3 days in Tilcara Argentina – Travel Guide for Quebrada de Humahuaca

Argentina. Many people focus on Buenos Aires or the waterfalls of Iguazu. Or they go south to adventure off into Patagonia. For me, the reason I really, really wanted to visit Argentina, was the Northwestern corner of the country: Salta and Jujuy Province. In the end, I spent 3 days in Tilcara, exploring the Quebrada de Humahuaca and it superseded my expectations. 

The rough and rugged but colorful area around Tilcara was one of the highlights of my Argentina trip and I’d like to inspire you to visit the Jujuy province in Argentina. If you’re curious about what this area in Argentina has to offer you, continue reading my travel guide to the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Off The Beaten Path Travel Guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina

Off the beaten track North-West Argentina

Because the Jujuy Province in North-West Argentina is not usually on people’s travel itinerary, I’d like to start with a short introduction and why I think this area of Argentina is not to be missed. Because I use a lot of names in this story, that you might have never heard before, I’d like to start with a small glossary of what is what.

  • Jujuy Province: the Northwestern Province in Argentina
  • Quebrada de Humahuaca: mountain valley with colorful mountains and historic villages
  • Tilcara: one of the villages of interest and a good base to explore the area
  • Humahuaca: historic village and a good base to explore the higher mountains
  • Serranía de Hornocal: picture-perfect colorful postcard mountains. A must-see in the area. Also knows as Hornocal de Humahuaca or 14-colored mountain.
  • Purmamarca: one of the villages in the area, mainly known for its colorful daily market.
  • Cerro de Los Siete Colores: Hill of the seven colors in Purmamarca
  • Salinas Grandes: great salt flats on the border of Jujuy and Salta Province

If you continue reading, I’ll explain more in-depth about what is so special about these sights and what you can expect to see if you visit them.

If you don’t like reading, or do like reading but also want some moving footage, I put together a compilation of my 3 days in Jujuy Argentina. Check out my video below, and follow me on YouTube. (I apologize for the rough cuts in video/music. I made these on the road and wanted to put them together in 1 video of the 3 days.

All my opinions are my own and I paid for everything in full myself. This post does contain affiliate links. If you decide to book or purchase something via one of my links, I’ll earn a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you.

Jujuy – Argentina

Jujuy is the name of the province in the most northwestern corner of Argentina. It is completely encircled by their bigger neighbor Salta province in Argentina and shared its borders with Bolivia and Chile.

The Jujuy Province consists of roughly 3 different areas. The Altiplano, a plateau sitting at 3,500 meters altitude with immense salt flats and dry and arid winds. The Rio Grande River cuts through the province and makes the Quebrada de Humahuaca. This area of Sierras has a mild climate, but harsh conditions. In the south-east, the Gran Chaco region is made up of the subtropical Yungas region. Green, lush vegetation and a warmer climate will great you.

Because of this wide variety, Jujuy province has a lot to offer for curious travelers who’d like to go off the beaten track. A 3-day trip to Jujuy and Tilcara is perfect to fit into your bigger Argentina itinerary or when you’re settled in Buenos Aires and would like to explore more of the country over the weekend. As the Quebrada de Humahuaca is so close to neighboring Bolivia and Chile, a visit to Jujuy province fits perfectly in an overlander’s itinerary or a bigger trip through South America.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
The different areas in Jujuy Province Argentina with the pink being the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Quebrada de Humahuaca

Quebrada de Humahuaca is the name of the river valley that roughly starts at Humahuaca and runs to the south. The River Rio Grande runs through it and highway 9 (Ruta 9) follows its course.

It links a number of interesting sights and villages and makes for a perfect historic and adventurous road trip. If you have 3 days to explore the north-west of Argentina, I’d highly recommend to spend it in and around the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Since 2003, the Quebrada de Humahuaca is protected by its Unesco World Heritage Listing.

Things to see in Jujuy Argentina

Because of the big variety in regions, the Jujuy area has a lot to offer.

You can go on an extended road trip and explore remote villages. Or dive into the pre-Inca trade route history and discover 10,000 years of habitation. Or you can set out on epic hikes to waterfalls, remote canyons and around colorful hills.

As I like to do all that combined, I spent 3 days in Jujuy province and explored as much as I could. If you’d like to do the same, here is my 3-day Tilcara itinerary.

