Humahuaca is a town in the province of Jujuy, Argentina, adjacent to the spectacular Quebrada de Humahuaca on the main road from Argentina into Bolivia. Humahuaca is located up in the mountains at 3,000 meters above sea level, and has a population of a little over 10,000. A dusty ranching center surrounded by acres of cactus and spectacularly colorful mountains, Humahuaca looks like it should be a set for a wild west movie. The town has a bunch of hostels and campgrounds and is a popular destination for backpackers.
The Quebrada de Humahuaca was the first part of Argentina to be explored and settled by the Spaniards, for it provided a connecting route to the more temperate regions further south around Salta and Cordoba where supplies of food and draft animals could be found for the silver mines at Potosi, the gold mines at Oruro and other mining settlements in Upper Peru, now Bolivia. The town was a stopping place along that route before beginning the difficult climb to the Altiplano. Later Humahuaca was a central place for the revolutionary activity that eventually led to the creation of modern Argentina. Humahuaca was also a station on the now defunct railway that connected Bolivia to Buenos Aires, and its wild west aspect will remind many North Americans of some of the towns of Arizona or New Mexico. The area is arid due to the mountains, which block rain clouds.
This region in the north of Argentina has been inhabited for thousands of years and was part of the Inca empire. Humahuaca is named after the ancient people who lived here: the Omaguacas. One of the attractions is the carnival, which is visited by locals and foreign visitors. It is eight days of colourful costumes, masks and music. The “comparsas” organize the celebrations with food, traditional drinks and dances.
There is a tourist office in the Cabildo on the main square, but it keeps very limited hours. Tourist information is also theoretically available at the bus station. Hotel proprietors are excellent information sources.
Most buses between San Salvador de Jujuy and the town of La Quiaca on the Bolivian border stop at Humahuaca, and through buses to and from Salta are also available at the small and fairly informal 1 bus station a few blocks SW of the center of town. Buses are also available to and from smaller towns in the area such as Uquía and Purmamarca.
The bus station has luggage storage (pay by the day, AR$20 for small pieces of luggage, AR$40 for large). It also has food for sale and toilets.
There are buses to Iruya at 8:20, 10:30 and 16:00. If you buy a return ticket to/from Iruya (leaving Iruya at 6:00, 13:00, 15:15) make sure you've a seat reservation, and not just rock up at the departure time.
The town is too small for any transport other than walking to be necessary.
The center of the town is an attractively whitewashed Spanish colonial area. The church, now a cathedral, is well worth a visit.
- 1 Monumento de la Independencia (10 km northeast of Humahuaca). Huge statue crowning a small rise just west of the center and reached by climbing a long flight of steps. At the top there is a nice view of the Rio Grande valley and the town center not marred by the statue. There is also an adobe belfry and several cactus plants, perhaps the most photographed site in northern Argentina.
- 2 Iglesia de la Candalaria y San Antonio (to the west of the central plaza). A colonial-era foundation with an altarpiece dating to the late 17th century. Despite its small size, the church is a cathedral, one of the smallest churches to serve that function. It's sometimes open for visitors to come in and look around. It has lots of side rooms full of religious items, and a gift shop.
- 3 Cabildo (on the central plaza). Municipal building with an old clock. When it strikes noon every day a statue of San Francisco Solano slowly comes out like a cuckoo clock.
- 4 Cementerio San Antonio (behind the monument). 07:00–18:00 daily.
- 5 Torre de Santa Barbara (next to the Monumento de la Independencia). A small military watch tower built in 1600.
Beyond the center
- 6 Peña Blanca. A giant white-and-red desert rock accessible by a 25-minute hike. There's a shrine built into the side of the rock, with stairs you can climb up for a great view of the area. To the right of the shrine are some hand and footholds you can use to get even higher on the rock. To get there, follow Salta Street east over the bridge and keep going.
- 7 Ruinas de Coctaca. A pre-Columbian archaeological and with 40 ha the largest in northern Argentina, even before Tilcara. The ruins are mainly terraces used for agriculture, but they did produce more than what was needed by its inhabitants. Consequently, they must have been involved in some kind of trade with the neighbouring villages. Until 1593, the place was used by the collas, also called humahuacans or omaguacans. What is very profound about the place, it possess a rather complex and advanced watering system.
