There is so much to do in and around Tilcara, Argentina. For a little town we hadn’t heard of until 2 weeks before we visited Northwest Argentina, we ended up staying over a week and didn’t get bored! You have colorful mountains, great local food, and the most spectacular sunsets! Without further ado, let’s dive into our Tilcara Things To Do Travel Guide.
Since you’re researching Tilcara and the surrounding area, be sure to check out our 10 Day Northwest Argentina Itinerary. We spent almost two weeks there in December 2019 and loved it!
Tilcara Travel Guide
This guide will tackle things to do, what to eat, where to stay and how to get to/from Tilcara. Although there are some benefits to renting a car (highlighted below), this guide requires no cars, only taxis and buses!
Things To Do in Tilcara
Tilcara is a small town about 3 hours north of Salta. It is nestled between colorful mountains with plenty of activities in and around town to keep you occupied for at least a couple of days!
Devil’s Throat Hike
Since you’ve found yourself in Tilcara, you should go check out their version of La Garganta del Diablo or the Devil’s Throat. It feels like every town in this part of the world has a Devil’s Throat hike. With hiking as with life, how much you enjoy it is dependent on your expectations. I was expecting to see a massive waterfall in the middle of the desert. Don’t expect that. In actually, it’s a very narrow crack in the mountains carved by a river with a little running water.
The half day hike starts from the bridge at the edge of town, wanders uphill through the desolate terrain, and drops you off at the entrance of the Devil’s Throat. Since we didn’t see or hear any rushing water, we almost left. Thankfully, we decided to check it out. Upon entering, you hike down steep steps and then hop back and forth over streams along the river valley until you reach a pretty but not exactly spectacular waterfall. The city gets its water from this waterfall so you can also see how they divert and capture water and send it back to the city. The route itself is very clear, the entrance is 50 pesos per person (~$0.75USD) and, of course, the route is on Maps.me. Best app ever.
Although by itself the hike is not a reason to visit Tilcara, since you’re in there, you should do it!
Watch the Sunset from Cerra de la Cruz
Our favorite experience that is walking distance from the Tilcara town square was watching the sunset from the Cerra de la Cruz viewpoint. The short hike is located next to Tilcara’s two main tourist attractions: the Pucara and Cacti Botanical Garden. The Pucara is an archaeological site for an ancient fortress. Although great that it is still being preserved, the site is not very big and is much less impressive than many of the ruins we had just seen in Peru’s Sacred Valley. The cacti garden is nice as well but there are cacti everywhere in this part of the world.
If you didn’t already see where this was going, our recommendation is to skip the Pucara and Cacti Botanical Garden and check them out from above along with the stunning views up and down the valley from this free viewpoint! The hike takes about 45 minutes from the center of town to the viewpoint and the route is on Maps.me. Of course.
Go To A Peña
A peña is a folk concert with traditional instruments that is special to the Salta and Jujuy Provinces. They are most popular at 9PM or 10PM on Friday and Saturday nights and are played in restaurants while people are eating dinner. Yes, 9PM or 10PM is dinnertime in Argentina. We went to a peña at La Peña de Carlitos near the Tilcara town square and had a blast!
Hill of 7 Colors
In an area known for its colorful mountain ranges, the Hill of 7 Colors (Cerro de 7 Colores) in Purmamacra is one of the most popular and easiest accessible. The town itself is just a short bus ride away from Tilcara and it’s main source of income is tourist visiting for its large market and surrounding landscape.
In Purmamacra, you must walk the Paseo de los Colorados which takes you through the colorful mountains that surround the town. Be sure to stop at the free Mirador los Colorados viewpoint. There is no need to stop at the paid viewpoints as the view is pretty much the same. Once again, you can find the route perfectly mapped on Maps.me. Once you’ve done the walk, it’s worth spending some time checking out the market and grabbing a bite to eat.
