Cycling on Ruta 9

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October 24th 2007
Published: October 31st 2007
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Quebrada de Humahuaca

Stunning scenery, great hiking, a UNESCO world heritage site and the chance to see a way of life that has all but disappeared in the rest of Argentina are just some of the memories we have from seeing the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Jujuy may be Argentina's poorest and least-visited province, but it's rich in natural wonders, with one of the country┬┤s finest sights, the Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Gorge), a stunning gorge through the Andes which stretches from San Salvador de Jujuy up to the the Bolivian border. The main road through the Quebrada is Ruta 9, which runs starts far away in Cordoba. We haven't seen all Ruta 9, but I reckon we've seen (and cycled) the most beautiful part from Purmamarca to the Tropic of Capricorn.

San Salvador de Jujuy is the main town in Jujuy province and we based ourselves here for one night before taking a bus up to Tilcara. It's not so nearly as attractive a city as Salta and you wouldn't miss too much were you to skip it and head straight up to the Quebrada.


Tilcara was our base while we explored the Quebrada. It's a small
Seven Coloured MountainSeven Coloured MountainSeven Coloured Mountain

The big attraction in Purmamarca is the seven coloured mountain overlooking the village.
town, though well geared up for tourism with a good selection of hotels, restaurants and plenty to see and do. We found a good, family run hotel for our stay in Tilcara. A little more pricey than usual at 80 pesos but worth it for the huge room, the views of the mountains, and the excellent breakfast, with the best coffee I've had so far on the trip. The family were very friendly and we were very sad to leave.

At an altitude of 2465 metres, you do need to take time to acclimatise in Tilcara, but after the first day we felt fine. Within the town there are a couple of museums and an interesting pre-Incan settlement, covered in cacti, but the main reason we came here was for the surrounding scenery and the chance to do some hiking and cycling.

Hiking & Biking

On our second day we rented bikes and cycled 25 km south to Purmamarca, a tiny village surrounded by a beautiful seven coloured mountain. I don't know who was counting these colours but we saw far more than seven. The best place to view the mountain is from another mountain across the main road. There's a fairly easy path to a lookout point from where you have an excellent view of the village and the seven coloured mountain. What looked like a Columbian middle-aged pop group was recording an album with the seven coloured mountain in the background. Absolutely hilarious as they looked like they learned to dance watching Westlife videos.

After lunching in the town we cycled around Purmamarca┬┤s other big attraction, the Paseo de los Colorades, a dirt track which circles some of the mountains around the town. The views here were fantastic, and reminded me of the Dades Valley in Morocco. The cycle to Purmamarca had been fairly easy at it was downhill most of the way, but the return journey was much tougher. An uphill struggle in 30 degree heat meant we didn't have the energy to stop and do any more of the suggested hikes.

After that struggle home I thought we'd never want to cycle again but 2 days later we decided to give it another go, this time to the Huacalera, 17 km to the north. 1 km south of the village the Tropic of Capricorn passes through Ruta 9, and the line is
Paseo de los ColoradesPaseo de los ColoradesPaseo de los Colorades

This road runs around the mountains near Purmamarca. Fantastic scenery and a great cycle.
marked by a sign and a sundial. It was a tough cycle uphill but if you like getting your picture taken at signs like this (and we do) you'll find it's worth the effort. Near the sundial were a group of local kids selling local souvenirs. They were a friendly lot and seemed more interested in our bikes than in selling us anything.

We called into Huacalera afterwards to try get some lunch, but there were no restaurants so we bought some bread, fruit and yogurt and found a shady spot to eat. Huacalera is a tiny village, but contains a lovely church, the burial site (if my Spanish is correct, it may not be!) of General Lavalle, of whom I know little except that there is a street named after him in practically every town or village in Argentina. The church, however, was closed and we couldn't find anyone around to open it. We later learned from our bike hire friend that churches in the small Quebrada villages are often closed as there have been frequent robberies of paintings and other relics from them.

We expected a nice easy return trip, downhill all the way, but we
Tilcara SkiesTilcara SkiesTilcara Skies

Just before the storm hit Tilcara
hadn't bargained for the winds in the valley which were against us all the way. It was an interesting experience pitting gravity against the Quebrada winds, one which the winds seemed to be winning judging by how much pedalling we did.

The best things about cycling were that we got the opportunity to see a fantastic landscape up close, and that we came into contact with many of the local people. All the workmen in the road would wave as we passed while any time we passed locals on the road we'd always get a wave or a "hola".

Evenings in Tilcara were very relaxing. After those tough days cycling or hiking we would start the evening off in Srinivac, a small bar/cafe with a great terrace where you could take in the sunsets. We had no cooking facilities in the hostel so were "forced" to eat out every night, giving us plenty of opportunity to try local specialities such as llama, locro (a meat and veg stew), humitas (corn, onions and cheese cooked in corn husk) and humales (similar to humitas but with meat instead of the cheese & corn). A nice change from our daily diet
Hiking to the Devil's ThroatHiking to the Devil's ThroatHiking to the Devil's Throat

A good hike from Tilcara is to the Devil's Throat waterfall.
of steak and milanesas!


Best Site - Cerro de los Siete Colores, Purmamarca

Recommended Hotel - Hospidaje Jatun Mayu in Tilcara. It's on the left side just after you cross the bridge into Tilcara. We bargained a room for 80 pesos though the official price is 100.

Favourite trip - Cycling from Tilcara to Purmamarca. Bike hire from Tilcara Mountain Bike, 100 metres below the bus station

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


Garganta del DiabloGarganta del Diablo
Garganta del Diablo

Even if you haven't seen the Garganta del Diablo in Iguazu Falls, Tilcara's version is a bit of a letdown. It was a fantastic hike to get here though.
Local kids at the Tropic of Capricorn SundialLocal kids at the Tropic of Capricorn Sundial
Local kids at the Tropic of Capricorn Sundial

These firendly kids were more than happy to pose for a picture. Not sure why they weren't in school though.
Tropic of CapricornTropic of Capricorn
Tropic of Capricorn

Argentina contains the world's most southern city, and at the other end of the country passes over the Tropic of Capricorn. Not for the first time did I stop to think just how huge a country this is.

The main and only sight in Huacalera is the beautiful church. Closed for our visit, unfortunately
Paseo de los HornillosPaseo de los Hornillos
Paseo de los Hornillos

This tiny village is about halfway between Tilcara and Purmamarca.
Roadside ShrineRoadside Shrine
Roadside Shrine

These roadside shrines are very popular in Argentina, and we cycled past about 5 or 6 of them along Ruta 9. Many of them resemble mini-churches.
The Painter's PaletteThe Painter's Palette
The Painter's Palette

A long, coloured stretch of rock behind Maimara is known as the Painter's Palette. It looks beautiful from the road, especially in the afternoon light.
Tilcara Botanical GardensTilcara Botanical Gardens
Tilcara Botanical Gardens

Just one cactus in a garden of hundreds

31st October 2007

Barry beautiful pictures - the church was fab.
2nd November 2007

Can't believe you were excited about the workmen giving you a wave - they still do that in Conahy....
2nd November 2007

Please include my comment!!!

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