Sure Purmamarca is a little touristy, but there’s a reason for that. This beautiful village is neighbors with the brilliant Cerro de los Siete Colores and it’s the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Quebrada de Humahuaca. The picture-perfect adobe town is home to a large indigenous population and a huge, colorful artisan market that sets up each day on the town square. The whitewashed Spanish colonial buildings will transport you back in time, while the regional cuisine (llama, anyone?) will remind you that you’re very much in Northern Argentina.
Take photos of the colorful rocks that surround the town, do some walking, and then make your way to other tiny pre-colonial towns nearby. There are museums, archaeological ruins, salt flats, and even a winery all within a short drive of little Purmamarca.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Purmamarca:
1. Shop at the Artisan Market
One of the busiest and most vibrant markets in Northern Argentina, do some shopping or at least browse the daily handicraft fair that lies at the edge of the main plaza.
You’ll find woven goods, ceramics, textiles, and other genuine products made by local indigenous artisans.
You can pick up plenty of garments made from alpaca and llama wool too, like scarves, hats, sweaters, blankets, and ponchos.
This market is colorful and bustling, and the locals expect you to do a little haggling – bargains are often better if you buy in bulk.
The prices here aren’t the cheapest in the region due to the high number of tourists stopping off in Purmamarca, but the selection and variety can’t be beat.
2. Cerro de Los Siete Colores and the Paseo de los Colorados
The must-do activity in Purmamarca revolves around its magnificent backdrop, El Cerro de los Siete Colores (the Hill of the Seven Colors). Walk along the Paseo de los Colorados, a 1.5 mile (3 km) easy yet incredible trail to this multicolored hill.
You’ll have breathtaking views and get to witness the bright reds, pinks, golds, and greens that this rock formation is named for.
Each of the layers is formed by a different type of sediment which accumulated from rivers and oceans over the past 600 million years.
The loop begins in town and passes lunar-like landscapes, rock formations, and lookout points over the valley and the cerro.
Early morning and just before sunset are the best times for the most dazzling lighting and impressive photographs.
3. Iglesia de Santa Rosa de Lima
Just off of the tiny main square you’ll find this whitewashed and austere church which dates back to 1648. Not nearly as grandiose and ornate as many other churches in South America, this one was constructed from adobe mud and cactus wood.
The iglesia still holds regular mass on Sundays, but be sure to come while it’s open for you to wander through.
You’ll find centuries-old paintings inside which tell the story of the life of Santa Rosa de Lima, the first Catholic saint born in the Americas.
Near the entrance of the church you’ll see an ancient Algarrobo tree which is supposedly 600 to 700 years old.
Legend has it that General Manuel Belgrano, war hero and creator of the Argentine flag, rested in its shade.
4. Taste the Regional Cuisine
Perhaps due to the high number of tourists, this small town is packed with a surprising number of restaurants.
From upscale to rustic, this is the perfect place to try regional favorites from Northern Argentina like empanadas, locro (a hearty stew of corn and meat), tamales, humitas, and llama meat.
But don’t forget to have some steak, lamb, and red wine too! Comidas Gabriel receives consistent praise for its use of local ingredients like llama and quinoa in an ever-changing menu.
Los Morteros features fabulous lamb, empanadas, and pasta.
Hotel La Comarca has a nice atmosphere and excellent trout and lamb.
Restaurante La Posta gets solid reviews for its locro and llama steaks, and it has a great outdoor patio.
5. Salinas Grandes
One of the most popular tours from Purmamarca, take a day and head out with a guide or on your own to see the third-largest salt flats in the world.
Once a huge lake which has long since dried up, now you can see where the salt is mined and check out piles of the stuff alongside reflective square basins of water cut into the ground.
Bring props if you want to take those fun (obligatory) perspective photos, and chew some coca leaves to combat the high altitude of the Puna.
If you’re lucky enough to visit after a light rain, the moisture can make the whole landscape appear mirror-like.
There’s a building here made of salt bricks complete with salt furniture that sells tiny salt carvings to take home as souvenirs.
6. Drive the Quebrada de Humahuaca
A ridiculous display by mother nature, this multicolored mountainous valley and UNESCO World Heritage Site runs for nearly 100 miles (155 km) along the Río Grande.
Purmamarca and its Cerro de los Siete Colores marks the start of this beautiful drive through Argentina and up into Bolivia.
Once part of ancient Inca trade routes, there are lots of interesting historical sites and geographic formations along the route where you can stop for photos.
Drive it yourself (car rentals are available and the roads are fine), book a bus tour, or arrange for a private guide if you’d like some insider information.
You’ll see ever-changing layers of sediment and bright new colors at each turn, plus there are tiny pre-colonial towns where you can stop for a break and a little exploring.
7. Visit Tilcara
One of the livelier villages along the Quebrada de Humahuaca, take a day trip to visit or spend the night here to soak up all its cultural and geographic offerings.
Stop by the pre-Inca fortification known as the Pucará de Tilcara, a well-preserved archaeological site built by the Omaguaca people.
Your entry ticket also gets you access to the Museo Arqueológico where you can see Inca artifacts and mummies.
Tilcara features botanical gardens, plus a fun main plaza with handicraft artisans and street performers.
