A colonial town along the beautiful Quebrada de Humahuaca, it was founded in the late 1500s, but indigenous people have inhabited this land for thousands of years. Humahuaca became a hotspot for trade and later revolutionary activity during Argentina’s War of Independence, but now tourists use it as a jumping off point for exploring the area.
Stroll its narrow cobbled streets and you’ll find a whitewashed church filled with religious art, a cabildo with a unique clock tower, and nearby archaeological ruins. If you’re looking for that perfect llama wool blanket, Andean accessory, or artisan handicraft, the goods sold in craft fairs here are a little cheaper than other Quebrada towns.
The hikes around the Río Grande are stunning, the town plaza is quaint, and the steps up to the Monumento de la Independencia will give you a bit of a high altitude challenge. If you’re here during one of the town’s many festivals or (lucky you!) Carnival, expect to see dancing, music, masks, and costumes in the streets during these local celebrations!
Let’s explore the best things to do in Humahuaca:
1. Quebrada de Humahuaca
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a vivid and multi-colored display created by mother nature, and it’s the main reason tourists come to Humahuaca in the first place.
The mountainous gorge or quebrada runs for nearly 100 miles (155 kilometers) along the Río Grande and up into Bolivia.
Hire a private guide, take a bus tour, or DIY it (the roads around here are fine and car rentals are available), but be sure to see it.
Start in Purmamarca with its Cerro de los Siete Colores and then venture along Ruta 9 for more dazzling red rocks.
Formerly part of ancient Inca trade routes, make stops for photos of geographic formations and other colonial towns like Tilcara, Uquía, and Iruya during your journey.
2. Taste the Regional Cuisine
While you’re in the Quebrada, try the regional fare of Northern Argentina.
Favorites include empanadas, locro (a filling stew of corn and meat), tamales, charqui (dried, salted meat), humitas (husks filled with corn pudding), and of course, llama meat.
Pacha Manka serves up local dishes like grilled goat cheese, marinated llama fillet, and coca leaf mousse in a cozy atmosphere.
Aisito has dishes like quinoa empanadas, llama stew, and grilled llama steaks.
Los Patios de Lucia has lovely outdoor tables, uses locally grown organic produce, and features empanadas, tamales, and llama in a red wine reduction sauce.
3. Serranía del Hornocal
A big draw for visitors of Humahuaca, these jagged, colorful mountains just 15 miles (25 kilometers) outside of town are a naturally carved and painted wonder.
The drive there is windy and rugged, but you can take a shared tour van or a camioneta (four-wheel-drive truck) with a local driver.
Most of the big bus tours miss this stop due to the roads, but that’s a shame because the limestone formations are incredibly beautiful and dramatic.
Colors are the most stunning in the afternoon and early evening as the sun goes down in the western sky.
Most drivers will give you 30 to 40 minutes at the viewpoint before heading back, but if you drive yourself you could do a little exploring on foot for as long as you like.
Bring some coca leaves or candies with you because the altitude here can really affect some folks.
4. Visit Tilcara
Perhaps the liveliest little pre-Hispanic village along the Quebrada de Humahuaca, make time to spend a day (or a few nights) in Tilcara.
It’s got a great town square, several fun bars and restaurants, and plenty of historical and natural highlights.
Visit the ruins of the Pucará, the archaeological museum in the town, or the local alfajor factory, El Molle, for a look at how those quintessential Argentine treats are made.
If you like trekking, be sure to hike the Garganta del Diablo, a stunning trail along a waterfall-lined gorge just outside of town.
The main plaza is fab for street vendors, performers, and musicians in the afternoon, or you could visit one of the town’s bars or peñas for traditional live music.
5. Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia
This impressive monument made from over 70 tons of bronze was built in honor of the Army of Northern Argentina and the indigenous peoples who fought here during the country’s war for independence.
Climb the stone stairs that lead up the hill to the monument for panoramic views of the town below – but wear sunscreen and bring coca leaves as the heat and altitude can be tough! The bronze statues that make up the monument are deceptively large, as are the cacti that now surround them.
Over 14 battles were fought around Humahuaca, and supposedly this monument is dedicated to the indigenous messenger Pedro Socompa who brought the news of independence, but others believe it’s actually Diego Viltipoco, the Omaguacan chief who aided General Belgrano during the war.
6. San Francisco Solano de la Bendición
The charming Franciscan church in the main plaza might actually be more well-known for the unique clock tower next door.
Be there at noon each day to see a small Saint Francisco Solano appear from behind the doors of the clocktower while the church blasts music and the clock strikes 12. He makes the sign of the cross, bestowing his blessing on believers and passersby before returning to his little home inside the clocktower.
The whitewashed Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria was built in Spanish colonial style with local materials like adobe mud and cactus wood nearly 400 years ago.
Today it’s very well-preserved and you can head inside to see the altar and paintings of the prophets, but you can’t take photos of the interior.
7. Shop for Handicrafts
Just next to the main plaza and the Monumento a la Madre is an artisan market similar to those you’ll see in other villages along the Quebrada.
If you’re still looking for that perfect hat, sweater, or blanket made from llama wool, the prices here are cheaper than most.
You’ll also find bundles of coca leaves, tapestries, drawings, nativity scenes, paintings, and pottery.
Food vendors sit here with their offerings of empanadas and tamales, so grab one and take a stroll.
