Exploring Argentina’s Far North – Purmamarca, Salinas Grandes and Humahuaca
The day had been three long, hot bus rides and by the time we rolled into San Salvador de Jujuy, capital city of the Jujuy province in far north Argentina, I was tired, grumpy and hungry. The accommodation we had chosen from a limited selection had been based primarily on cost (not a lot!) rather than location. You get what you pay for and turned out we were in ‘the hood’ side of the city. Sometimes I am in the mood for the hood side. This day I was not. I did not want to breath in exhaust fumes, squeezing through a gazillion people to get the the market to buy dinner. I couldn’t stomach the noises and smells of the urban street market, overripe vegetables and pungent meat. I didn’t want to be in the heat. I wanted to be laying by a pool and ordering cocktails. Poor me. To make matters worse the accommodation was on the shit side of shit.
Again, you get what you pay for.
So. Hello San Salvador de Jujuy.
We had decided to make this city the base for exploring towns further north on day trips via local buses. This eased the pain of the terrible accommodation as long days exploring meant limited time in the apartment. San Salvador de Jujuy itself is a big, typical city. To me, there was nothing stand out special about it. But further north we visited some real gems.
About an hour north is Purmamarca, known for its stunning mountain of seven colours. The town itself is lovely and so peaceful in comparison to the city. There is a large artesian market and word on the street is it’s the place to buy any gifts / souvenirs as costs are a little lower than other places on the northern town hopping trail.
We arrived early and after a little breakfast of fresh juice and street tortillas, we headed to the mountain. It’s a hot walk, but not a hard or particularly long one and no guides are needed. There are 4WD tours available if you are keen to simply snap some pics in air conditioned comfort and move on. We were keen to walk, taking in the silence and peace offered up by these stunning mountains. I’m not entirely sure how long we spent exploring, I was too busy being peaceful and silent to note times, but the walk can be as long or as short as you make it.
A surprising highlight was the sound of a violin as we neared the end of the circuit. What the? Looking around we could make out someone further off in a cave in the mountain playing the instrument, the sound swirling beautifully around the rocks, tumbling down to the hikers below. I have no idea if this is a daily (tourism) occurrence or if we just got lucky to hear it. Either way, it was unexpected and beautiful.
These Argentinian salt flats are impressive. A few souvenir stands, a giant llama made of salt and a tourist office mark the entrance point of the Salinas Grandes. We arrived by private car and paid for a motorbike tour of the flats. No, we didn’t all get motos. A guy, on a motorbike, guided the car to three places around the Salinas Grandes where we stopped and he took us on a short tour, explaining each area. As with the winery tour in Cafayate, the explanation in Spanish was lost on me but boy oh boy, the salt flats were a sight. Crystal blue lakes of water shimmering between hard packed salt earth, whiteness spreading on and on. So bright it was difficult to take my sunglasses off. Load up on sunscreen because half an hour on the flats will see your skin colour darken about three shades. The tour cost 40 pesos per person and well worth the price. Great photo opportunity too.
More colourful mountains alert! Arriving to the town of Humahuaca, we quickly found a guide for the 4WD tour to view a mountainous landscape who’s beauty (in my opinion) even surpassed Purmamarca. That was the quick part. The long part was waiting around for two more people to join the tour. All seemed quiet on the tourism front that day, so after waiting about forty minutes we agreed on a slightly higher price to do the tour with just three people, us and a Swiss guy. An hour later we arrived to the view point. The expanse of mountain varied in hues as if painted with water colours, stretching out before us. Stunning. There was a short(ish) walk to a closer viewpoint, from where you can look up to to these ranges as if seeing them on an IMAX cinema screen. Silence filled my mind as my eyes took in this mountain version of a rainbow. I sat for a little while before heading back to the 4WD, the steepness of the return walk leaving my heart pounding out of my chest!
These were my highlights north of Jujuy city. Oh, and on the accommodation front? We spent the final night in a gorgeous bed and breakfast a little out of the city. A nice (cockroach free) way to end the trip. Friendly hosts with a beautiful home and garden meant the nightmare that was the budget accommodation (not cockroach free) was soon a distant memory. One to be added to the Dodgy Places I Have Stayed While Backpacking basket.