The picturesque town is home to great bars and restaurants with live music, craft beer, and traditional dancing at peñas.
If you’re into hiking, do the incredible walk through the Garganta del Diablo to see the impressive gorge lined with waterfalls just outside of town.
8. Museo en Los Cerros
For something a little more contemporary in the midst of all these pre-colonial towns, venture out to Huichaira to visit the Museo en los Cerros (lovingly abbreviated as “Mec”). This museum features photography exhibited in a modern space made from traditional materials located amongst the stunning scenery of the Quebrada.
Local photographer Lucio Boschi has captured the essence of the surrounding communities in his works, and the Mec’s permanent collection features photos from over 30 local photographers, plus a few traveling exhibitions each year.
The library here is a peaceful space to relax or read something from their collection of photography books.
You can check out their Facebook page to see additional activities, courses, and seminars offered at the Mec.
9. Caravana de Llamas
For photos that’ll make your friends jealous, go on a llama-trekking journey with this unique tour company.
Caravana de Llamas is a well-respected local business that’s trying to bring back the days when llamas were used as cargo animals.
Arrange to do a short hike, a half-day trip, or even multi-day treks through the mountains with several llamas that’ll haul your camping equipment, bags, food, and of course, the wine.
The circuits can be as easy or as difficult as you and your travel companions want, but be aware that the llamas will set the pace! The best part is the picnics you’ll have surrounded by these fuzzy beasts while your guides cook a great meal and you commune with nature.
10. Visit Humahuaca
Another pre-colonial town along the Quebrada, Humahuaca is a popular stop for travellers, many of whom choose to spend the night here for jaunts to Bolivia or the Salinas Grandes.
There’s another whitewashed little church here (which is actually a cathedral) filled with religious art, a cabildo with a clock tower in the main square, and lots of nearby archaeological ruins.
If you still don’t have that perfect llama wool blanket, artisan wares and trinkets sold here are a little cheaper than Purmamarca.
The walks around the Río Grande are excellent, or you can hike the steps up to the Monumento de la Independencia for a look at the bronze statues along the way.
If you’re here during Lent and Carnival, expect to see dancing in the streets, music, masks, and flowing booze.
11. The Cabildo
You won’t really be able to miss this old government building as it’s on Purmamarca’s main square, but it’s worth a look and some photos.
Its small archways along the front – uncommon architecture for its time – show how different the average height of a resident was back when the Cabildo was constructed in the mid 19th-century.
The interior today is a hybrid of a museum, cultural hall, and exhibition center.
Having been well-preserved, this is one of the last ten traditional cabildos left in Argentina and also one of the smallest.
12. See a Peña or Some Live Music
Whether it’s local artists having fun on stage or traditional singing and dancing at a peña, you can find it in Purmamarca if you know where to look.
Peña el Rincón de Claudia Vilte gets packed for its folkloric dinner performances later in the evenings, plus it serves regional cuisine (and pizzas and pastas too). Tierra de Colores is popular with tourists and a good option for a peña experience while you dine.
Don Heriberto features lots of local folk artists as well as DJs and karaoke.
And Entre Amigos is possibly the best place for a night out with live music from local artists, jars of wine and beer, dancing, and impressively good food.
13. Visit the Cemetery
It might sound a little creepy, but stop by the town’s cemetery before or after you finish your walk along the Paseo de los Colorados.
Pagan beliefs about the afterlife and native traditions bring vibrant and colorful customs to death and the village graveyard.
You’ll see wooden crosses serving as headstones, bright flowers, and carefully placed garlands on graves.
There are mausoleums adorned with crosses and other statues within this sloping sanctuary, some appearing like tiny houses for the dead.
This cemetery is the perfect example of how Andean beliefs and Catholicism blend here in Purmamarca.
14. Hike to Cerro Morado and Mirador Geológico
After you’ve completed the mandatory Paseo de los Colorados, there are a couple of other hikes you can check out around Purmamarca.
If you want to get some of the best photos of the Cerro de los Siete Colores and the town that sits in its shadow, head up the Cerro Morado (Purple Hill). Across Ruta 52 and past a pink house, a few pesos will gain you access to this relatively easy trail up for postcard views – go in the morning for the best light.
The Mirador Geológico sits at the end of another path that’ll lead you to alternative views of the Cerro and Purmamarca’s adobe rooftops below.
Start near the souvenir vendors who sit at the entrance to the Paseo de los Colorados, and pay a few pesos to head up this alternate track.
The best views are in the evenings, and if you go later you may not have to pay the fee at all.
15. Bodega Fernando Dupont
Growing wine at a high altitude is truly a labor of love and the owners of Bodega Fernando Dupont have that love for the winemaking process in spades.
Located in nearby Maimará, check to see if this vineyard is open before venturing out – the riverbed you’ll need to cross can sometimes flood in summers.
If you’re lucky enough to visit, this boutique winery welcomes visitors for free and you can take a tour to learn all about the difficulties of growing in an arid climate, as well as their environmentally-friendly techniques for irrigating and fertilizing the vines.
The landscape of the vineyard is complemented by lavender fields and the foothills of the Cerro Paleta del Pintor.
While they don’t produce many bottles (a little under 30,000 a year) so tastings might not be available, their wine has won international awards and you can buy a few bottles to take home… you know, as a souvenir.