1. Visit Argentina's Rainbow Mountain
We had no idea Argentina had a secret rainbow mountain hiding away in the northwest.
We found out about it when researching Humahuaca and immediately wanted to visit to compare it to the more famous one in Peru.
El Hornocal or the 14 Coloured Mountain, is just outside the town of Humahuaca, a 30-minute drive from town. It’s a great little half-day trip. You can join a tour or drive there yourself if you have a car.
Most of the hostels in town will organise a tour for you. We stayed at Hostel La Humahuaca, which is a chilled hostel with a hippy vibe about it. The hostel offered a tour for 500 ARS (£6.39/$8.30) with three times, 10 AM, 2.30 PM and 5.30 PM for sunset.
At 4,200m it’s high, but there’s limited walking/trekking involved as you can reach the top by car.
We think it’s well worth a visit. Not only is it cheap and easy, but the colours and view are just as good, if not better, than Peru’s famous Rainbow Mountain. Make the trip, and you can judge for yourself!
Everything you need to know is here in our guide:
2. Visit Tilcara
Tilcara is the second most popular town along Route 9.
It has the same laidback vibe of Humahuaca and is filled with artisan cafes, restaurants and shops. In the summer it is busy with Argentinian tourists escaping the big cities.
If you visit for the day, you can trek to El Garganta Del Diablos (The Devil’s Throat Waterfall) or the historical site of Pucara Del Tilcara. Here you can explore pre-Inca fortification ruins built in the 12th century or you can simply explore the town and enjoy the great cafes, craft stools and live music in the main square.
For more information on Tilcara:
There’s a lot of great stuff in Tilcara though so we recommend visiting after Humahuaca and staying a couple of days there as well.
3. Visit Purmamarca & The Hill of 7 Colours
Just past Tilcara in the town of Purmamarca is Argentina’s second Rainbow Mountain – the Hill of 7 Colours.
Whilst it doesn’t sound as impressive as the 14-coloured mountain, Humahuaca named it this way to out-do Purmamarca. The hill is just as colourful and unique, and you don’t need to take a tour to see this one – you can see it from anywhere in town. If you want to see more than one Rainbow Mountain, then definitely check it out.
We recommend seeing El Hornocal over this one if you’re short on time. However, if you’re visiting each town for more than a couple of days, it’s worth a trip to both.
4. Explore Humahuaca Town
Humahuaca is a small town and can easily be explored in half a day. Here are a couple of sights you may want to star into google maps and use as a rough route:
- Plaza San Martin – the central hub of the town where you will find the church and lots of pop-up stalls selling crafts. There’s a small park with benches if you want to sit down and take it all in or a couple of resto-bars if you want to grab a drink.
- Archaeological museum – a small museum (only four rooms) with information on the native tribes that used to populate the north-west. You can also see some of the artefacts dug up in the region including ceramics, weapons, skeletons and even mummies.
- Iglesia de la Candelaria – the oldest building in the town built-in 1631. You are free to enter and wander around. If you are here at noon, keep an eye on the clocktower to see a mechanical saint of the church come out and strike the clock.
- Independence monument – an impressive statue dedicated to Argentina’s northern army and the indigenous tribes that fought alongside it. You will get a great view of the town when you climb the steps to the top.
- Manos Andinas – the only place in town to buy fair-trade items and clothing made from llama wool.
6. Try North Argentinian Local Cuisine
The north of Argentina still has strong ties to the indigenous cultures and tribes that used to live here, which means you are spoilt for choice with excellent local cuisines such as quinoa, empanadas, locro (a filling stew of corn and meat), tamales and grilled llama meat.
If you are looking for an inexpensive but authentic eat, then try lunch at Mercado Municipal de Humahuaca. The market is great for picking up empanadas, chicken skewers, and smaller versions of lorco or llama meat for half the price of a restaurant.
The best thing about visiting this region of Argentina is that prices are closer to those you find in Bolivia rather than the prices in Buenos Aires.
This means you can enjoy steak and wine for half the price and not feel guilty about it. We had a huge steak and shared a bottle of wine at Pacha Manka and barely blinked when the bill came out. If you are looking to treat yourself, then Humahuaca and the north of Argentina are the places to do it.
7. Experience Live Folk Music At A Peña
If you are spending a few nights in the region, then you should experience the traditional music of Northern Argentina.
These communal gatherings are known as a “peña” and will have live folk music, dancing, and storytelling going on until the early hours of the morning. They often don’t get started until after 9-10 PM so make sure you’re ready for a late night. You won’t want to leave once the music has begun.
Two places in town to check out are:
8. Visit Iruya
Iruya is a remote little village set in the cliffside of a mountain.
It used to be a popular stop for merchants and travelling caravans heading up into Bolivia and Peru but has now become a popular tourist destination due to the picturesque setting.
