Crossing the tropic along one of Argentina’s top scenic roads



The impossible hue of the Quebrada de Humahuaca keeps being fascinating no matter how long a person has been staring at the valley.  It looks unachievable for the brain to understand and get used to this view.  And when our host in Humahuaca tells us that it gets even more spectacular as we would follow the valley of the Quebrada traveling to San Salvador de Jujuy on National Route 9 (NR9), we can’t wait to get a transport early in the morning and do some bus-hop-off-hop-on to eyewitness this quirk of nature.  Our first stop after passing the Tropic of Capricornio is Tilcara, as head of the department; this small settlement is located at 2465MASL on the banks of the Rio Grande, at 84 miles north of San Salvador de Jujuy.  With a mild dry climate the poor vegetation of the area is made by acacias, cactus, poplars and willows, providing development of a varied fauna including vicuñas, guanacos, foxes, ferrets, viscachas and condors.  This town of low adobe buildings with steep streets offers a magnificence outlook on the Quebrada and its polychromatic hillocks.  Leaving our backpacks in the luggage lockers of the bus station we enter the village and get some information on a hike, following a path contrary to the current of the Huasamayo River.  So after walking a 5 kilometers path without much difficulty among the mountains of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, appreciating the eccentric landscape, we can see a waterfall flowing out of this large crack formed by the eroding force of the Huasamayo river called: The Garganta del Diablo. We go a bit further on the main path, leaving any turist behind, and descent to the river for a nice relax time in the refreshing breeze coming from the surface of the flow.

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Back at the village we eat something and after a saunter at the local handcraft market we continue the NR9 down to Jujuy.  The bus takes us through Maimara to get to Purmamarca which means “Town of the Virgin Land” in Aymara language.   Nestled at the foot of Cerro Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours) Purmamarca grants another stunning view on the Quebrada de Humahuaca and its multi-coloured naturally carved slopes since it delights the senses of travellers passing through the town.  The village, with adobe buildings likewise Tilcara and ceilings made of teasel covered with mud pies, was drawn around the main church in 1648 consecrated as St. Rosa of Lima, today declared a National Monument because of its architecture as well as the paintings and images from Cuzco that contains its interior. We read and heard about the distinctive cuisine with authentic dishes but were not able to try them.

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The bus goes on and we pass hamlets with names as Tumbaya, Volcán and Yala before we enter the first big city of Argentina coming from the north, named San Salvador de Jujuy.  Big buildings, a river with ramshackle bridges, a park with flowering trees, a traffic free shopping street for those who like expensive coffee houses … nothing special as a city, so we stay here just one night and take a chance on the first true opportunity to look for a good rate at the blue dollar market.

Our recommendations:

  • Tilcara is cosy as a village and with lots of tourists, so a bit more expensive to spend the night but a good centre of operations to visit the whole area.
  • Aimara and Purmamarca are very small communities but still have the possibility to spend the night in hostels or family houses. The celebrations for Pachamama at both places are very old traditions worth a stop and participation.  Typical dishes should be cheap, tasty and generous as lots of backpackers and locals told us.
  • In Jujuy we stayed at Hospedaje Castaneda for 50 pesos each, not very recommendable but as we arrived very late on the evening we did not have much of a choice.
  • If the alarm clock is set very early in the morning, a traveller has a daylong time to organize carefully the journey and to take buses from village to village to see all without staying in all the different communities.
  • Check daily the blue dollar exchange rates.


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