North of Salta, in Northern Argentina, are various interesting, dramatically set traditional highland towns. Purmamarca, Tilcara, Uqura and Humahuaca (and also Iruya - see following article) can all be visited on a day tour from Salta. Those with more time on their hands could spend a night or few in one or more of them, especially if you’re travelling North to Bolivia.
Activities in all of the following places are generally the same, but the scenery, which in each case is very spectacular, varies. These towns and villages North of Salta are all peaceful and traditional, and things to do include hiking, horseback riding or soaking up the peaceful atmosphere.
Choosing where to spend extra time on your travels can be difficult, so…. pick Purmamarca if you want a really sleepy town, choose Uqura is you seek an extremely ultra sleepy village, pick the larger town of Tilcara as a central and easy base to go exploring, or select Humahuaca as the most convenient stop off point if travelling North on to Bolivia, or further off the beaten track to Iruya (Iruya being the best of all in my opinion).
Here’s some travel tips on all these places in North Argentina.
Purmamarca’s surroundings invite hiking tours.
Purmamarca is the first stop of interest North of Salta. It’s a very sleepy village, though plenty of day tours stop here for an hour or so. Other than the laid back sleepyness of the village, the main attraction is the Martian-esque red multicoloured cliffs and rock formations surrounding the town. There’s beautiful nearby hiking, plus salt flats and caves with ancient drawings that can be visited. To travel to Purmamarca, you need to change buses in Jujuy (note that there is little of interest in Jujuy itself, though it does have an airport served by Aerolineas Argentinas). The road from Purmamarca continues onwards to the desert of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, though it takes the best part of the day to travel there by bus.
Purmamarca is a lovely place to spend a couple of nights. There’s a range of hotels in Purmamarca - everything from cheap hostals to upmarket alternatives. Two very good luxury hotels include El Mantial del Silencio (ARG $450 a double) and La Comarca (ARG $300 and up) - both are a few kilometres out of town. The best mid range hotels in Purmamarca are Terrazas de la Posta (ARG $185), El Viejo Algarrobo (ARG $100 and up) and the very traditional Bebo Vilte (ARG $140, or half the price with a shared bathroom). There’s also various very cheap Hosterias in Purmamarca, costing from ARG $20 per person and upwards. Altogether, there’s currently 20 hotels in Purmamarca.
Tilcara’s pre-Inca ruins
Tilcara is one of the larger towns in Jujuy province that makes a good base for exploring this beautiful region of Argentina. There’s a few tour operators in town, so visiting all these other places I’m mentioning is easy to arrange locally, and good value too. That would be the main reason to stay in Tilcara - it’s a good base to explore the region via a tour operator. If you want a sleepier, more beautifully located base, head elsewhere.
Tilcara’s main attraction is it’s pre-Inca ruins. The setting in the valley with mountains either side is dramatic, though the ruins feel a little artificual and fake as they have been meticulously restored. Little of the original structures remains in evidence to the casual observer, but Tilcara’s archaeological museum is fascinating, and remarkably large and high quality for a relatively random town.
Tilcara is a convenient base to explore this part of North Argentina, but I think it’s better to pass through, visit the ruins and museum and travel onwards to somewhere more beautiful. Various tour operators in Salta arrange long full day tours to Purmamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca (where I’ll mention in a second) all in conjunction.
If you do stay in Tilcara, there’s about 50 hotels / places to stay. Don’t get me wrong and think that the place in over-run by tourists though. Recommended hotels and hostals in Tilcara include Rincon del Fuego and Viento Norte, which are the most luxury options costing about ARG $300 a double each. If you prefer a mid range hotel in Tilcara, consider either Canto del Viento (ARG $160) or Malka Hostal (ARG $100). There’s various cheap hospedajes in addition.
Uqura is an extremely sleepy little village.
I hadn’t visited Northern Argentina until writing this travel guide section, but Uqura filled all my expectations of how to expect the region. This is a totally random, extremely sleepy village full of the light brown mud brick houses that I’d seen in photos. If you want to choose an ultra sleepy, dusty village to spend a night, with very little to do, this is a great option. As it’s on the main road North to Bolivia (and Humahuaca) lots of ghastly massive (as in 50 Argentinian tourists dishing out sweets to the children - possibly the worst type of irresponsible tourim in my opinion) coach tours stop here to visit the impressive church. There’s just one mid range hostal in the village.
Humahuaca makes a great stop off point.
Our day tour from Salta visited all the amazing places mentioned above - you can either return to Salta at the end, or choose to stay in Humahuaca as we did. Humahuaca is the ideal place to spend a night if travelling onwards to either Bolivia or Iruya. It’s a peaceful, tranquil town typical of this part of Argentina with a lovely plaza, and a very impressive Independence monument. If you’re going to choose a place to spend some time, it’s a good option as walks are possible nearby, but I’d suggest that it’s better to spend time in either Purmamarca or Iruya instead. Nonetheless, it’s an ideal stop off point - but for one night no more I reckon. I wasn’t so impressed by the graffiti all over the town, and the ‘I woz here’ (in Spanish) etchings all over the towns spectacular monument. Idiotic local tourists - at least the international travellers show some respect for the places they visit.
While Humahuaca warrants a visit, I don’t think that it deserves more than a nights stay. There’s at least 10 hotels to choose from, the most expensive of which is Hosteria Camino del Inca (about ARG $180). El Cabildo (ARG $120) is a bog standard, decent but rather boring hotel in the middle of Humahuaca, but better options are a ten minute walk from the centre, such as Posada el Sol (ARG $30 dorms or ARG $100 private rooms - we stayed here and were happy) and Hostal Azul (ARG $120).
We visited all these amazingly beautiful places in Argentina on a day tour with Luz del Norte, a tour operator based in Salta.