Quebrada de Humahuaca - Remains of ancient cultures in a colorful Andes valley (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Quebrada de Humahuaca
RUTA 9 SHOOTS NORTH of San Salvador de Jujuy in Argentina’s lonesome, northwestern reaches. This region evokes a beautiful last-frontier quality with its long, cactus-dotted valley carved over millennia by the Río Grande. It’s the coloring that stands out first, craggy rock walls banded in vibrant reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and blues, as if a crazy artist went to work with a broad brush and a madcap vision. The Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colors), just outside Purmamarca, and Serranía de Hornocal, near Humahuaca, with vivid, wave-shaped rock formations, are two striking examples of this phenomenon.
But arid natural beauty is not the foremost reason for this region’s fame. Remote as it seems, the valley was used as one of the world’s oldest trade routes, and people have lived and traveled and exchanged ideas in it for 10,000 years. Stone-walled terraces, built by early agricultural societies and thought to be 1,500 years old, are still in use today at Coctaca. Later generations of indigenous people also learned the art of ceramics, and cultivated crops like corn, potatoes, and quinoa.
In the 15th century, the Inca folded the region into their empire, and then the treasure-seeking Spaniards invaded it in the 16th century. There are still traces of both occupiers: Among the Inca vestiges are three mummified children found in a perfect state of preservation 22,110 feet (6,739 m) up Llullaillaco mountain, where they had been sacrificed in a religious ritual. They’re part of a poignant display at Salta’s excellent High Mountain Archaeological Museum. The Spanish left behind distinctive colonial architecture like neat adobe houses and squat Hispanic churches. The golden altar at Capilla de San Francisco de Paula in Uquía is particularly stunning.
Despite foreign invasions, the original cultures of this region were never obliterated. Just poke into the string of villages lining the Río Grande canyon—Purmamarca, Maimará, Tilcara, and Humahuaca—and you’ll discover traces of that indigenous heritage everywhere, in age-old festivals, spirituality, arts, healing practices, and language. Even the cuisine reflects long-ago traditions.
The best time to experience the legacy of the native people of Quebrada de Humahuaca is August 1, when Pachamama (Mother Earth) is celebrated for her year-round beneficence with gifts left on roadside altars. The best potatoes, corn, and meat are cooked in a stew that is buried in the ground, along with cigarettes, coca leaves, and alcohol. This is a gesture of feeding the earth, upon which the people rely for sustenance.