Jujuy: Home to the Prettiest Towns in Argentina
Purmamarca, Tilcara & Humahuaca are 3 scenic towns in the high-altitude desert province of Jujuy, Argentina. These towns are all located within 70 km of each other inside the picturesque valley known as the Quebrada of Humahuaca. The landscapes are absolutely stunning and some places look more like a painting than reality. The multi-colored mountains, Cardones cactus, and towns with a Wild West look make Jujuy completely different from anywhere else in Argentina.
The Jujuy region is best explored by car, but a vast majority of places are accessible by bus or with a tour. You’ll want to stay in 2 of the 3 towns to save transit time visiting the region’s best sites. Purmamarca is the most beautiful but it’s very small and accommodation is tough to come by. Tilcara is very picturesque while also being the most energetic of the three and you’ll find plenty of live music here. Humahuaca wasn’t quite as picturesque or lively, but its location is convenient to visit the farther north attractions.
Of the 20+ countries I’ve traveled in, this region is by far the cheapest. I spent about $25 a day which included eating out a lot. The accommodation is very basic in Jujuy. Don’t expect good wifi or security lockers in hostels, and get ready for lots of flies. If you’re visiting in January or February, you’ll want to book accommodation a few weeks in advance. This is when Argentinians take their vacations and these towns are very popular.
*All prices are in USD due to Argentina’s high inflation*
Where to Change Money
There are no blue dollar exchanges in Humahuaca or Purmamarca. In Tilcara, you’ll find a few shops buying dollars next to the tourist information center on Calle Belgrano. The rate here is slightly better than what you’ll get in Salta, though it’s best to come with pesos because the shops didn’t have much cash on hand to exchange.
Jujuy’s Regional Food
Although I didn’t find the food as tasty as in the neighboring province of Salta, there’s a lot to try. Regional specialties include llama steak, tortillas filled with llama salami and goat cheese, empanadas, tamales, and locro (stew).
What to Do in Purmamarca
Salinas Grandes – The salt flats of Jujuy make you feel like you’re on a different planet. You can take awesome perspective pictures and the staff position you perfectly for the best shots. There is no additional cost to this, but make sure to leave a tip. It’s above 3,000 meters so bring a jacket and sunglasses because of the reflection off the salt flats.
The tour and entrance costs about $9 total and it lasts 4.5 hours. You’ll find a couple of guys shouting Salinas near the bus station in Purmamarca and that’s where you buy the tour. If you’ve already visited Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flats, you won’t be as impressed.
Paseo de las Coloradas – Purmamarca is home to a famous 7-colored mountain among other colorful mountains near the town. The 1.5 km path winds between the mountains and has various hills to climb for viewpoints. The scenery here is absolutely incredible and it’s somewhere you could sit for hours and enjoy.
If you day trip on a weekday from Tilcara, the morning bus schedule isn’t great. There’s only a 6:45 AM and a 10:30 AM bus. If you want to sleep in and still get a full day in Purmamarca, a taxi is pretty cheap.
What to Do in Tilcara
Pucará de Tilcara – These pre-Hispanic ruins were incorporated into the Inca Empire and served as the political center of the southern region. They built the ruins on a 70-meter mound and they offer spectacular views of the area.
Although it is a bit maddening that they improperly reconstructed part of the site and put a monument to the excavators on top of the ruins, I still very much enjoyed it. The entrance is $2.50 and there are free guided tours in Spanish only. They do have signs and a brochure with historical information in English.
Garganta del Diablo – This canyon formed by tectonic plate movement, is not that impressive, but the scenery on the 45-minute hike makes it worth the visit. The large Cardones cactus and multi-colored mountains make for the perfect place to watch the sunset.
There is a waterfall that’s only a 15-minute walk from here, but there is no trail. You’ll be walking on rocks while frequently having to cross a winding stream. So unless you have water shoes, it’d be a slow and unpleasant journey. The entrance is only 75 cents.
What to Do in Humahuaca
Serrania de Hornocal – The shape of this 14-colored mountain is just as impressive as the colors themselves. The tours that visit here don’t involve any hiking, it’s simply to take in the view. They last 3 hours and cost only $5.
Iruya – This picturesque village built into the mountainside is a very popular day trip that’s combined with San Isidro. Be aware that there are only 3 buses per day in each direction and it’s a 3-hour ride from Humahuaca. During high season it’s best to buy your ticket a day in advance.
Quebrada de las Señoritas – The landscape here is incredible and although there are no fixed hiking trails, there’s plenty to explore. It’s a 20-minute walk from the bus stop to the quebrada and there are buses from Humahuaca and Tilcara that stop here.
Peñablanca – A nice viewpoint that’s just a 20-minute walk from the town.
How Long to Stay
You’ll need 4-5 days to see the towns of Jujuy before heading elsewhere in Argentina or crossing the border to Bolivia.
Where to Stay
Posada del Sol – A peaceful hostel in Huamahuaca with delicious breakfast, hot water, and enough blankets to keep you warm during the chilly nights.
Bella Vista Hostel – It’s as basic as they come, but this is a great hostel in Tilcara. It has plenty of hammocks to enjoy the beautiful views from and an owner that will make you feel at home.
Giramundo Hostel – A colorful hostel with stunning views of the mountains in Purmamarca.
Where to Next
Salta (4 hours by bus) – Beautiful colonial city with one of the best museums in South America and lively regional folk music events.
Cafayate (8 hours via Salta) – Scenic bike rides and bodegas that produce Argentina’s best white wine.
Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia (10 hours via La Quiaca) – 12,000 square kilometer salt flats that make you feel like you’re on another planet. This is undoubtedly one of the top destinations in South America.
Córdoba (15 hours via S.S. de Jujuy) – An energetic student city that’s popular for a night out.
Mendoza (24 hours via S.S. de Jujuy or 2-hour flight) – Taste some of the world’s best wine and hike to the base camp of the tallest mountain in the Americas.