iruya hangs on a cliff so no matter where you are, a breathtaking view is sure to accompany you. This village is an ideal setting for a break; enjoy a range of activities and non-activities, from hardy day treks to appreciation of the simple.



The return trip to Salta will not disappoint as, once again, the unforgettable landscape of Quebrada de Humahuaca is ever-present. Regardless of how you choose to spend it, a trip along the North Circuit offers breathtaking beauty for a price that won’t leave you gasping for air.

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