About an hour an a half away from Purmamacra, up and over the spectacular nearby mountain range, you’ll find the Salinas Grandes which is a large area of high altitude salt flats. You can get there by car or by mini-bus from Purmamacra. Once there, you can take a hour long tour (300 pesos per car, ~$5USD), on which you will learn the history of the Salt Flats and have the opportunity to try to take some cool perspective pictures.
The salt flats seem to go on forever but are in fact about 50 times smaller than the Bolivian salt flats near Uyuni. If you have done the Uyuni salt flats tour and taken the bus from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta (the bus route goes through the Salinas Grandes), then they are not a must visit. If you’ve never seen salt flats before, then you must go!
The Salinas Grandes and the Hill of 7 Colors can be combined into a fun, full day trip! Either drive or take a mini bus from Purmamacra out and back to the Salt Flats. Budget at least 3-4 hours for each location.
Hills of 14 Colors (Quebrada de Humahuaca)
In an effort to out-do Purmamarca and their Hill of 7 Colors, the town of Humahuaca decided to call their nearby spectacular mountain range the Hill of 14 Colors. Genius, I know. Even though it only has 2 times as many colors, it is 100 times most spectacular! Seriously, if you do one day trip in this part of the world, go here.
The Hill of 14 Colors is not visible from the town itself. You need to either drive to it or take a tour. Driver beware: The drive is a 20km bumpy, windy, uphill, gravel road starting from the backside of Humahuaca that takes a solid 1.5 hours one-way when you’re tackling it in a non-4WD, rental, already beat up sedan. But you can do it. We did, with our hearts in our chests the entire time. The road is well-marked so your risk of getting lost is a lot lower than that of you popping a tire. If you choose to drive, your only cost is the 80 pesos per car (~$1USD) entrance fee. And, of course, somehow the exact route is perfectly mapped on Maps.me. I don’t know how they do it. If you drive from Tilcara, expect a round trip to take 4-5 hours.
Your other option is to take a bus from Tilcara to Humahuaca and then take a ride with a local guide in their truck up to the top. This is a much less stressful (but maybe then less memorable??) way to make it up to the top as the trucks were made for this terrain and haul you-know-what getting up the hill.
Regardless of how you get there, the view from the top is incredible. After a quarter mile walk downhill from the parking lot, the view is out over a valley at the most colorful mountain you’ve ever seen in your life. It’s hard to believe something like this exists and it’s especially amazing when you think about how long nature took to create it.
To ensure that your trip is the best it can be, check the weather and plan to go in the morning on a clear day. If it’s cloudy, you will see nothing since the mountain is across the valley! Also, be sure to hydrate as you’re way up there in elevation. Tilcara is 1.5 miles above sea level and the Hill of 14 Colors viewpoint is at roughly 2.7 miles above sea level. Safe to say that quarter mile back uphill to the parking lot is tough!
A trip in the morning to the Hill of 14 Colors can be combined with a stop at Uquia to take an afternoon stroll through the red rocks directly behind the town (see below for more information).
Car Only Options
Contrary to many travel blogs, in our opinion you don’t need a car to explore Northwest Argentina, but it does have some benefits. Below you’ll find a couple experiences near Tilcara that are much easier to do by car.
Visit Bodegas Dupont High Altitude Winery
If you can’t wait to get to Cafayate to drink Northwest Argentinian wine, then you’re in luck. The Bodegas Dupont high altitude vineyard is nearby! The vineyard is best accessed by driving through the town of Maimara, which is less than 5 miles from Tilcara. The vineyard is gorgeous with lush green vines starkly contrasted again a desert background. Although the grounds are very pretty, it took us about 30 minutes to find anyone working there and tours are only in Spanish. If you chose to stop by, plan to spend no more than an hour taking some pictures and purchasing a bottle or two. Fun fact, due to it’s higher price point, this wine cannot be found in local grocery stores. If you want to taste Bodegas Dupont’s high altitude wine, you need to go to the vineyard and get it!