3 days in Tilcara – Jujuy Argentina

I only had 3 weeks in Argentina and I wanted to see as much as possible in the country. Now, that in itself is impossible but I did my best. In the end, I spent 1 week across Salta and Jujuy area. I settled on 3 days in Tilcara and used this small hub as a base to explore the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

My main reasons to choose Tilcara as a base for 3 days are:

  • Central location in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. It is roughly as far from Tilcara to Humahuaca as it is from Tilcara to Purmamarca.
  • Wide variety of accommodations. Tilcara has a lot of options for guest houses and hotels and they seemed slightly cheaper than in Humahuaca and Pamamurca.

I stayed for 2 nights at the Hostal Antigua Tilcara. A nice, locally run, adobe guest house with spacious rooms and a sunny restaurant. It is located just off the main center, which allows for free parking which proved to be very valuable as parking in the rest of Tilcara was a nightmare.

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Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
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Day 1: Route 9 from Salta to Tilcara

I arrived at Salta airport from Iguazu Falls and picked up my rental car. You can also fly direct to Jujuy from Buenos Aires but if you wish to explore more than just Jujuy, Salta airport has a wide range of airlines and flights.

And… It gives you an amazing road trip to Tilcara. If you navigate from Salta or Salta Airport to anywhere in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, it will direct you east of Salta to the route 34. You’ll cross San Salvador de Jujuy, the capital of Jujuy Province and from there, take the route 9 that guides you through the Quebrada de Humahuaca.

But.. a much nicer, varied, and off the beaten path route is the route north of Salta to Jujuy. One is longer, 207 km but faster (3 hours of driver). The direct route goes via very narrow, one-lane roads, through the semi-tropical forest and is 175 km long but will take you well over 3,5 hours. I think it took me 4,5 hours to get from Salta Airport to Tilcara.

The scenic route to Jujuy

If you follow route 9 from Salta to Jujuy, you’ll pass a few villages north of Salta. Once passed ‘La Caldera’ you’ll not see any villages anymore until you pass the giant fishing lake and pass ‘El Carmen’ and continue to Jujuy. In between, you’ll round one bend after another. Drive underneath overhanging plants and trees and stop for a lost cow or sheep. Below you is the green jungle, in front of you is one lane of very poor asphalt. 

Route 9 from Salta to Jujuy is not off-road driving (or ripio as they call it in Argentina). You can drive this section with a normal car, a sedan or a similar type of car, but the road is challenging. 

The road is very narrow in some sections and you always have to be aware of upcoming traffic. The drops to your right are steep and the asphalt is cut open, crumbles at the edges and bumpy at best. But the views are breathtaking. During my drive, I encountered very little traffic and I felt literal like driving through nature. It was a very meditative experience as I rounded one corner after the other. Each time curious about what lay behind the next curve but trying to stay in the here and now and focus on the act of driving.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
It was so green and peaceful, I absolutely loved this drive.

If you wish to drive this route, here are some practical tips:

  • Fuel up. There is no option to refuel on route 9 between Salta and Jujuy
  • Bring water and snacks. The larger portion of the route is without civilization. If you need help, it might take a while before you’re able to get help.
  • Navigate to a point on the route between Salta and Jujuy. I used the village of El Carmen because my navigation system was determined to guide me along route 34 instead.
  • Inform your hotel or host when you set out and when you expect to arrive. This way, at least someone is expecting you.
  • Whatever time frame your navigation system gives you, add up at least one hour.
  • Be careful with overtaking. Don’t behave recklessly just to get ahead. Locals know sections of the route where it is best to overtake and they’ll let you pass. If you can’t pass, just park and enjoy the view for a while before you’ll continue again.

Drive from Jujuy to Tilcara

Once in Jujuy, I experienced quite a shock. There was traffic again. And people. For the past 3 hours, I drove through nature and now I was in the biggest town in the province again! 

From Jujuy, it is really straight forward. The route follows the Rio Grande River and there are not that many side options. Route 9 passes small villages, hamlets and bus stop. You can’t drive that fast and the mountains become higher as the valley cuts deeper into the land.

It was roughly 4 o’clock and the light started to change already. The colors became more intense and as I progressed along route 9, the rocks became redder. And yellower. And a blend of rainbow colors here and there.

