The llama is the standard beast of burden in this part of the country. It is used for transport in this high altitude environment. There is a very good tour out of Tilcara that takes you on an excursion with the llama. However, if you just want to watch them at a safe distance, here you can..
Near the entrance to the Pucara de Tilcara I had a bit of fun observing the llamas that were in this pen. They seemed a bit curious about my presence, but generally they are used to people. Do not put your fingers thru the wire though! Oh, and the llama does spit, so be mindful of that.
Ordinarily you might be tempted to bypass some of the tiny villages you see on the way. In this part of the country that would be a big mistake!
Huacalera is a little village 16 km from Tilcara. In terms of tourist infrastructure and such it is a world away. The village only has about 300 inhabitants.
The main reason most people stop at Hucalera is the Tropic of Capricorn marker. Actually, the marker is just before the entrance to the village.
However, this village has historical significance. General Lavalle, (1797-1841) a national hero of the Wars of Independence and major military leader, was murdered here. Briefly, his remains were in the village church, eventually being transferred elsewhere. This burial, however, was hardly a peaceful or honorable affair. One story I read was that his heart was placed in a container of aguardiente and his body was placed in a box with sand. This whole region was an important strategic holding during the Revolutionary War. The old fortresses were there for a reason, they commanded fabulous strategic positions, so the next reigning power naturally took them over.
Huacalera has a pucara of its own, not as large as the one down the road in Tilcara. This one is called the Pucara Molla. It is unfortunately not open to the public.
The village church, the Capilla de la Immaculada Concepcion, is a small colonial construction dating from 1655. Look inside and you will find a wonderful surprise. The church has several paintings from the Cuzco school, paintings that depict the angels, some with native features or faces. The Cuzco school of painting is called that because the Spaniards trained the locals in some crafts, the ones in Cuzco came to be known for the high quality painting. The paintings in Huacalera are said to be unique, the two important pieces being the Bethrothal of the Virgin and the Baptism of the Virgin. The retablo is the work of local artists and is said to be the oldest in the region.
A kilometer or two out of the city is the one true "must-see" sight in Tilcara. This is the pre-Inca fortress called the Pucara de Tilcara, built by the Omaguaca around the 12 century AD. The fortress is located in a strategic place, overlooking the entire valley, so the defenders could easily see an enemy approaching from a long ways away. That this particular site was chosen should not be surprising, this entire region has served strategic purposes for the Inca, the Spaniards, and the rebels in the War of Independence. It was furthermore a central administrative and military installation.
The Pucara probably housed some 2,000 people. What you see today are reconstructions of some of the houses-all low, stone constructions with no windows. Starting in 1908, archeologists from the University of Buenos Aires started excavating here, finding several thousand items in a very short time. A museum was set up and the site continues to be excavated and restored. It is the only archaeological site in the Quebrada de Humahuaca that is open to the public.
A lot of people think (or assume) that this was an Inca site, it was not! The Omaguaca came to this region several centuries before the Inca, who arrived in the 15th century and only ruled for a relatively short time until the Spanish conquest.
The site is fascinating, but really was not well labelled at the time of my visit. (Only in Spanish as I remember.) You come into the complex in what is called the Entrance Neighborhood or cluster. This is mostly made up of housing units. In the center of the complex is what was discovered to be the Church cluster. The early archaeologists found evidence suggesting that the Sun and Moon were worshiped here. Finally, there is what is called the Monument cluster on the highest ground. As you go higher, you will notice the giant cactus, which were flowering during my visit. The view from the high ground and the contrast of the colors is really quite beautiful.
Right off the main square in Tilcara is a very nice Museum of Archaeology, named after Dr Eduardo Casanova, who took over the lead researched/archaeological responsibilities after 1948. It was thanks to him that the Pucara site was opened to the public and the creation of the museum came to be.
Lovers of archaeology and museums will be quite happy. What it lacks in space and polish is more than made up for by high quality exhibitions.
Room1- Argentina Chile and Bolivia- used to display a mummy
Room 2- Peruvian cultures, focusing on ceramics
Room 3- finds from the time of the Spanish conquest
Room 4/5- items from the Puna and Jujuy Province. Burial ground re-creation
Room 6-Pucara de Tilcara items
Room 7- Items from the Quebrada de Humahuaca
Again, this museum is less noteworthy for presentation than it is for the high quality of the items displayed. A good attempt at displaying a rather extensive subject area
Near the entrance to the Pucara complex there is a very nice exhibit of the giant cactus and some of the varieties of plant life that can be found here in the Puna. Walking around the complex and looking out into the distance you will not miss the sight of the giant cactus, the cardon as it is called here. One of the guides mentioned that sometimes the defenders counted on the fact that from a distance the cactus might be mistaken for a human figure, so it is possible they might have been something of a deterrent to an attack. (A better deterrent, I would think, would be to take the attacker, throw him into the spines of the cardon, that should fix his wagon pretty good IMHO.)
