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The Quebrada de Humahuaca is one of the must-see destinations in the NOA (Argentinian NorthWest). It has been declared a World Heritage Site both for its scenic and archaeological values. The towns of Purmamarca and Maimará exhibit postcard-pretty geological formations like the Hill of the 7 colors. In Tilcara, a Pucara from the inhabitants before the Incas and the conquistadores has been reconstructed.


Stage index:

June 24 and 25, 2011: From Jujuy to Purmamarca (Profile)
June 26, 2011: From Purmamarca to Tilcara (Profile)
June 27, 2011: From Tilcara to Humahuaca (Profile)
June 28, 2011: Humahuaca


Profile for the entire stage:

Stage profile


June 24 and 25, 2011: From Jujuy to Purmamarca

We leave Jujuy through the old road and avoiding the traffic of the new one. The route that today will take us to Purmamarca is frequented by buses running to La Quiaca, the border with Bolivia. This is a factor to consider because the respect for cyclists by bus drivers is zero. Some of them almost cause us a heart attack when they pass us. 

Eroded wall

Today we begin to see the geological formations that have made ​​this valley so famous. The rise of the Andes has provided this area of hills and slopes with strange colors. Without any worth mentioning, we arrive in Purmamarca, a town famous for its Cerro de los 7 Colores. After settling in the La Reliquia campground, we tour the village. The wind is icy and soon we take cover in a restaurant for dinner. And we go even faster from the restaurant to the tent. 

The next morning, Judit doesn’t feel well, probably due to something she ate yesterday, so we stay at the campsite. She literally spends the day sleeping while recovering. I use the time to write some of the stories lagging.

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June 26, 2011: From Purmamarca to Tilcara

Cerro de los 7 colores

Judit is already recovered and we resume our activity. We start climbing to the ridge across the road for a panoramic view of the Cerro de los 7 Colores. The trail ascends a steep slope where the rain has created deep ruts. From the top we have a spectacular view of the town, the famous hill and the Paseo de los Colorados behind it. The view is really spectacular, it seems placed there just to make it beautiful. The colored bands extend beyond the cerro, towards smaller hills nearby. Further to the left the same strata are exposed in a very surreal way but somewhat hidden from here. To see it you have to hike Los Colorados trail, our next activity. 

Paseo de los Colorados

Judit and Cèsar riding El Paseo de los ColoradosWe go to the campsite and take the bikes. The route is beautiful. Doing it counterclockwise, we start with the Cerro de los 7 Colores to our left and a smaller hill to our right, with less variety of colors but strange formations caused by erosion. The track rises slightly until you reach a hill, from where you discover the area that was hidden from the lookout. This view is incredible. In the foreground there is a red barrier with multiple and deep grooves. Behind it, the layers that have made ​​so famous the Hill of 7 Colors are replicated on a series of edges expanding towards the horizon. The place is really unique. Going back to the village, a hiker takes some pictures of us riding. Since we don’t have pictures of the two of us pedaling, we stop to ask him to send us a copy. This is how we meet Senén, a guy half gallego half asturiano, who's touring South America. After a few days we get in touch and he kindly sends us the photo you see here. In the Purmamarca square the craft market is already set up and tourists swarm from stall to stall. 

After these 2 short trips, we set off to Tilcara. En route we stop at Maimará, where there is another rather curious multicolored stratified formation. In this case, the slope of the mountain shows different layers in the form of arches one next to the other. 


Our last visit of the day is in Tilcara. On the hill south of town they have reconstructed the fort that indigenous people used to resist first the Incas and then the Spanish. The truth is that they could have done a better job. At the top of the hill, they built a pyramid in honor of the archaeologists who worked at the site, that has nothing to do with the culture of the people who lived here. The necropolis at the foot of the hill is interesting, but like the rest of the site lacks explanatory panels that provide some interesting information. 