Keep your eyes peeled to your left and right, and check the rearview mirror every now and then too. The colors of the rocks change with every mountain and especially at the end of the day, the soft hue of imminent sunset paints a particular scenic picture.

The 88 km from Jujuy to Tilcara will take you approximately 1,5 hours, depending on how many stops you’ll make and how many slow driving trucks are in front of you.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
Red rocks and empty roads around me. I loved this Quebrada de Humahuaca road trip!

Tilcara – Argentina

I arrived at the end of the afternoon in Tilcara. I took a right turn, crossed the bridge and all of a sudden, I was driving through cobblestoned streets, lined with adobe houses, restaurants and shops and a lot of tourists. Mainly local tourists, probably from Buenos Aires or Cordoba, but also some Western tourists walked the streets of Tilcara.

After I checked into my hotel, I decided to head out again. Not far from Tilcara, in the village of Maimará, I missed a great viewpoint. I drove out again and climbed the small rock of Paleta del Pintor. The painter’s palette is quite a good name because the view of the town and the jagged mountain peaks behind it were indeed like the colors of a painter.

Hues of brown turned orange, yellow, and red with a hint of purple and pink in between. When your eyes follow the faults in the mountains, more and more details unfold themselves before you, and you notice little green patches of grass. As the clouds shift and the sun turns, new colors come to life before you.

After a walk into town, I settled in one of the many restaurants for an exuberant local meal with live music. Tilcara really is a nice hub and there are plenty of opportunities to meet fellow travelers and share stories and engage with locals. 

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
Tilcara is a great base to explore this part of Jujuy Province

Day 2: Explore Tilcara and Humahuaca

After a local breakfast of oven-baked flatbread and jam, I headed out to explore more of Tilcara and I wanted to visit Humahuaca today.

Because the villages are small, you can easily combine them in one day. It is only a 45-minute drive from Tilcara to Humahuaca, so that part is easy. The hard part is: deciding what you’ll do with your time. 

Pucará de Tilcara

Sadly for me, the Pucará de Tilcara was closed. This is a national monument and shows the rebuild of a pre-Inca fortification. It houses a museum to explain the pre-Inca history of the area and the people. It shows several remarkable archaeological finds and explains how people lived, worked and traded in those times. Because the museum was closed, I also decided to skip the Botanic gardens of Tilcara, but I’d like to come back and revisit. 

Walk to Garganta del Diablo

Instead, I decided to drive out, up into the mountains just outside of Tilcara and hike in the canyon and see the Garganta del Diablo waterfall. You can also walk from town, then it is a steep, 2-hour climb, but I choose the route by car and winding my way around the mountain.

The road was very steep, and this time it was off-road (ripio) but not that bad. Just a lot of very tiny rocks. A sedan or hatchback car will get you there too, you don’t need a 4×4 for this route.

I arrived at a parking lot at the top of the canyon and parked alongside the other cars. I had to pay 50 ARS to enter the canyon and write my name and time of arrival in the guestbook. And down I went. 

The stairs were ok and in no-time, I was quite far down. I came to a crossroad, to the right was an arrow with Garganta del Diablo waterfall but the descend on the ladder looked so scary to me, I decided to pass on that. Instead, I went left and walked through the canyon to another waterfall. Not as big and impressive as the Garganta del Diablo, but the walk was nice and the waterfall was a good point for a picnic.

It took me roughly 1.5 hours to walk through the canyon and back again. I forgot my sunscreen and was sweating like a maniac. Even in spring, it was already very hot at 10 am. After one last look at the ladder, I decided I’d definitely skip the Garganta del Diablo waterfall and I started to climb back up, out of the canyon.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
The hike in the canyon was really serene and the natural cascades pretty impressive

Visit Humahuaca

I quickly swung by my hotel to get my sunscreen and I headed out to Humahuaca. The road between Tilcara and Humahuaca was equally beautiful as the day before and within 45 minutes, I reached the turnoff to Humahuaca.

I was stopped by the guides at the visitor center who only spoke Spanish. They convinced me that I should go on a tour with them to the Serranía de Hornocal so I waited for other tourists to show up. As it took too long, I convinced them in my broken Spanish that my original plan was much better.

I headed into Humahuaca first. I looked around and had some lunch. Then I’d return to go to Serranía de Hornocal.