It’s around 80km from Humahuaca, so this may not be a single day trip. But you could easily travel there and stay the night. The journey also provides spectacular views so it may be best for those of you who have rented a car.
If you think Humahuaca and the towns along route 9 are hidden gems, then the beautiful and remote village of Iruya will blow your mind. From the town, you also have several great hikes such as Mirador de la Cruz and Mirador el Condor.
Here’s a two day tour from Jujuy or Salta combined with Salinas Grandes:
- Get Your Guide – Iruya & Salinas Grandes Two Day Tour
9. Take A Day Tour
There’s always the option to take a paid tour out of the town if you don’t want to organise any of this yourself:
10. Road Trip Along Route 9
Route 9 is an incredibly scenic road that’s perfect for extended road trips via car or bike.
The short distances between the towns of Humahuaca, Tilcara and Purmamarca, including all the incredible landscapes and scenery in the region, means having a car is a fantastic way to explore this part of Argentina.
Some other places you can check out include:
- Tres Cruces
- Quebrada Senoritas
- Laguna De Los Pozuelos
We rented a car in Salta and journeyed along the south, but there’s no reason why you can’t go north. If you are coming from Salta or Jujuy, then these are two of the biggest cities in the region, and you will be able to rent a car here.
We used Hertz, and the process was simple and efficient.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN HUMAHUACA?
Two days is all you need in Humahuaca.
This is enough time to explore the town on your first day and to visit the Rainbow Mountain (El Hornocal) on the second. Take three or four days if you are going to use it as a base to explore the other parts of the north-west.
Humahuaca 2-day Itinerary
- Wander the town
- Lunch at Mercado Municipal de Humahuaca
- Trek To Penas Blancas For Sunset
- Dinner at Pacha Manka
- Visit El Hornocal
- Dinner at Aisito
- Live music at La Peña de Fortunato Ramos
THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN HUMAHUACA
We only spent two days in town so didn’t get a chance to try all these fantastic places, but here’s what we came across from research and recommendations from our hostel:
- Pacha Manka – excellent local cuisine and steak
- El Cabildo – local delicacies and hearty soups
- Aisito – well priced regional cuisine
- Mercado Municipal de Humahuaca – a local market with fresh produce and stalls cooking local cuisine
HOW TO GET TO AND FROM HUMAHUACA
Route 9 is one long road that runs from the north down to the city of Salta.
Navigating this part of the country is super easy and laidback, and can be done by just hopping on cheap, local buses whenever you want to move to the next town. Humahuaca’s bus station can be found on the corner of Av. Belgrano and Av. Exodo. Ask your hostel for directions if you can’t find it on Google maps.
How To Get To Tilcara From Humahuaca
Tilcara is only 40 minutes by bus to Humahuaca and the tickets costs around 140 ARS (£1.80/$2.40).
Buses are relatively frequent. The bus station is in the middle of town, next to Plaza San Martin on Av. Belgrado. There are multiple bus companies, so we just picked the one with the next earliest time.
When arriving at Tilcara, the bus will drop you off at the YPF garage across the bridge from the town. You will need to talk from there.
How To Get To Jujuy/Salta From Humahuaca
The bus journey from Humahuaca to Jujuy is 2 hours.
The bus journey from Humahuaca to Salta is 3 hours and 45 minutes.
The buses are easy to organise and run frequently. We didn’t book anything online and just turned up on the day at the bus station. If you are going to Salta, you may have to change buses in Jujuy. The Jujuy bus station is massive, and we found a bus company within minutes to take us.
How To Get To La Quiaca (Bolivian Border) From Humahuaca
If you are going south to north and heading into Bolivia after your north-west experience, you will need to get to the border town of La Quiaca.
Buses leave daily, are frequent, and cost between $3-5.
The bus station is a 5-minute journey to the border by taxi. Make sure you agree on the fare before getting it. You could probably walk, but it won’t be ideal with big bags and the heat. It shouldn’t cost more than $2. We crossed this border but in the other direction so aren’t sure of the exact ins and outs of it.
Once you cross the border, you can take a mini-bus to the nearest town of Tupiza. The mini-bus costs 20 BOBS with a 1 BOB fee to Villazon and takes an hour and 15 minutes. Or you can carry straight on through to Uyuni which should be a 5-6 hour journey.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN HUMAHUACA
La Humahuacasa – We stayed at Hostel La Humahuaca, which is a chilled hostel with a hippy vibe about it. There were lots of people making arts and crafts and generally taking life easy, we’d recommend it.
The hostel offered a tour to El Hornocal for 500 ARS (£6.39/$8.30) which is also handy.
Giramundo Hostel – Lively hostel with free WIFI and daily breakfast. Shared bathrooms.