To get there, do not follow the route that GoogleMaps gives you. Google will drive you through Tilcara, across the bridge at the edge of town, down a bumpy, uneven, rental-car-killing road, and at the of which you will be stopped by a closed private property fence. We ended up parking (maybe trespassing??) on a nice farmer’s land and walking the final half mile to reach our destination.
To get to the vineyard via Maimara, you have to drive (or park and then walk) across a dry creek bed. Google does not even show this route as possible. But, of course, Maps.me has it.
Uquia (Quebrada de las Senoritas)
In between Humahuaca and Tilcara, lies the tiny town of Uquia. Uquia is home to a supposedly beautiful 2-3 hour hike through the red rock canyons called the Quebrada de las Senoritas. Near the entrance to the hike is a restaurant called Cerro Las Senoritas that were heard is incredible.
We had planned to visit Uquia on our way back from the Hill of 14 Colors. However, since the gravel road to the Hill of 14 Colors took almost 2 hours long than expected, we got behind schedule. We had planned to eat at Cerro Las Senoritas but by the time we got to the town, the restaurant along with the maybe 2 or 3 other restaurants in town were closed for the afternoon. Remember most businesses in Argentina close from 1-4PM. Hungry, we decided to head back to Tilcara instead of doing the hike. Word of advice: If you want to accomplish this day trip, bring plenty of snacks!
If you don’t mind waiting or hitch-hiking, I’m sure that you can flag down a bus from Uquia to either Tilcara or Humahuaca since it sits on the main road between the two towns.
Where To Eat in Tilcara
El Molle Alfajores
Into addition to empanadas, people from Northwest Argentina are very proud of their alfajores. An alfajore is the combination of two sugar cookies with caramel packed inside. Sugar + sugar = addictive. There is no better place to get them than El Molle, a local Tilcara manufacturer. We bought a box of 12 and ran through them pretty darn quickly. Supposedly, El Molle will give you a tour of their factory in town but it was under renovation when we visited in December 2019. Hopefully by the time you visit, it is up and running!
Bonus, El Molle also has a great menu del dia. We had soup and delicious osso buco for only 300 Argentine Pesos per person (~$5USD)!
On the same road as El Molle, you can find 4-5 stands selling large stuffed tortillas. Although they can be found in other provinces, these large tortillas are local to Northwest Argentina. You can order salami and cheese, corn (cholo) and cheese, or, our favorite, tomato and onion. It tastes like pizza. They make for a great appetizer or snack for one of the above day trips!
Mo’kaka Coffee Shop
Mo’kaka is a cute coffee shop near the Tilcara town square. Although the coffee is nothing like what you can find in Buenos Aires, the ambiance is very cute and it is a great place to relax and read the news.
How To Get To Tilcara
Tilcara is about 3 hours north of Salta and can only be accessed by a scenic drive or bus ride. Buses run frequently from the Salta bus station.
Where to Stay in Tilcara
If you happen to be traveling with a group of 4, Cabana Malka on the hills up above the town is a great place to relax for a couple of days. It comes with a kitchen, hot shower and a private BBQ! We planned to stay 5 days there and ended up staying over a week!
Where To Go Next
Salta is the largest city in Northwest Argentina, but outside of having a beautiful square, there is not much to do. We don’t recommend staying more than 1-2 days there. However, due to it’s size, it is a transportation hub for the region. You will need to return to Salta to visit the Cafayate wine region just a couple hours south!
Did you know that Argentina has more high quality wine producing regions than Mendoza? Us neither. Would you be shocked to learn it’s close to Tilcara in Northwest Argentina? We were too! About six hours south of Tilcara is the wine town of Cafayate, which is known for its sweet white wines! If you’re in Northwest Argentina, then you must go! We put together this Cafayate Travel Guide to help you plan your trip!
There you have it, our Things To Do in Tilcara post. From us to you, happy adventuring!
All costs as current as of December 2019.