Having being obsessed with notion of spending an extensive amount of time in South America since the age of 14, I have now scored a total time of nearly 13 months here-7 months of those exploring this amazing continent in 2011, and the remaining 6 months residing and learning Spanish in Buenos Aires where I have been since September 2012.
Despite my life being quite chilled out here in BA, I felt the need to get away from the big smoke for the month of February and have my second mind-blowing experience of Carnaval in Brazil. I had been to celebrate in Rio 2 years earlier so this time I opted for Florianopolis which would get me some much-desired beach time and definitely some memorable parties. As unfortunate luck would have it though, I had an extremely rough experience with the visa-application lady at the Brazilian Consulate (Australians need Tourist Visas for Brazil). After many tears, it became evident she would not be granting me the pleasure of this much anticipated and long-planned trip to Brazil.
Soon after this horrid realization, I decided to just get over it, not say goodbye to 3 weeks holiday and instead see a bit more of what Argentina had to offer me. After all- I decided to live here so why not know this country a bit better? Besides, last time I was in the country in 2011 I didn´t get the chance to see the provinces of Salta and Jujuy in the north. Now I´m honestly thinking that what happened at the Brazilian consulate was for the best as the north just blew me away. I white-water rafted, tasted delicious wine in Cafayate, hiked through jungle, explored indigenous villages and ate meat to the point of sweating but the thing that will never leave my mind was the mind-blowing landscape of the Jujuy province. Also, I finally got the chance to practice my Spanish in Argentina´s northern province.
While I visited a friend in Cordoba to kick off my little adventure, I stayed in a great hostel where the guy who ran reception explained his love for his hometown of Jujuy. He gave me a very helpful outline of everything I had to see while I was there, however at the bottom of the list I saw a destination unknown to me- La Hornocal. When I asked about this last place-he gushed and I believe his eyeballs nearly rolled right back into his head. He said he was so surprised and frustrated that nearly all of his guests had no idea where this place was, let alone, had even heard of it. Most people visit El Cerro de Los Siete Colores near Purmamarca which is pretty impressive but he made a point of saying that La Hornocal is like that but on steroids.
He insisted that I take his reception ´King Chair´ as he called it and google-image this place together. He said one day, more and more people will be comparing it´s beauty to that of the glaciers down south and Iguazu Falls-big call, I know! As I slowly scrolled down the page, I felt so disappointed in myself that someone else had to tell me about La Hornocal (I´m a bit silly when it comes to wanting to be the first tourist to know about some place special). To say the least, it was that memorable on the computer screen that I knew it had to be seen in real life.
A week later, I made it to the province of Jujuy, where for the first 2 days I wondered around the streets of the capital, Ciudad de Jujuy. This province is incredibly diverse in terms of landscapes that it is officially divided into 4 regions- La Quebrada, La Puna, Los Valles and las Yungas. From La Ciudad de Jujuy, most people will opt to see places including Purmamarca, Tilcara, Las Salinas Grandes, Humahuaca with many more places in between. It is surprisingly easy to navigate yourself through these places by local bus, however the timetables are not very accurate and you may be waiting for your bus 3 hours later. If you have been in Buenos Aires for a bit of time before this, you may be confused as to why the locals are so relaxed in comparison with their Porteno counterparts, but in reality, the people in this part of the country are more similar in nature (and speed) to Bolivians and their way of life so make sure you do not have to rush anywhere directly after seeing this place. Despite the waiting periods, the likeness of this place to Bolivia was a big attraction for me and I loved that distinctly indigenous culture there.
So to get to the sight of La Hornocal, you have to make it to the town of Humahuaca, 110kms from Ciudad de Jujuy-you can find a direct bus from the local station. The town of Humahuaca is located in the Quebrada de Humahuaca part of Jujuy province, stunning with it´s dramatic colours and amazing rock formations. If you can try and get in touch with your hostel or a travel agency about seeing La Hornocal the day before you arrive I would recommend it, as I said not many tourists know about it therefore less trips are available. Unfortunately the day I wanted to go, no one else in town happened to be interested so it was just myself and the tour guide. The tours usually leave between 1-3pm as the sun in the afternoon shows off the colours on La Hornocal the best. It cost me 300 pesos which some would think is expensive, but on the 1 hour drive from Humahuaca, he kept me very well informed about the area we were in and I came away learning quite a lot. The drive is extremely beautiful as you are slowly winding your way up a huge mountain range to get to the top for the best view. On the way, we saw several vicunas and he mentioned how lucky I was to see them in the wild as usually they are terrified of humans.
All of a sudden, I got a glimpse of striking red as we wound our way around a bend, and then I saw it. The pictures really speak for themselves but you will find youself lucky if you are blessed with a great sunset as during the afternoon, the colours on La Hornocal appear to change depending on the sun´s intensity.
Even though some of these photos capture some the beauty, it´s typical that not all of the magic can be caught on camera so I really recommend you to do this fantastic excursion and experience this for yourself. Safe travels everyone!