The mountains of El Hornocal are slowly but steadily becoming the major attraction in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, overshadowing the widely popular Mountain of Seven Colours (Cerro de Siete Colores) in Purmamarca.
You would be surprised to know that this geological wonder has only risen in popularity in the last 10 years or so. Before that, not even the locals in Jujuy knew about it! On my last visit to Humahuaca, my friends told me that the local community near El Hornocal had kept it a secret for generations and generations. Talk about a hidden gem! Somehow word got out and the construction of a new road transformed this area into one of the most popular sights in northwest Argentina.
We visited El Hornocal at the beginning of our South America trip and even after visiting so many beautiful places, it still remains to be one of the most jaw-dropping landscapes we’ve ever seen. The sheer size of the mountain range and mesmerising colours left us without words.
- Related post: A complete guide to Humahuaca
So, what is Serranias del Hornocal?
Serranías del Hornocal, or simply El Hornocal is a range of dramatic multicoloured hills (they say it has at least 14 different shades) that reach an altitude of 4761 meters above sea level.
Where is it?
It is located 25km east of Humahuaca in Jujuy province (around 1 hour by car on dirt road).
How to get to El Hornocal
There are two options: hire a private driver or drive on your own.
Option 1: Hire a driver in Humahuaca
This is the most recommended option and the one we went for. Since we were not very familiar with the area and none of us were confident in braving the zig-zag roads at such altitude, we figured it was better to just hire a local.
Within short walking distance from Humahuaca’s bus station, there’s a bridge located between Coronel Arias street and Salta street. As soon you approach the bridge, you’ll hear people shouting “Hornocal, Hornocal!!”. You can either hire a driver to take you privately or you can share a minibus with other tourists.
Most cars are 4×4 and we’ve been told they all operate as a cooperative charging similar fees so in theory there should be no price discrepancies. (You’ll still want to ask a few drivers just in case though).
We were lucky to find Mr Ignacio, who drove safely and patiently waited for us while we took our time to enjoy the views. He even put on a poncho and sang a folklore song for us! Highly recommend him.
- Our driver Mr. Ignacio – Whatsapp (+54) 0388 4421 659 (You can text in English)
Option 2: Drive your own vehicle
It is quite challenging to drive there because of the lack of proper signs, curvy gravel roads and altitude, but it’s not impossible! If you want to give it a go I would suggest you study the road and directions very well, allocate sufficient time and drive with caution. You’ll probably have to make a few stops to help your body get used to the altitude as well. You’re climbing above 4000m after all!
The drive takes you on a 23km gravel road with many curves and switchbacks. The altiplano landscape leading up to El Hornocal is quite striking and worth a quick stop for pictures. We also met some cute vicuñas along the way so watch out for those!
If you’re worried about altitude sickness, which is a real concern, make sure you bring coca leaves with you or altitude sickness pills. Alternatively, our driver introduced us to a herb called Chachacoma that can be found literally on the side of the road as you approach El Hornocal – you may want to try that as well. A quick sniff of the leaves for a few times proved to relief the symptoms for us. Mind you, it’s not a particularly nice smell but it totally works.
How much does it cost?
We paid our driver ARS 1200 for the whole excursion. It was 4 of us so it came down to ARS 300 per person.
Bear in mind that as soon as you approach the entrance, you will need to pay an entrance fee to the viewpoint. The fee is 50 ARS per car and is not included in the driver hire fee so take some extra cash with you.
Best time of the day to visit
We were told the best time to visit El Hornocal is between 1pm – 3pm (meaning you should leave Humahuaca around noon). That’s when the sun rays illuminate the mountain’s colours and hues more vividly. Note that after 3pm the winds become really strong and cold so it’s really not advisable to go late in the afternoon. Besides, the viewpoint closes by 6pm so it’s better to arrive earlier to maximize your time there.
How long does it take to visit?
Most people spend around 1-1.5 hours there so the whole excursion will probably take 3-4 hours.
There’s a mirador (viewpoint) from where you’ll be able to take epic pictures but I also encourage you to walk slowly on the little trail underneath and observe the majestic views. Or maybe you prefer to sit down and watch from above. Whatever you fancy at that moment, just take your time to enjoy it!
What to bring
Make sure you bring along a warm jacket, hat and a scarf. Even if it’s hot in Humahuaca, it will be cold and windy up there on the mountain.
Good to know
– During the peak season of Carnaval, you might want to book your driver at least a few days in advance. Otherwise, it should be pretty easy to find one on the spot.
– There’s no toilet facilities or food stands inside the park so prepare accordingly.
– There’s an ambulance on site to assist tourists in case they lack oxygen. It’s rare but it happens.
Where to stay
The closest town to sleep is Humahuaca. Many visitors opt to stay in Humahuaca the day before and after visiting El Hornocal, which is ideal.
Some of the hotels in Humahuaca that we can recommend are:
- Browse all Humahuaca hotels here (Booking.com)
Although it can be a bit hectic, it’s also possible to visit El Hornocal from neighboring towns like Tilcara and Purmamarca via Humahuaca. I’m aware there are some tours available that take care of the logistics door to door. I even saw some agencies offering tours from Jujuy (which is 2 hours away from Humahuaca). Ask your hostel/hotel and they’ll surely be able to make a recommendation.
Heading to Northwest Argentina? Plan your trip with these articles full of useful tips!
- A complete guide to Humahuaca (the “capital” of Quebrada de Humahuaca)
- Why Uquia deserves more than a quick stop
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