A narrow mountain valley stretching north from the town of Juyjuy in Argentina’s extreme northwest, the Quebrada de Humahuaca follows a major cultural route for almost 100 miles to the cold desert plateau of the high Andes. The vast gorge shows evidence of use as a major pre-Inca and pre-Hispanic trade route dating back 10,000 years, resulting in a UNESCO World Heritage designation in 2003. The valley is dotted with small towns amidst an unusual landscape characterised by brilliantly coloured bands of rock, such as the picturesque village of Purmamarca which sits at the foot of the spectacular Cerro de los Siete Colores (Seven-Coloured Hill).
To the west of Purmamarca, a zigzag climb to almost 4,200 metres elevation leads to the salt flats of Salinas Grandes.
North of Purmamarca, the town of Tilcara has a restored pre-Hispanic hilltop settlement, Pucara, with panoramic views of the gorge, an excellent archaeological museum and a colourful handicrafts market.
The colonial town of Humahuaca is towards the northern end of the gorge. It dates from 1591 but was almost entirely rebuilt in the mid-19th century.