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THE 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN TILCARA – ARGENTINA’S HIDDEN GEM

Argentina’s north-east has more in common with its neighbour Bolivia than the big European style cities of Salta and Buenos Aires. Which means it’s perfect for travellers who are looking to travel on a budget and stay off the beaten track. Tilcara is one of three popular towns along Route 9 and is well worth your time. Everything you need to know is here in our list of best things to do and Tilcara town guide.

1. Trek To El Garganta Del Diablo (The Devil's Throat)

This 7km trek will take you out into the wilderness of northern Argentina, through dry desert slopes and fields of giant cacti.

 

As you climb higher into the mountains, the cliffs will close in on you until you are eventually trekking through a tiny canyon with a single walkway – this is the ‘Devils Throat’. Once you exit, you can keep going until you reach the end of the canyon and a final waterfall.

 

We visited at the start of February, which is the summer in Argentina. The weather was beautiful, and once we reached the final waterfall, there were lots of Argentinians (clearly on holidays) relaxing in the shade, dipping into the river and all drinking their beloved mate.

 

Our hostel gave us a printed map, but it’s easy to find. If you star the waterfall in google maps and follow the directions. There’s only a single path so you won’t get lost.

2. Visit The Pre-Inca Ruins Of Pucara Del Tilcara

Pucara Del Tilcara is a historical site where you can explore pre-Inca fortification ruins built in the 12th century.

 

There’s an archaeological museum on-site with information about the ancient Andean tribes in the region, as well as ceramics, skeletons and other artefacts found there on display. Just a warning that all the signs will be in Spanish.

 

A short detour from the ruins and museum is the Jardin Botanica de Altura – a small botanical garden with several species of giant cacti in.

 

The garden, museum and ruins pair well with a trip to Garganta as they are both near each other. The trail to the waterfall begins a short walk away from the ruins.

3. Visit Argentina's Rainbow Mountain

We had no idea Argentina had a secret rainbow mountain hiding away in the northeast.

 

We only found out about it when we started researching the area and immediately wanted to visit it to compare it to Peru’s.

 

El Hornocal or the 14 Coloured Mountain, is just outside the town of Humahuaca, a 30-minute bus journey from Tilcara. It’s a great little day trip to take. You can either organise a tour or transport from Tilcara or travel to Humahuaca yourself and sort it out there. 

 

Everything you need to know is here in our guide:

 

 

 

At 4,200m it’s high, but you don’t need to trek to it as a road goes all the way to the top. Nice and easy. And we think it’s definitely 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.

 

Booking on to a tour will save you having to organise your own in Humahuaca. Here are some online options to give you an idea:

 

 

The tours we found online range from an eye-watering $40-$75 for a half-day tour. When you consider the total price if done on your own would be around 800 pesos (£10 / $13), excluding food and water, that’s a good slice of profit for the tour company.

 

It’s much cheaper to visit on your own and more of an adventure, in our opinion.

 

For more information on the town of Humahuaca:

 

4. Visit Argentina's Second Rainbow Mountain - The Hill Of 7 Colours

Another short journey away in the opposite direction from Humahuaca 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 theirs that to try and out-do Purmamarca so don’t be fooled. The hill is just as colourful and impressive, and you don’t need to take a tour to see this one, you can see it from anywhere in town.

 

 

 

We would recommend seeing El Hornocal over this one if you are short on time however. Although the best thing to do is visit all three of these towns separately so you can see it all.

 

5. Try The Traditional Cuisine Of The Region

Tilcara has an impressive restaurant scene considering its small size.

 

And because the north of Argentina still has strong ties to the indigenous cultures of the region, you will be able to find some new and exciting takes on popular dishes such as locro (a rich, meaty stew), quinoa and llama meat.

 

El Nuevo Progreso is the go-to in town for delicious local cuisine, or El Patio is another excellent second option.

 

For live folk music – La Pena de Carlitos.

 

If you are looking for an inexpensive but authentic eat, then try lunch at Mercado Municipal de Tilcara. 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.