Humahuaca town square

The town of Humahuaca is lovely but very touristy. I just arrived as 3 busloads of people were unleashed and all locals jumped into position, holding up their alpaca sweaters and scarves, their hand-carved trinkets and knick-knacks.

I swayed through the masses of people and climbed the monument of the revolution for independence (from Spain). A giant staircase leads you up a hill with huge cacti scattered on the sides before you arrive at the actual monument. You can walk around it and visit it, but to me, the views of the town and the surroundings were the most rewarding.

Lunchtime in Humahuaca might not be the best idea, as the little town square in front of the church was overrun by loud tourists and noisy school children. I escaped into the first decent cafe I could find and enjoyed a nice lunch.

When I got out, the hordes of people had vanished and Humahuaca returned to a sleepy town. I walked in the shadow of the thick adobe houses and checked out the different merchandise on display. Vibrant colors are woven into pure white or deep black woolen blankets, scarves and hats and I had to restrain myself from buying the whole village.

If you’re looking for a nice souvenir, Humahuaca is a good place and they have plenty of different options.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
The churches in this part of Argentina are small but very appealing

Serranía de Hornocal or Mountain of 14 Colors

I had spent quite a bit of time waiting at the tourist office and in the town of Humahuaca, so I was anxious to finally set out and go see Serranía de Hornocal. If you open any brochure of Jujuy or search anywhere for Jujuy, you’ll see the deep intense colors of this mountain range.

And it is rightfully so, a very colorful highlight of your time in Jujuy. I joined a tour with 2 other tourists and a driver from the tourist office and we set out in our massive 4×4 to Serranía de Hornocal.

We left the village of Humahuaca behind and I thought to myself, this is not such a bad off-road road. I could have done this on my own with my own car. But we picked up the pace and our drive blew through the landscape with high speed. 

We left the valley road and started to climb. Far in the distance, we saw a giant antenna and our driver gestures that that was our goal for today. One switchback after another, we circled the mountain and cut through the dry sand. At 4,200 meters altitude, we stopped at a viewpoint for some pictures. The view from up here was already breathtaking but we continued to climb the mountain.

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Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
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The viewpoint of Hornocal de Humahuaca

At 4,350 meters we passed a checkpoint and paid 30 ARS entrance fee for the viewpoint. We saw a large car park, an ambulance, and a geodome. We had roughly 1.5 hours to explore on our own and take in the sweeping panoramic views.

From the car park, you can walk towards the colored mountain range and take in the folds and crevices of the land. The colors seem to sit on top of the folds, blending together in one giant odd colored rainbow. The hills that surrounded us, had a very bright yellow color, together with the deep blue of the sky at this high altitude, it made for a stark contrast.

Walking at this altitude was very intense. Going towards the 14 colored mountain was manageable as it was mostly down and you have this amazing view in front of you. But coming back up was absolute torture. The idea of an ambulance at hand was slightly comforting but nevertheless I was struggling. 3 steps forward, 3 minutes of heavy breathing to get some oxygen to my legs before I could continue. I felt like I had to climb a vertical wall before I was back at the car park.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
We came from that road, luckily there wasn’t much traffic

14 colored mountain

But it was 100% worth it. I had dreamed of seeing this mountain for over 12 years since I first read about it. This was the reason to come to Argentina now and I loved it. It was quite cloudy so the Serranía de Hornocal was covered in shade, but from time to time, the wind blow some clouds away, and the colors of the mountain came out more vibrant.

Besides the colors of the mountain range, the jagged peaks and the sharp ridge offered an abundance of detail to look at. I looked from left to right, each time discovering new things I hadn’t seen before and utterly amazed by so much beauty.

Of course, you can spend all day sitting and looking at the mountain, but after a good half an hour, I returned to the car park as I knew it would be quite the struggle to walk at this high altitude.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
I don’t recall ever being this happy and zen and into the moment. I always worry about the time, how hard it would be to get back etc. But here… I was just very happy.

I paid 800 ARS for the tour to the 14 colored mountains. That was for the huge 4×4 and driver and I shared the car with 2 other tourists. If you’re with more people, the price per person is lower. In the end, I think I could have done it with my own car but it is very strenuous driving at high altitude with quite a lot of oncoming traffic because the Serranía de Hornocal is so popular.

After all this colorful high-altitude excitement, I returned to Tilcara, grabbed some delicious pasta and called it a night.