Purmamarca street marketThe weather is still cold. The polar wave continues to affect the south part of South America and once the sun sets, we look for shelter. We walk at full speed toward the village and seek a place for dinner. After that we almost run to the campsite where we get ready for another cold night.


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June 27, 2011: From Tilcara to Humahuaca

ErmitasBefore continuing the road to Humahuaca we visit a couple of museums in Tilcara. The first one is the anthropological museum which contains a good collection of remains of various cultures of the quebrada. The second one is more a storehouse than a museum. An old man collects and keeps "ermitas". An ermita is a kind of painting that uses dried flowers instead of paint to represent a religious scene. One of the recurring themes is that of Arquebusier Angels, which once again cross our way. The old man explains to us how some families gather in the evenings to make them before Easter, to have them ready for their Easter Station during the procession. 





One of the highlights of today's route is crossing the Tropic of Capricorn. At the roadside there is a monument that looks like a giant sundial, but besides the traffic signal, there is no explanatory sign. A few miles later we finally get to Uquía. In its church the original paintings of the Arquebusier Angels are exposed. When we arrive, the church doors are closed and it take us some work to find Agapito, the person who is in charge. We're late just for a few minutes. If we hadn´t had a flat half an hour ago, we would had arrived on time. Agapito understands our mobility limitations and is kind enough to reopen the doors of the church for us to see this so unique collection. The story behind these paintings is this. The priests of Cusco commissioned the indigenous artists to paint a collection of angels. Obviously, the Indians had no idea what an angel was. The answer to their question was something like: an angel is like us but with wings, the most beautiful wings you can imagine. By "we" the Indians understood the conquistadores and their interpretation was that an angel is a sixteenth century Spanish soldier with wings. They painted soldiers with swords, spears and arquebuses. The most beautiful wings the Indians knew were the ones from the flamingos of the highland lakes and hence the ones in the paintings are pink. Uquía´s collection is not the only one, but it´s the one with larger canvases. Of the 9 original angels only 8 are still kept. At last we have seen with our own eyes these pieces of art that have been showing up from the Calchaquí valleys, hundreds of miles further south. 

After the short visit we continue our way to Humahuaca, almost 10000 feet above sea level. We arrive shortly before sundown, so after settling in the welcoming Hostal La Soñada, we only have time to take a quick tour around the cobbled streets of Humahuaca before the cold forces us to return to the hostel. It seems that the cold polar wave is here to stay for a few more days.

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June 28, 2011: Humahuaca

Independence monumentHumahuaca is a charming small town. Its streets are paved with cobble stones and the yellow street lights create an atmosphere of romance that inspires Indian conspiracy stories. Some minor alleys are dark, and the combination of light and shade, next to the figures of the elusive cholas (women in traditional dresses) disappearing into distant corners, encourages even more the imagination. The most remarkable monument, dominating the city from a hill accessed through a flight of steps out of the central square, is the Monument to the Independence. The dynamism and strength from its reliefs is very intense. Besides the haughty central figure of the Indio, both sides are engraved with scenes of war.



Humahuaca Town HallIn the square, the Cabildo (Town Council) and the Church of the Candelaria. Besides the architectural interest of the Cabildo building, the tourist interest lies in the stellar performance of San Francisco Solano, a mechanically articulated statue that blesses the audience every day at 12:00 pm. We visit the church almost running as one of the keepers, that was sweeping the yard at that time, offered us a quick tour coming in through the side door, even though the priest lied to us saying that access was not possible because the person who had the keys was not there (well... he never learned the eighth commandment). He only needed to tell us that the visits had a precise schedule; it was not necessary to lie. 

We visit the market a couple of times to buy vegetables and cheese for dinner. In the afternoon, only some of the stalls are open, but in the morning it´s busier, especially around the market where they sell other products in little stalls installed along the old railway line. 

Although the town has a tourist infrastructure, from all we have visited in the quebrada, Humahuaca is the one that better retains the local character.

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