There’s also the Centro de Artesanías Tantanahue in town where local craftsmen display their goods and explain their methods for making them.
8. Catch Some Traditional Music and Dancing at a Peña
If you haven’t gotten the chance to watch some live music played on regional instruments by local artists, then check out a peña while you’re in town.
In contrast to the tango shows of Buenos Aires, a traditional “peña” is a communal gathering with folkloric music, dancing, and storytelling typically found in Northern Argentina.
While there are some rowdy local spots, many restaurants along the Quebrada offer dinnertime shows for tourists who want to experience the fun.
La Peña de Fortunato is located in Humahuaca and features regional fare as well as performances by the locally famous and charismatic musician Fortunato Ramos.
If he’s not in town while you’re there, venture to nearby Tilcara or Purmamarca where you’ll have a few more peña options.
9. See How Local Pottery is Made
Whether or not you want to take home some traditional pottery made by a local artisan, you can visit a studio here to see how it’s made.
Clay plates and bowls are one of the most popular handicrafts from Humahuaca, and while they vary in size, shape, and color, they’re all made by hand.
Formed from the mud and clay indigenous to the region, you can watch how the artist mixes the materials and throws the pottery (often taking requests) before baking it in the open air and then painting it.
Sometimes you can even buy the dish you just saw created! There are many artist studios in town, but Arte Guanuco is a large shop and factory where you can ask to see how the pottery is made – you’ll recognize it by the large guanaco statues (and sometimes actual llamas) just out front.
10. Hike to Peñas Blancas
If you fancy a little trekking, take this quick and easy hike to the archeological site of Peñas Blancas starting from town.
Head along Salta street and cross the Río Grande where you’ll begin to notice the steppe-like vegetation, carob trees, and cacti along the way.
Walk uphill via a narrow trail, pass the altar to the Virgin of Medalla Milagrosa, and at the top you’ll have a view of the Quebrada, the town, and the Independence Monument.
Continue along the ravines and you’ll see the crop lines created by the ancient Omaguaca people along with their oval-shaped underground silos.
11. Visit the Town’s Archaeological Museum
Small but informative, check out the Municipal Archaeological Museum to learn how the native tribes developed and lived in the Quebrada region.
Located on Santa Fé Street, it’s easy to pop in just before or after your climb up to the Independence Monument.
Wander through four rooms filled with rocks, axes, tools, and petroglyphs created or shaped by the indigenous people throughout the ages.
The mummies might be the most interesting bit, as you can see the remains of delicate cloths and ornamental dyed llama wool attached to the preserved bodies.
Exhibits detail the workings of these peoples, from the earliest times when farming techniques came into being, to 800 to 1100 AD when metallurgy became popular and they used natural copper and bronze deposits to make chisels, bracelets, and rings.
12. Visit Iruya
Precariously perched within the mountains, this little town settled in 1750 was the perfect stop for horses carrying goods from the puna to Upper Peru.
Iruya is a quiet village today, but it hosts a number of festivals dedicated to Pachamama and the town’s patron saint, Our Lady of the Rosary.
Beautiful and remote, it’s a little off of the main Quebrada drag, but many consider it to be a hidden gem in Northern Argentina.
Not only does the journey there provide spectacular views, but there are great hikes around town to the Rio Iruya, Mirador de la Cruz, and Mirador el Condor.
You can go horseback riding, take a peek inside the town’s church, or visit the small nearby village of San Isidro.
13. Celebrate Carnival
If you’re lucky enough to be in Humahuaca during Carnival, you’ll get to take part in one of the most popular festivals in Argentina.
Join the dancing, singing, and drinking in the streets that goes on during this nine-day party.
Carnival takes place in late February and early March each year, and it begins as revelers make their rowdy walk into the hills where they’ll dig up the pujllay (little devil) that they buried the previous year.
Legend has it that the devil invites idle hands (ie, everyone) to join in the celebrations.
Groups of musicians called comparsas grab their instruments to provide the entertainment, and locals and tourists alike get dressed up in gypsy and devil costumes with masks to begin the festivities.
14. Chill in Plaza San Martin
From the main square of town, you’ll be able to see the church, the unique clock tower with its automated Saint Francisco, and the Cabildo Histórico de Humahuaca.
Pay a visit to the Cabildo which has been turned into a museum featuring archaeological artifacts, paintings, and photographs.
Wander the craft fair on the plaza’s edges, chat with artisans, and take in the views of the surrounding mountains from the cobbled streets.
There’s a small park with benches and trees that provide shade to rest.
The bus station is just next door, and you’ll also find a few bars where you can grab a drink.
It’s a great place for people watching as you’ll see vendors plying their wares and lots of locals in traditional Andean dress.
15. Visit Purmamarca and the Cerro de los Siete Colores
One of the most popular and picturesque towns along the Quebrada, stop through Purmamarca to see the magnificent Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors). Take a walk along the Paseo de los Colorados to view this vibrant, layered rock formation of golds, reds, greens, and purples – it’s kind of a must-do activity in the area.
Afterwards you can hit the daily handicraft market in the plaza, which is one of the biggest in the Quebrada.
The selection of goods is huge, so you’re likely to find whatever Andean-style souvenirs you’re looking for here.
This little town is also home to adobe buildings, colorful streets, a tiny old whitewashed church, and lots of Spanish colonial style.