6. Enjoy Steak And Wine Without Breaking The Bank

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 Los Puestos Restaurante and barely blinked when the bill came out. If you are looking to treat yourself, then Tilcara and the north of Argentina are the places to do it.

7. Explore The Town, Music Venues And Bars

Having a wander of Plaza Alvarez Prado is the early evening is a great way to spend a couple of hours.

 

There will be artisan stalls selling indigenous crafts and wears, and street musicians giving live performances.

 

After a wander, head to one of the bars sit outside to people watch on the square. Then once the sun goes down, you can go inside or to one of the many other bars to enjoy some live music. The Argentinians like to start their nights out late, so you’ve been warned, you may up be up all night.

 

Arumi is a great place to check out for live music.

8. Wine Tasting At Bodega Fernanda Dupont

If you are after more wine, then a visit to a vineyard is a must. Bodega Fernanda Dupont is a short drive outside of Tilcara.

 

The Winery is open for guided tours from Monday to Saturday between 9 AM to 6 PM. They ask that you call ahead in summer to check the river’s status as it can sometimes flood, stopping cars getting there.

 

 

9. Take A Day Tour

There’s always the option to take a paid tour out of the town if the Rainbow Mountains don’t interest you.

 

Here’s two we found:

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

TILCARA TOWN GUIDE

How Many Days Do You Need In Tilcara?

Two days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Tilcara.

 

The town is small and can easily be seen in the morning. The best thing to do in Tilcara is just take it easy, take in the laid-back vibe of the place and enjoy some local wines and cuisine.

Tilcara 2-Day Itinerary

Day 1

  • Wander the town
  • Lunch at Mercado Municipal de Tilcara
  • Dinner at El Nuevo Progesso
  • Live music at La Pena de Carlitos

Day 2

  • Jardin Botanica de Altura
  • Purcara de Tilcara Ruins / Archeological Musuem
  • El Garganta Del Diablos Trek

The Best Places To Eat In Tilcara

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:

 

  • Khuska
  • La Picadita
  • El Nuevo Progreso
  • La Pena de Carlitos
  • Arumi
  • Los Puestos Restaurante

How To Get To Tilcara

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, just hopping on cheap, local buses whenever you want to move to the next town.

 

Tilcara’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 between the two towns. 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 Tilcara From Jujuy/Salta

Whilst we did this journey in the opposite direction, going south to Salta, it’s relatively simple to navigate. 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 coming from Salta to Tilcara, 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.

 

If you want to do some forward planning, then Bus Bud is always helpful.

 

They will have buses from the big cities such as Salta and Jujuy, but you won’t be able to find any of the buses between the small towns on route 9 as these are all local companies.

Where To Stay In Tilcara

Hostel Waira – Overlooking the valley of Humahuaca in Tilcara, Hostel Waira offers budget accommodation, just 200 yards from the Plaza Central. Every morning, local and international breakfast is served. Waira Hostel organises guided hiking tours to the Humauca Creek and the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

 

  • Bed in a 6-bed dorm – £9
  • Double room for two – £17

 

Booking / Hostel World / Website 

 

 

 

Tilcara Mistica Hostel – Only 200 yards from Tilcara’s city centre, Tilcara Mistica Hostel offers rooms with free Wi-Fi. It features a garden with hammocks, a shared kitchen, BBQ facilities and a bar/restaurant attached as well. Free Breakfast with regional ingredients is served daily.

 

  • Bed in 4 Bed Dorm – £7
  • Double or twin with shared bathroom – £19

 

Booking / Hostel World / Website

 

 

Tierra Andina Hostel – Tierra Andina Hostel has a bar, shared lounge, garden, and free WiFi. The accommodation features a 24-hour front desk, a shared kitchen and currency exchange for guests. Free continental breakfast included.

 

  • Bed in 6 bed mixed dorm – £4
  • Deluxe double room – £10

 

Booking / Website 

 

 

All prices as of November 2020 as advertised on Booking.com