For more background information about the geology and how these mountains can have such amazing colors, read more here.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
The colors of the 14-colored mountain of Humahuaca were really out of this world.

Day 3: Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes

Today was the last day in Tilcara. I checked out of my guest house, stacked the car with more water and some snacks, refueled and I went on my way. I made a circular round trip and my 3 days in Tilcara were part of a larger itinerary. If you only have 3 days, you can return to Tilcara or Salta at the end of the day.

Purmamarca village market

I drove along the route 9 to Purmamarca. I was stuck behind 2 massive trucks that struggled to get up the mountains, so it took me quite some time. But it was really early, so I arrived in the small town of Purmamarca before the market had started. I parked my car in a side street and I set out for a walk.

First, I visited the local square where vendors were busy setting up their goods. I stopped by the local tourist office and inquired about the hike around the colored hill. The woman assured me it was quite easy, so off I went.

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Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
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Cerro de Los Siete Colores – Hill of the seven colors

Just behind Purmamarca is a very colorful hill. Due to the iron in the earth, it displays lovely bright but pastel colors and it is called the hill of the seven colors. A circular walk around is, will take you roughly 1 hour. It turns out, you can also do it by car but it was a really nice walk.

I started at the side of the cemetery and I was all alone. The market of Purmamarca was coming to life, but here, it was only me, the sun burning down on me and a small breeze. It was 10 am but the first part goes up a bit and I was sweating in no time.

The landscape was really impressive with the large iron colored mountains, rough peaks, and cracks. And everywhere you look these lovely colors. Mostly red, but also orange, green, grey, blue and yellow. Here and there you could climb a huge rock for even better views of the area but I decided to use my energy for the walk and within an hour, I was back in Purmamarca.

In this part of town, it was buzzing with people, vendors and tourists alike. Little stalls showing their colorful merchandise, locals inviting people in to admire the view. I really liked the vibe of this part of town. You’ll see mostly adobe houses but with a lot of wooden features, hand-made dream catchers and furniture. I can easily see why you’d want to stay in Purmamarca and hang out a bit longer.

After I purchased some lovely souvenirs at the local market, I went on my way again. There was a power outage in town, so all the shops and cafés remained closed.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
Although the landscape is rather bare, there is so much color everywhere you look.

Driving from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes

It was still early as I left Purmamarca behind me and set out to drive the mountain road 52 to the Salinas Grandes. I really don’t know how big coaches or tour buses would do this as the road is one hairpin turn after another. It was really intense to drive here but sweepingly beautiful.

I didn’t encounter any other people or cars, so I could follow my own pace as I slowly meandered up the mountain pass and down on the other side. The earth was rather bare, but it was a bright and sunny day and the different hues in the rock still made for an interesting sight.

Here and there are different viewpoints with a map of the region and sweeping views over the canyon and the curved road below me.

Once over the highest point, the landscape opened up and the road was straighter in the distance. Far away, I could see a giant white plane and I knew: that was where I was heading, the great salt flats of Argentina!

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
It was very intense to drive up this mountain pass but the view was very spectacular.

Salinas Grandes Salt Flats Argentina

A few years ago, I traveled through Bolivia and visited Uyuni Salt Flats of Bolivia. A massive salt plan that spans hundreds of miles and miles. But I was very ill the day our tour visited Uyuni and I didn’t really enjoy myself that much. 

A lot of people who travel around South America say, when you’ve visited the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, you’ve seen the best there is to see and you don’t have to bother with the Salinas Grandes in Argentina.

I disagree. Yes, the salt flats of Argentina were a bit of a ‘do-over’ for me, but I really enjoyed them. Yes, they are much smaller than their Bolivian counterparts but nevertheless, they are still massive!

The Salinas Grandes, the great salt pans of Argentina sit on the border of Jujuy and Salta province. They are still being mined industrial but you can also visit them on a tour. There are 2 small visitor areas where you can park and arrange for a tour.

The fun part of the salt flats of Argentina is, that you can drive on them yourself! I joined a convoy and together with 3 other tourist cars and a guide, we set out to drive a small circle on the Salinas Grandes.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
The salt isn’t actually that stunning white but rather dirty because of all the activity, industry and traffic

Tour of Great Salt Flats of Argentina

I paid 300 ARS and followed the other cars in our group. There were only 4 cars and the guide got into the car in the front. The tour was only in Spanish but I understood most of it. We drove over the dried-up salt pans and I could hear the soft chirp of salt crystals under my tires.