As I have mentioned in other tips, when the cactus dies, it can be used for wood, which is common in this part of Argentina. It is a soft bright wood often used in interior decoration of churches and houses. (see picture 2)
The hike to the waterfall "La Garganta del Diablo" was recommended to us by the tourist office and by our guidebook so we decided to give it a go. We had a very brief description of the path but it was fairly easy to find the way. It's 8km from Tilcara by the main road though you can take a short cut by hiking, making it about 4km by our estimate.
The scenery along the way is spectacular, and it's a remote path - we saw very few people once we had left Tilcara. A signpost to the falls tells you where to leave the road, and from here the walk is fairly steep though the path is good.
The falls were a bit of a let-down to be honest. Perhaps it's better in the rainy season but during our visit in October there was little more than a small flow. We followed the river upstream from the falls for about 30 minutes and the scenery here was much more impressive though there was no obvious trail so we turned back before getting lost.
Next to the Pucara de Tilcara are the Botanical Gardens, which are included on the same entrance ticket.
There are some interesting plants and cacti in the Botanical Gardens, though perhaps the most impressive sight is the excellent view of the Pucara.
Tilcara's most visited sight is the hillside fortress 1km south of the town, which is the sight of a pre-conquistadores settlement. It's an evocative place, with many restored stone houses, the remains of a church and at the highest point a monument. The hillside is also covered in cacti which look spectacular against the backdrop of the mountains.
It costs 5 pesos to visit, and the ticket also includes entry into the Botanical Gardens and the Archaeological Museum, back in the centre of the village.
Discover the ancient way of living. In this Museum you can see ceramics pots, totems, an incredible mummy (with his original hair) and a lots of traditions and history.
Descubra como vivían en aquella época. En este Museo se pueden hallar cacharros de cerámica antiguos, vestimentas, monolitos, una momia increíble y mucha tradición e historia.
This is a rebuilt historical site that was inhabited by the Omaguacas, indigenous of the region.The place was discovered in 1908 by Juan Bautista Ambrosetti, an argentinian ethnographer. Although the constructions are not originals, you can have a good idea of the way of living of this community, and of the ways of protecting themselves from The Incas, then the Spanish.
Este es un sitio histórico reconstruído, que fue habitado por los Omaguacas, indígenas de la región. El lugar fue descubierto en 1908 por Juan Bautista Ambrosetti, un etnógrafo argentino. Aunque las construcciones no son las originales, se puede tener una buena idea de la forma de vida de esta comunidad y de la forma de protección (fuertes) ante Los Incas y luego de españoles.
The archaeological museum is the most impressive of Ticlara's museums and contains a good collection of pre-Columbian art and artefacts from regional native settlements. Some of the exhibits have inscriptions with English translations (quite rare in rural Argentina). Entrance to the museum is on the same ticket as the Pucara.
Partially restored ruins of a native city- a hommage to the Inca,s and called "Puchara" in Queshua, an Indian language.
An almost inaccessable hill.
Buildings were made of stone, not cemented, each placement of a stone was a puzzle, the roofs were made of clay and straw, pressed on thistle struts
Remarkable aswell is the height of the doors, rather small and low.
But we all know that the shape of the human body changed a lot during the centuries
Yet another fabulous valley lined by colourful canyons by the side is Quebrada de Humahuaca, along Route 9.
This route up north will ultimately take you to the border town with Bolivia, La Quiaca.
As a result, the towns along this route, Tilcara and Humahuaca, have an utterly different flavour from the other towns in Argentina. There is a very Indian flavour here. Terrific to spend a few days in this region, in touch with Mother Nature.
Once in Tilcara, the main thing to visit is the January festivities where there are exhibitions, folklore dancing and reciting of rhymes. these festivities take place during the 2nd fortnight of January.
Both the Pucara and the Jardin Botanico de Altura are open everyday from 9 to 12.30 and from 2 p.m. to 6p.m., except on the 1st of May , the 25th of December and the 1st of January.
Tilcara is one of the larger villages along the Quebrada de Humahuaca with a whopping 3500 people. The town has good facilities and accommodation and is situated in an excellent location to explore the surrounding country side and nearby villages of Miramar and Purmamarca.
There is a nice pre-Colombian fortress here call El Pucara. They can't tell you much about the site but it is one of the largest sites of its kind in Argentina. The only thing really fortifying the pucara now are the hundreds of cactus.
There is a trail that goes to a nice canyon called Garganta del Diablo (they name everything this don't they?). The trail is located off the southern road that leads up to the water purifying plant. If you go further along the trail you can enjoy a nice little waterfall. Maps off the town are hard to come by but they are around.
There are some small museums in town but none that really caught my attention.
There is a big Pachamama festival here in late July early August which attracts throngs of locals and tourist. Make sure you book early if you want to see it. It is very difficult to get accommodation here during the school holidays in July anyway. I got really lucky and found an incredible hospitable and gracious couple who let me stay in an already booked hospedaje Lo De Bucky.