Deciding to remain in the UNESCO world heritage site of Quebrada de Humahuaca, which had so captured our hearts, we stopped by the vibrant town of Tilcara.
With traces of human habitation that date back more than 10,000 years, Tilcara is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Argentina. The town’s rich indigenous culture and its dramatic mountainscape are just a couple of the reasons to visit. Here’s a list of our top tips:
1. Admire the stunning cactus-clad scenery
There are plenty of spectacular natural sights in Argentina, but we thought there was something quite special about this dusty town; you can almost feel the ancient energy around you wherever you go.
2. Visit the colourful rock formations of Humahuaca and Purmamarca – Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours).
We’ve referenced both of these in previous blog posts, having been lucky to see them from our bus journeys, but if you’re not travelling too far off the Ruta 9, then Tilcara’s a great base.
3. Step back in time at the pre-Incan ruins in Pucará de Tilcara
Crossing a bridge on the outskirts of town, we found the ruins just a few minutes further on.
The site was built on a hill just outside Tilcara in the 12th century by the Omaguaca tribe, and its location was strategically chosen so that inhabitants could see for miles and protect themselves from enemies.
It was declared a National Monument in 2000 and has been partially rebuilt. We wandered around the reconstructed dwellings and learnt about how the indigenous tribe lived. At its peak, the pucará covered up to about 61,000 m2 and housed over 2,000 inhabitants, living in small square stone buildings with low doorways and no windows. It also contained corrals for animals, and sites to perform religious ceremonies and burial sites.
There’s also a small botanical garden housing native cactus species.
4. Potter around the Mercado Municipal de Tilcara
Here we found stalls piled high in a jumblesale-style fashion, whilst food sizzled away, hidden in the dark corners. It was great to merge in with the locals.
5. Trek to El Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat)
We’d just started off, when Albie (better known as our beady-eyed boy!) spotted a chinchilla snuggling into a rock face!
We trekked along 7km of rugged, dry paths, but you can choose to drive up a dirt road by car.
It was a pretty long and dry hike, so when we reached a corner, where we could see down to the fall, we decided we needn’t go the extra mile of what looked like 500 or so steps (or however many!) down the cliff-face to get up close and personal!!
6. Fall in love with peña – a folk concert that involves singing and dancing.
We stumbled across a little restaurant (Sabores del Alma), where we thoroughly enjoyed listening to a duo, singing, playing guitar and drumming.
7. Meander around the cobbled streets and further afield.
We found creative street art adorning brick walls…
…a vibrant church with its doors thrown open to release joyful music onto the breeze…
…well-needed services like lavanderias…
…river walks leading to views over the town…
8. Find the local play parks.
Despite being relatively old-fashioned – think wooden plank see-saws and swings with skinny aluminium-framed poles – it’s the same fun!
9. Sample the local (cheap) eats.
On our travelling budget, we only tend to eat out if we find somewhere that’s cheaper than buying supermarket food. In Tilcara, there are plenty of budget and higher-end options.
10. Stay at the wonderfully friendly Al Sereno!
We were exceptionally well looked after, fed delicious breakfasts and given a spacious yet cosy cabana, set in well-manicured grounds, to call our home for a few days. There is also a boutique more apartment-style area to stay in, where the swimming pool lies, but we were glad to have the garden and space around our abode!
Set far enough away from the main track not to hear a sound at night, yet only a 5-minute walk, its location is perfect!
Tilcara, we loved you!