We stopped at 2 different points. One was an area with channel-like structures to show how the salt actually is mined. The water inside the channels was baby blue and blue as aquamarine. It formed a very strong contrast with the white salt and the blue sky above us. Because the salt flats are made of salt, and so flat (duh!) perspective is distorted. What is far away looks close and small things can look bigger than they are. 

Because of this skewed perspective, it is absolutely imperative to follow the car in front of you, because you easily get lost. After an introduction of these Salt Flats, we continued our tour to the Eyes of the salt flats. 

A few lakes in the salt flats that are a great backdrop for some pictures. We had to walk really carefully as the salt underneath us, was eroded and you can easily step onto a hollow salt structure and twist your ankle or fall down.

All in all, the tour didn’t last that long but it was very interesting and it was nice to see the salt flats up close. The different colors and structures of the salt crystals are absolutely stunning, so I’d say: definitely don’t skip the salt flats of Argentina!

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
The reflection of the clouds and the dramatic colors was amazing

Return to Jujuy or Salta or continue to San Antonio de Los Cobres

Depending on the rest of your plans, you can either trace your steps back to Purmamarca and return to Jujuy or Salta.

In my case, my itinerary led me to San Antonio de Los Cobres where I took the Train to the Clouds.

From the Salt Flats of Argentina, you can also continue on route 52 to Chile and San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

How to get to Tilcara and the Quebrada de Humahuaca

From Buenos Aires, regular flights go to San Salvador de Jujuy and Salta. I took a flight from Iguazu, direct to Salta with Aerolineas Argentinas and continued from there. Find the best flight options for your situation here.

From Jujuy and Salta, many tours cruise the area. They include one or more of the items on my itinerary but they have set departure times and only run when enough people applied.

I hired a rental car from Salta Airport. This included unlimited mileage and allowed me to go where I wanted and stop where I needed. If you rent a car with multiple people, you can share the cost.

Find the best car rental prices for Salta Airport here and Jujuy Airport here.

From Jujuy follow route 9 to Tilcara and Humahuaca. The turn-off for Purmamarca and the Salinas Grandes is on route 9, called route 52.

Where to stay in Quebrada de Humahuaca

I chose Tilcara as a base to explore the region for 3 days. This allowed me to settle in a bit and not sleep somewhere else every night. Tilcara is located in the middle of the main attractions of the Quebrada de Humahuaca and distances to Purmamarca and Humahuaca are equally far from Tilcara.

I stayed in Tilcara at the Hostal Antigua Tilcara. They offered free parking, free breakfast and spacious private rooms and this guest house has a really local vibe. You can chat with the girl running the place or meet other travelers at the communal kitchen. For more options in Tilcara, check here.

Humahuaca is also a good option, although the distance to Purmamarca and especially the Salinas Grandes is longer from Humahuaca. The town focuses on the main square and the monument but plenty of guest houses and hotels around it. Find the best accommodations in Humahuaca here.

Parmamurca looked lovely too. It had a bit of a laid-back hippy vibe to it and some lovely adobe luxury houses for rental. I can easily see that you throw off your backpack and stay a full week in this small town. Find the best places to stay in Purmamarca here.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
At sunset, the colors are even warmer and more spectacular.

How to get around

My 3-day itinerary from Tilcara is made with my rental car. It makes life so much easier, as you can go to more remote vantage points whenever you like. You can even go for a sunset drive or eat in a different village than where you’re staying. So I guess you figured that I recommend to rent a car and go explore the Quebrada de Humahuaca and the area around it.

If you don’t have a driver’s license or something else prohibits you from driving in Argentina, then you can rely on local transport. Buses run on route 9 from Jujuy to Tilcara and Humahuaca. It is possible.

But I think you’re better off joining a tour. This way, your transport worries are taken care off and you get to see these remote highlights without a worry. You do have to be flexible in terms of departure dates and times but it is a good option to see a lot of the region with a tour.

Some suggestions:

During the time of my visit, they were building a railway track from Jujuy to Tilcara and they want to extend it even further north. As information is very limited at the moment, the train could be a viable option in the future.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
Keep your eyes out for alpacas and vicuñas as you’re driving around the north-west of Argentina

Going to Bolivia from Argentina

As Jujuy Province and especially the Quebrada de Humahuaca is so close to the border of Bolivia, it is really easy to hop the border from here. If you’re traveling around South America, this corner of Argentina is perfect to make the switch to Bolivia.

