Pucar√° is a reconstructed hilltop fort overlooking the town, first built 900 years ago by the Diaguita tribe. There is a pyramid-shaped monument at the summit and the entire site covers 8 hectares (20 acres), including a high-altitude botanical garden. The site is open daily from 9am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm. Museo Arqueologico Eduardo Casanova, Belgrano 445 (tel. 388/495-5006), displays carved standing stones and other pre-Colombian artifacts. It is open every day 9am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm. Museo Regional de Pintura Jose A. Terry, Rivadavia 459 (tel. 388/495-5005), displays works by the area's most famous painter. Open Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 7pm.

Lying 20km (13 miles) south of Tilcara is the small colonial hamlet of Purmamarca. Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of the Seven Colors) dominates the village, reflecting its startling red and purple colors onto the pueblo's quiet streets and dusty adobe homes. Try to arrive early -- 9am is best -- when the morning sun shines brightly on the hill's facade and reveals its tapestry of colors. In front of the plaza, you cannot miss the 400-year-old Iglesia de Santa Rosa, one of the country's oldest and most beautiful churches. Continue west on RN 16 for 73km (45 miles), and you reach the surreal landscape known as Salinas Grandes, a dazzling salt plain that stretches for miles.

Back on Route 9 heading north, after Tilcara, you will notice a trapezoid-shaped monument marking the Tropic of Capricorn. Nearby you can visit La Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) -- a steep gorge with a small walkway leading along the rock's edge. Leave RN 9 and head east of Tilcara for a short distance. Be careful walking here, as there is only a small rope separating you from the depths below.

Continue north along RN 9, where you will pass the small adobe villages of Huacalera and Uquia. About 42km (26 miles) north of Tilcara lies Humahuaca, a sleepy yet enchanting village of only a couple thousand Indian residents. Its relaxed pace will make Buenos Aires seem light-years away. Note that at an elevation of 2,700m (8,856 ft.), you will feel a little out of breath here, and nights are quite cold. Although the nearby Inca ruins of Coctaca are best explored with a tour guide, you can visit them on your own or with a taxi ($15/£10 round-trip, including driver wait time) by following a dirt road about 10km (6 1/4 miles) out of Humahuaca. Coctaca is a large Indian settlement that the Spaniards discovered in the 17th century. Although the ruins are hard to distinguish from the rocks and debris, you can make out the outlines of the terraced crop fields for which the Incas were famous. The site is surrounded by cacti and provides excellent photo opportunities.


Pachamama Parties -- This area is famous for its street parties and thousands throng to Humahuaca at Carnaval time. For 8 days the entire population dons multicolored costumes and strums on indigenous instruments, known as erkes and charangos. They dress up as clowns and devils and mock politicians with puppets. The festival is a heady mix of Christianity and Indigenous rites, with the last day (known as Temptation Sunday) seeing a shaman burying offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the devil. Other popular parties are Santa Ana, on the 26th of July, in Tilcara, and the Virgen de Copacabana, in April. Every village has its own fiesta patronal, celebrating the local patron saint. One of the most lively and unusual is on the 15th of August in the town of Casabindo. Feathered gauchos steer a bull into an enclosure in front of the village church. Wrapped around the animal's horns is a scarf containing money, which is the prize to whoever is brave enough to grab it.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.