Tilcara is one of the most popular hubs for travelers exploring Quebrada de Humahuaca. Compared with Humahuaca and Purmamarca, Tilcara is the “cool cousin”: definitely the most lively and hipster out of these three towns.
Tilcara offers a myriad of boutiques, restaurants, cafes and bars, while preserving the feel of a typical Andean town with its cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. Considering it provides easy access to the attractions in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, there’s no doubt it will continue to grow in popularity.
During our Jujuy trip, we set base in Humahuaca and explored Tilcara on a day trip. From archaeological sites and museums to artisanal markets and trendy cafes, we found plenty of things to keep us busy!
Here’s a suggested itinerary to see Tilcara in one day.
Wander around the main road and browse the boutiques selling handicrafts, decor items and jewelry. Prices might be more expensive than in the artisanal markets but you will be able to find more sophisticated and one-of-a-kind items that make great souvenirs.
Fancy a cup of coffee? Head over to Makoka, a bookshop/cafe with free WIFI that makes the perfect retreat from the scorching sun. For those interested in literature, the shop has a great collection of books on Andean culture & history that is hard to find anywhere else.
Tip | Grab a free map at the Tourist Information Center (a few steps away from the bus terminal).
I love exploring the local food markets everywhere I go, so we ventured to the Mercado Municipal de Tilcara (Tilcara Market) for lunch. For just $4 USD, we indulged in a 3-course meal at a tiny table – side by side with the locals .
Tip | Make sure you head for lunch between 12pm-2pm, while the big ollas (pans) are full and on display.
After lunch, check out the grocery stalls inside the market: you’ll see colourful Andean potatoes, traditional medicine and local herbs. There’s also a wide array of coca leaf-based items such as candy and tea that are helpful to combat altitude sickness.
From the food market, walk over to the Mercado Artesanal (Artisanal Market) at the Central Plaza. They sell leather, ceramic and textile goods, although to be honest similar items can be found in most towns in the region. We chose to sit down on a park bench and spend some time people-watching instead.
Once you overcome the post-meal sluggishness, get ready to walk for about 20min to Pucará de Tilcara, the most famous tourist attraction here. It is a pre-Hispanic settlement located on a hilltop that offers insight into the Inca influence on this region as well as awe-inspiring views of Tilcara and its surroundings. You can easily spend one hour here.
From an archaeological standpoint, it has been significantly restored and it pales in comparison with the Inca remains in Peru, however, it does have significance for being one of the few remaining fortresses of its kind in Argentina. For us, however, the highlights included the panoramic view of the Quebrada de Humahuaca and the photogenic cactus fields that surround the structures.
Pucará de Tilcara
Open times: 9am to 5:30pm
Entrance fee: *as of August 2018
Tip | If you don’t feel like walking up the hill, you can take a taxi to the Pucará and walk back on your return.
Alternatively, hiking lovers can opt to do a 4-hour round trip hike to a canyon and a waterfall called Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat). Trail map is available at Tilcara’s Tourist Information Center. You can also find it on MapsMe.
We didn’t get a chance to go on this trail, but if you do, let me know how it went!
If you’d rather stay in town in the afternoon, you can check out the main church and visit the Archeological Museum that showcases a collection of pre-Columbian ceramics, masks and mummies. Or you can spend some more time exploring the colourful cafes!
When in Tilcara don’t miss out a night at a peña, a venue where you can enjoy local food while listening to live folklore performances. There’s plenty of options available, however, bear in mind that they start quite late (generally 10pm onwards)
If you have a bus journey back home ahead of you, you might be better off grabbing a bite (probably empanadas!) at one of the bars/eateries alongside the main street. The atmosphere here is generally fun and laid-back.
Easy day trips from Tilcara
If you’re planning to stay more than one day in Tilcara, you can venture out to some of these famous landmarks in Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Gorge):
Purmamarca – Home to the beautiful “Cerro de los Siete Colores” (Mountain of Seven Colours) – an absolute must see in Jujuy. On the same day, we arranged a tour from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes (Salt Flats), which was the perfect training ground before Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia.
Humahuaca – The “capital” of Quebrada de Humahuaca and UNESCO Heritage Site.
- Read more: A complete guide to Humahuaca
El Hornocal – El Hornocal or “Mountain of 14 colours” showcases bands of multicolored limestone formations on an enormous scale, almost 5000 meters above sea level. An absolute must see when in Northern Argentina!
- Read more: How to plan a day trip to El Hornocal
Salinas Grandes – 3rd largest salt flat in the world, stretching over Salta and Jujuy in northwest Argentina. Can easily be accessed by a tour bus or a car (and the entrance is free!)
Tres Cruces – Hike up to “Puente del Diablo”, a natural bridge at 4100m above sea level, perfect for hiking lovers! Since it’s not very well known to tourists, we had the trails to ourselves. We opted to rent a private car, but there are also tour operators offering full day treks.
Quebrada de las Señoritas (Uquía) – Behind this sleepy town lies one of the most enjoyable hiking trails amongst impressive red rock formations.
- Read more: Why Uquia deserves more than a quick stop
Iruya – Remote little village hidden in the mountains. While technically in Salta province, it can only be accessed from Jujuy province.
Where to stay in Tilcara
If you choose to stay in Tilcara for the night, there’s plenty of hostels and budget accommodations to choose from. We saw many travellers make enquiries and book a night on the spot without prior reservation (it is totally possible to do so except for the busy Carnival season in February and March)
Here are some recommended hotels/hostels:
Browse all Tilcara hotels here (Booking.com)
How to get to Tilcara
Tilcara is well connected with other major towns like Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Jujuy city by bus that run every XXXX. You can buy tickets on the spot.
From Buenos Aires, you can fly into Jujuy International Airport (JUJ) and then use a bus or prepaid shared taxi to get to Tilcara. The journey is around 1-1.5h.
To get from Humahuaca to Tilcara, use the RN9 and head south.
You can easily reach Tilcara from neighboring towns like Salta, Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Jujuy by bus. There are 10-12 services that run each day and fares start from $2 USD.
Hope you found this Tilcara travel guide useful! As always, if you have any questions, please leave me a comment down below.
Heading to Northwest Argentina? Check out these articles to help you plan your trip:
- A complete guide to Humahuaca (the “capital” of Quebrada de Humahuaca)
- How to plan a day trip to El Hornocal (Mountain of 16 Colours)
- 7 reasons to visit Salinas Grandes Salt Flats
- Why Uquia deserves more than a quick stop
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