From Humahuaca, follow route 9 further north until La Quiaca. Here, you’ll find the border with Bolivia and the town of Villazon Bolivia. From here, you can continue to Tupiza for Uyuni Tours or continue further into Bolivia.

Going to Chile from Argentina

If you follow route 52 from Purmamarca to the Salinas Grandes, you can continue straight west and continue to the border with Chile. This route is full of giant trucks making it across the border but the road is well paved for the most part and straight. If you continue on the 52, you’ll cross the border with Chile. In Chile, the route is renamed route 27 which goes to San Pedro de Atacama.

Do you need a 4×4 in Jujuy Argentina?

I think you don’t need a 4×4 vehicle to drive around this part of Argentina. If you decide to rent a sedan or hatchback, you have to be careful where you’ll drive and where you’ll go.

Almost all roads in this itinerary were paved, some a bit better than others. Overall it was very easy to drive in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. The road goes straight with no difficult turn-offs and misinterpreted directions. There is just one road with a lot of minor turn-offs that lead to the villages but it is pretty straight forward.

I only drove off-road when I visited the canyon of the Garganta del Diablo near Tilcara but this was also manageable with a normal car. 

I decided not to drive myself to the Serranía de Hornocal but I took a tour. That road was quite difficult to drive on and it will take you a lot longer if you drive yourself. 

Find the best car rental prices for Salta Airport here and Jujuy Airport here.

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
Adobe houses, giant cacti and breathtaking surroundings, Humahuaca packs in a lot!

When to go?

I visited Tilcara and Jujuy Province in the spring in Argentina. I traveled in October and I had lovely sunny weather. It was a bit chilly in the evenings and nights, but as soon as the sun came out, it was quite hot.

If there has been a lot of rain, the Rio Grande will grow to its full side, doing justice to its name. This will mainly be in summer. In the winter, the river is completely dried up and it is only a bare river valley.

In summer, it can be very hot in this area so the best time to visit will be from May to August, adding in September and October when the weather is on your side.

What to pack?

Due to the high altitude, the mountains, and the bare lands, weather conditions can be really harsh in the Quebrada de Humahuaca and the salt flats. Wind will sweep across the planes or in between the mountains, dropping the temperatures at night to around freezing.

There is very little precipitation in this part of Jujuy so the weather will be dry, sunny but it can get cold. As always, layer up if you can. A windproof jacket or outer shell will be invaluable.

In almost all the villages on the route, you can shop for hand-knitted sweaters, scarves, gloves, and hats. Of course, you can also bring your own.

If you plan to do a lot of hiking, I recommend bringing your hiking poles as the terrain can be uneven and unstable. I have the Black Diamond trekking poles with adjustable height which are super easy to bring with you on holiday. If you prefer the same trekking poles as me, but with cork handles, then check the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Poles here

Because of the dry climate, don’t forget to drink plenty. You can bring your own water bottle and refill it. I never go anywhere without my lip balm, I like this cocoa butter one.

And at high-altitude, it is always a good idea to bring sunglasses, bring them and use them!

Helpful tips and tools for your Argentina trip

  • It’s a good idea to have travel insurance in case something goes wrong during your trip to Argentina. You can purchase travel insurance from World Nomads here.
  • The Argentina Lonely Planet Guidebook is a good guide for information and practical travel tips (if you’re not reading my blog). Purchase your copy here.
  • I love to design travel themed items and I made several vibrant South-America inspired travel themed patterns. Check my own designs here!

3 days in Jujuy Argentina

When I returned to Salta province I was really sad to leave beautiful Jujuy behind. I only saw a small portion of the area and I immediately told myself, I’d definitely want to come back to Jujuy.

My 3 days in Jujuy were not nearly enough and I only scratched the surface of this colorful area.

I feel you can easily stay for 1 week and not see the same thing twice. I guess I’ll have to save that for another trip.

Have you ever been to north-west Argentina? Did you visit Jujuy? Did you ever hear of the Hill of the 14 colors in Humahuaca? Share your experiences and ideas in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you!

Off the beaten path travel guide to Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Argentina. Travel 3 days in Tilcara, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Salinas Grandes Argentina
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