The 150 km long Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Ravine) extending from Jujuy Province’s capital city of San Salvador de Jujuy on the south to the Bolivian border on the north, is one of the region’s outstanding attractions. This Andean gorge, flanked by multi-striped hills on either side, is streaked in rich, vivid orange, yellow, red, blue and green colors which are the canyon’s trademark. Resulting from layered sediments deposited over millions of years, this spectacular route of multicolored mountains carved out by the Rio Grande is rich in history, culture and archeological sites and is a great adventure outdoors destination for hiking, climbing and mountaineering.
Part of a major trade route at the tail end of the Inca Trail, this mountain valley has been used as a cultural and major trade route for over 11,000 years. Numerous tracks, roads and settlements testify to the civilizations that once lived here, among them the Incas and the Spanish.
As you make your way along the ravine, you’ll come across dramatic natural settings and a unique cultural landscape of colorful Andean villages and towns with adobe houses, where local peoples retain ancient customs, rituals and an Andean lifestyle that reflects ancient times. Perched at the foot of the famous Cerro de la Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors), Purmamarca, the “Village in Virgin Lands” is one of the region’s most picturesque towns, having kept its Andean feel with its whitewashed buildings and adobe huts. The Cerro de la Siete Colores, a hill just outside the town, is streaked from top to bottom with a splendid array of pastel colors, whose splendor is even more breathtaking when viewed from the town’s central plaza.
Onwards at Maimara, you’re greeted by yet another natural wonder – a set of hills lined with colors that rise in peaks, the colors gradually deepening as they reach the top – and appropriately named “La Paleta del Pintor (The Painter’s Palette). Maimara also features a unique cemetery with colorful crosses and emblems that reflect local traditions.
Continue to cross the Tropic of Capricorn, marked only by a stone slab embedded with its eponymous astrological sign, to reach Tilcara, the province’s archeological capital. This ancient village stands out for its mud brick houses and attractive shady plaza, where locals sell Andean handicrafts. This is a region to explore by bike, by horse or even by llama! On an isolated hill nearby stands El Pucara, a pre-Colombian fortification built by native Omaguaca peoples to protect the village. The site is an open-air museum housing many remnants and ruins of a pre-Hispanic past. From here, the view of the gorge is amazing.
When you finally reach the town of Humahuaca at the top of the valley, you are rewarded with stunning vistas of sand-colored, cacti-studded peaks. At an altitude of over 3000 m., Humahuaca with its cobbled streets, quaint shops and lively plaza is stunning. A visit to the Iglesia de la Candelaria with its tabernacle made entirely of gold and its gleaming white towers is well worth the effort. This is also the northern starting point of the gorge, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for it cultural and historical riches.
The Quebrada de Humahuaca offers an up-close look at local Andean village life, and its culture and history within a not-to-be-missed breathtaking setting featuring great outdoor adventures.