Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow mountain valley in the Andes of Jujuy province in northwest Argentina, follows a major historic trade route, the Camino Inca, that is home to numerous contemporary indigenous Quechuan villages and hundreds of archaeological and architectural sites that date from prehistoric hunter-gatherer times to the Inca Empire to the Spanish colonial period.
Though it’s rich in history, Quebrada de Humahuaca is perhaps most well-known for its unique altiplano landscape, otherworldly natural beauty, and striking geologic features. The best view in the area is generally considered to be the multicolored hills (small mountains, really) called Serranías del Hornocal, or simply El Hornocal.
What is El Hornocal?
The Serranías del Hornocal is a series of dramatic, multicolored limestone mountains 15,620 feet (4761 meters) above sea level. The different bands of limestone produce at least 14 different shades of red, yellow and orange.
Getting to El Hornocal
A day trip to El Hornocal will likely begin in Humahuaca, the “capital” of Quebrada de Humahuaca. El Hornocal is 25km east of the city. The journey takes about an hour on a winding dirt road. There are two options: drive yourself or hire a driver in Humahuaca.
If you decide to drive yourself to El Hornocal, leave the Humahuaca and cross the Rio Grande on the bridge by the bus station and take an immediate left onto Provincial Route 73 heading for Santa Ana. The road follows the river for a short distance before turning up into the hills. The trip on Route 73 is approximately 25 kilometers or 1 hour, after which you will reach a large field that will give you an unobstructed view of El Hornocal.
If using Google Maps or Apple Maps, simply type in: “Mirador: Hornocal o Cerro de 14 Colores, Humahuaca, Jujuy, Argentina” and it will direct you to Route 73 and up to the lookout spot.
If you’re driving yourself, be careful! The road is gravel and includes many winding turns. You’re also going to be gaining a LOT of altitudes all at once, so be sure to have some coca leaves on hand or bring some altitude sickness pills. The last thing you want is to be dizzy while you’re driving on a dangerous road in an unfamiliar place. Be sure to bring some extra cash because there is an entrance fee at the lookout.
Hiring a Driver
A short walk from the Humahuaca bus station is a bridge over the Rio Grande where you’ll hear people shouting “Hornocal!” These are the drivers and minibus operators that take tourists up into the mountains to see El Hornocal.
Where to stay?
Though you can get away with a day trip to El Hornocal from surrounding villages, your best bet is to stay in a hotel in Humahuaca a day before and a day after your visit. Munay Humahuaca, Giramundo Hostel, and La Humahuacasa are all great options.
When to go?
To get the best view of El Hornocal and to get the best pictures, time your visit so you arrive between 1 pm and 3 pm. The viewing area closes at 6 pm. Bring a warm jacket and a hat because it gets very cold up in the mountains, even if it’s a hot day in Humahuaca. There’s no food or bathrooms at the viewing area, so plan accordingly.