- 1 Serranía de Hornocal (To get to the viewpoint, you can take a taxi or a van for about AR$250; they leave several times a day and take about 40 minutes to get there. There is also a minibus, which should be cheaper—ask at your ho(s)tel. It is also accessible by private car. The track is in good shape, you don't need a 4WD to get there.). Shared Cars from the bus station 10:00-12:30 (sharp) and 15:00-17:15. Serranía de Hornocal is a colorful rock formation, the "mountain of 14 colors". At the top walk for 20 minutes to the viewpoint. The best light to visit is in the afternoon (14:00). Before it is really not worth it, you will not have many colours. You will be at 4,350 m above sea level: you may want to avoid the 20-minute walk, as the return trip is steep and can be difficult if you're not acclimated. The entrance to the viewpoint is AR$50 per vehicle.
- 2 Hike to the viewpoint. Instead of taking an overpriced taxi, you can also hike to the viewpoint(s). It is 19 km and should take all day, if you start early at around 8. However, if you hitch-hike, even to the car viewpoint, you could easily do it in 4-5 hr. Make sure to arrive after 14:00, only then the colours will really develop their real range.
- 3 Hike the Serranía to/from Caspalá. This trail starts or ends in Caspalá village. The trail is 40 km and passes the Serranía at its southern part. Unfortunately, you will not pass by any viewpoint to see the coloured side of the mountains. But you might find a way into the 1 Serranía Valley about 15 km from Caspalá, and from there up to one of the viewpoints mentioned above. If you start in Humahuaca, this way you can circle through the Serranía without the hassle of organising a taxi to/from Caspalá. There are sufficient camp opportunities along the way. Check out OpenStreetMap (used by apps like OsmAnd or Mapy.cz) for the trail, viewpoints and the short-cut into the valley.
For withdrawing money, the only bank in town is 1 Macro on the central plaza, part of the RedBrou network and charging about AR$200 for each withdrawal.
There exists no exchange office and Macro does exchange only for customers. Nevertheless, you can ask (artesanal) shops in front of the bank, the optician at the corner near the Giramundo Hostel or the ticket sellers at the bus station. It is kind of illegal but people in town know the terrible situation and can be trusted.
There are many small shops in the center of town selling clothes, jewelry, bags, and other tourist trinkets, as well as a daily handicrafts market on the steps leading up the hill to the monument. Most of the items for sale will be familiar to anyone who has traveled in the central Andean region, though there are a few artisans making jewellery and other items in more modern styles.
Humahuaca is well supplied with small restaurants offering a range of types of food. Recommended are
- Pachamanka Restaurante, Buenos Aires 457, ☏ . daily 10:00-23:00. Some distinctive regional foods like fried empanadas and llama meat. Very colorful surroundings.
- Aisito Restaurante, Buenos Aires 435, ☏ . daily 11:00-00:00. Another solid choice for some local cuisine and a glass of wine.
In the afternoon near the corner of Tucumán and Basilio Álvarez, there are some stands selling tortillas (in this region, the word refers to a sort of large, flat empanada) for AR$25–35 each.
Mostly the restaurants also serve alcohol, and there are few places that are strictly bars.
- Hostal la Sonada, Rio negro, ☏ . Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 10:00. Comfortable, quiet, clean and the owners are very welcoming. There is WiFi, but you have to ask for it to be switched on. AR$160.
- El Sol Hostel, Barrio Medalla Milagrosa (A 15-minute walk from the bus station, across the bridge.), ☏ . Breakfast included; 24-hr hot water; WiFi in rooms; very friendly service. AR$170 for double room with shared bathroom.
- Azul Humahuaca, Libertad 50 Barrio Medalla Milagrosa, ☏ .
- 1 La Puerta Verde, Basilio Alvarez 294. Colorful hostel with friendly staff. No kitchen, but there's an attached restaurant and free breakfast.
Due to its relatively isolated location in the mountains, internet is slow in Humahuaca. Hostels and some restaurants have WiFi, but don't get your hopes up.
- Uquía – A beautiful mountain village just north, home to a notable historic church and a canyon that provides hiking opportunities. The road to Iruya is one of the most impressive and breathtaking trips in Argentina. Buses to Uquia were AR$10 as of Nov 2017.
- Tilcara – An inexpensive town with the popular Pucará de Tilcara, an Omaguaca fortress.
- Purmamarca – Popular but a little overpriced tourist destination with the famous Mountain of Seven Colours. Good for taking a picture, hiking the Los Colorados trail behind the town and leaving again.