The Quebrada de Humahuaca in northwestern Argentina owes its fame to the unique coloring of its rock walls. Ruta Nacional No. 9 leads through the gorge to the mountain village of Humahuaca at an altitude of almost 3,000m.
The mountain gorge Quebrada de Humahuaca is located in the province of Jujuy in the northwest of Argentina and is one of the most impressive scenic sights of the country. The gorge got its name from the town of Humahuaca, which has about 10,000 inhabitants, "quebrada" literally means "broken".
The Rio Grande de Jujuy meanders along its bottom. It repeatedly damages the road in summer, but dries up in winter, leaving a dry valley floor. Since 2003, the Quebrada de Humahuaca has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The narrow valley, about 150 km long, is bordered on the west and north by the Altiplano, the world's most extensive plateau after Tibet. To the east are the foothills of the Andes, and to the south are the Valles Templados ("warm valleys").
The road through the gorge runs from the provincial capital of San Salvador de Jujuy to Humahuaca, 2,950 meters above sea level, covering a difference in altitude of 1,700 meters.
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Ancient Inca Trail
Prehistoric findings from earlier hunter-gatherers and remains of settlements along the canyon prove that the Quebrada de Humahuaca was also inhabited 10,000 years ago and was probably used as an economic and cultural center, as it is today.
In the 15th century, the Incas used the narrow valley as a trade route, and the "Inca Trail" acted as a link to present-day Peru through the mountainous landscape in northwestern Argentina. During the Spanish War of Independence, many battles were fought due to its strategically central location between the bare rock walls of the gorge.
The mountain of 7 colors
The real attraction at the Quebrada de Humahuaca, however, is neither its history nor its surroundings, but the gorge itself. Its steep walls shimmer in all the colors of the rainbow.
Bright red sandstone alternates with black, craggy rock, and clay-colored slopes, between which groups of trees appear again and again as green splashes of color. With the whitewashed buildings in the foreground, there are many opportunities for breathtaking photos. Especially at sunrise or sunset, a spectacle hard to beat!
Tip: Exploring the Quebrada de Humahuaca is best done with your own car, public buses are always hopelessly crowded and only stop in the towns of Tilcara, Purmamarca and Humahuaca.
Anyone who drives through the gorge on today's Ruta Nacional No. 9 also understands why the mountain at the settlement of Purmamarca is called "Cerro de los Siete Colores", "Mountain of the 7 Colors", one of the highlights of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. In fact, the slopes that flank the road are colored yellow, turquoise, white, red, blue, orange and purple. In Purmamarca overnight accommodations are offered, so you can also see the mountain of the 7 colors shining in the light of the sunrise.
Indian fortress and an altar of pure gold
Another sight in the canyon is the reconstructed fortress of the Omaguaca Indians at Tilcara, which successfully protected the natives in their fight against the invading Spaniards.
The inhabitants of the Quebrada de Humahuaca are still mainly Indians, who can pursue their own culture and religion here undisturbed. From El Pucará de Tilcara you have a spectacular view over the entire valley.
Continuing on the road from Tilcara to Huacalera, one crosses the Tropic of Capricorn, which is marked by a sign.
In Uquia there is a very special attraction to marvel at. The San Francisco Church in the seemingly poor area features an altar made of pure gold; the ceiling of the church is made of cactus wood.
The town of Humahuaca itself, built in colonial style at the end of the 16th century, is also extremely worth seeing. In the large square you can witness the lively weekly market, where valuable tapestries and artistic carvings made of cactus wood are sold. Behind it lies the mountain pass to Chile.