Argentina 2003

Humahuaca and Iruya

July 2 - 7

Humahuaca lies three hours by bus from Jujuy and is a fine place to begin an exploration of Northwest Argentina. This region resembles Peru and Bolivia in its people and culture. It is quite a shock to know that it lies in the same country as Buenos Aires. All of this area is well worth a visit.

Humahuaca has gained a reputation of late, and is thus frequented more and more by tourists. It is the start of a number of backpacking trips through the Quebrada Humahuaca. Interested backpackers should see Federico at the Hostal Portillo (shared rooms, cool atmosphere, superb meals. Room plus dinner plus wine plus tip: less than $10). He is a wealth of information on the area. It was he who recommended that I visit Iruya, a better, smaller and more relaxed place than Humahuaca. It lies in a geographically stunning area surrounded by canyons and outlying Indian villages.


The Quebrada Humahuaca

Waiting for the bus

On the way to Iruya

Street in Iryua

Cross overlooking Iruya

The Quebrada Nazareno


Houses on the way to Nazareno


The Quebrada Nazareno


Bus in Iruya

On the way to Chile

From Iruya one can backpack along the Rio Nazareno all the way to Nazareno, around four days total. From Nazareno one can get a ride in one of the trucks that make for Quiaca, on the border with Bolivia, and return to Humahuaca.

I spent two days walking along the Rio Nazareno. I do not recommend backpacking here for the following reasons:

1. The Rio Nazareno becomes incredibly silted after a few kilometers from Iruya; it is khaki-colored, thick with mine tailings and unpleasant to drink.

2. This route follows a crude road all along the way. It is very disconcerting while trying to have a fine backpacking experience to suddenly come upon a truck or two rumbling through the canyon. What backpacker wants to hike where a vehicle can go?

3.  Dust is everywhere and gets into everything, courtesy of the strong winds that whistle down the canyon.

4. There are no real campsites. The entire route is rocky. It is also difficult to camp out of sight of the road.

5. By the second day the river becomes too deep and wide to cross without wading knee-deep in the dirty water many times a day. One could expect that this condition would only worsen as you go deeper into the canyon. During the wet season (November - March) this hike would be impossible.

This being said, I highly recommend taking a day-hike from Iruya into this canyon. The views are nothing short of spectacular. Leave Iruya at 8 AM and walk away from the route that brought you from Humahuaca. It will be downhill all the way until you come to another road branching to the left. This road leads to another village which is arguably more beautiful than Iruya. Continue along the Rio Nazareno until 3 PM or so, and begin walking back. You will meet many locals along the way and some curiously abandoned houses. Wear a hat, bring water from Iruya and use sun block.

Whether day-hiking or backpacking the route through the canyon is easy to moderate in difficulty.

Locals will tell you of many hikes in the region, including another route to Nazareno that follows a mountain trail.

I stayed at the Hostal Tacacho. It is less than $3, has a superb deck with views overlooking the canyon, and boasts the coldest beer I have ever had in Argentina. Sit on the deck after a long hike, have a cold beer and stare at the canyon---you might understand then the meaning of life. Eat at the Comedor Iruya, where a plate of lamb and potatoes costs less than $2. Mass is at 11 AM Sunday mornings. There is also a lively Evangelical community.

There is a daily bus from Humahuaca at 10:30, return at 3:30 or at 6 AM. This bus ride by itself is quite an experience! It crosses a pass at 4000 meters before dropping to Iruya at 2700 meters.

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