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Published: August 13th 2010
After leaving the city of Salta, I caught a bus to Jujuy, 90km to the north and the capital of the most northwestern province in Argentina (also called Jujuy). The province, as well as having the most difficult name to pronounce in the country, borders Bolivia, to where I will shortly be crossing, as well as Chile. The main attractions in the province of Jujuy are located outside of the city of Jujuy (known as San Salvador de Jujuy to avoid confusion), so I only spent a couple of hours in the city before continuing on to my next proper stop of Tilcará. But I had time to have a quick look at the city - definitely not as nice as Salta, and definitely the poorest city in Argentina I’ve seen. The city centre was nice enough, but nothing in particular stood out. Another 80km north of San Salvador de Jujuy is Tilcará, which was to be my next stop. This small town is in the heart of the Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Gorge), and the scenery from the bus as we passed through the gorge on the way to Tilcará was beautiful. My first impression of Tilcará was that it
was really, really cold! The town is relatively high up - around 2500m above sea level, but it was so much colder than Cafayate and Salta (both around 2000m above sea level). There’s a small meteorological centre in the town, which showed the temperature on my first night there to be -6 degrees. No heating in the hostel, but lots of thick blankets.
The town itself is very touristy (very much aimed at Argentineans and Bolivians, with not that many tourists from outside of South America). The main square was essentially a large artisan market, and the village has more than its fair share of hostels, hotels and restaurants. The main attraction is the gorge itself, which the town overlooks. Fortunately, after the first cold night, the following day it was sunny, so it was not quite so cold, but that said it was hardly warm. In the morning I followed the 4km path to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat); a small gorge which joins the Humahuaca Gorge near Tilcará. The walk was very scenic, and then I descended down into the narrow gorge itself and walked for 15 minutes or so upstream (having to cross the small
stream a dozen or so times) until I reached the 15m high waterfalls, which marked the end of the gorge.
After the walk downhill back to town, I headed for the prehispanic fort which overlooks the town, known as the Pucará of Tilcará. (Pucará means fort in Quechua). Not as interesting as the Quilmes ruins, but definitely worth visiting, predominantly as a large area of the site has been rebuilt to look like how it would have done 1000 years ago, so it made a nice change from most of the other ruins I’ve visited. They also had a high-altitude Botanic Garden on site, with lots of plants that are native to this part of the world. The entry to the fort also allowed free access to the archaeological museum in the town centre, which was more interesting than I thought it was going to be. Plus the temperatures outside had started to plummet, and the building was moderately warm, which was another reason I lingered there for an hour or so. I also had a quick look at the main gorge before sunset. As it’s dry season the river is at a very low level, so you can
actually walk along the edge of the riverbed, though I didn’t go far as it was getting too cold.
The following day, once the sun had warmed things up a bit, I headed to Purmamarca, 25km or so back towards Jujuy. This village was even more touristy than Tilcara - every shop seemed to be selling handicrafts. The main draw for tourists is the Paseo de Colorados - a 3km walk/drive around the colourful hills that surround the village, including the aptly named “Hill of Seven Colours”. A couple of view points just outside the village also offered lovely views of these multi-coloured formations. After Purmamarca, I had the whole afternoon to explore the Humahuaca Gorge. I walked along the dry river bed and on the abandoned railway line from Purmamarca to about two thirds of the way back towards Tilcará before catching a bus for the last 8km. A pretty spectacular hike (though my camera didn’t seem to capture the real beauty of the gorge).
For my last full day in Argentina (at this stage at least), I left Tilcará and headed north to Humahuaca, the main town in the Humahuaca Gorge. The journey was only 40km,
and we passed at some point back over the Tropic of Capricorn. The first problem with this short journey was that the bus left Tilcará 40 minutes late. Buses with different companies came and went, but as I had bought my ticket with a specific company, I had to be patient. The next problem, when I eventually got on the bus, was some sort of hold up on the main road. We were stationary for about 90 minutes on the main road, and I eventually managed to find the driver, who had disappeared somewhere, to see what was going on, but he had no clue. However, he did tell me that Humahuaca, where I was trying to get to, was only 2km away, so I ended up walking the rest of the way instead of waiting I don’t know how long for the road to clear. I saw what was causing the chaos - people had blocked the road with branches and were protesting against something, which I later learned was their local tax, which had just risen by an unbelievable 1000%, so I can’t really blame them for not being happy!. Our bus was actually near the front of
the queue, so if it had left Tilcara on time I’m sure we would have got past before the protest started. Ironically, after a few days of freezing cold, it was now really quite hot, so walking with my heavy backpack to the town was not fun. But once I checked into my hostel and had lunch I felt a lot better.
The area was the first part of Argentina to be colonised by the Spanish, so the town has quite an historic feel, with a pretty central plaza complete with the usual church and cabildo (town hall). Besides the picturesque streets and the scores of artisan sellers, there wasn’t that much to do in the town. I spent most of the afternoon in a café with wifi trying to upload photos with very slow internet speeds. Humahuaca was my last stopover in northwest Argentina. The next day I took a bus to the town of La Quiaca, on the Bolivian border. The next blog will come from my first stops in Bolivia.
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