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This was by far the biggest surprise to me in Jujuy, and probably one of my favorite destinations in the entire province. Everyone knows about the Cerro de los Siete Colores in Purmamarca. Everyone knows about the Serrania del Hornocal in Humahuaca. But nobody talks about La Quebrada de las Señoritas in Uquia, and because nobody talks about it, I stumbled upon it purely by accident.
I stayed in Humahuaca for 5 days and was looking to check out some of the surrounding towns; Uquia was a logical choice. Just 7 miles south of Humahuaca, with buses running between the two towns all day, I set out one morning to see what this small desert town had to offer. The cost of the bus from Humahuaca to Uquia is 70 pesos, and it takes 15 minutes. There are several buses that leave all day; I took the 9:30am bus.
I arrived at 10am to find this sleepy town with everything still closed, and just a few locals staring intently at me as I walked by, their conversations ceased. Because everything seemed closed, I just kept walking up towards the mountains. If you walk directly up the dirt road where the bus drops you off, it’s a straight shot. I passed a cemetery to my right, and continued walking, following the dirt road.
On the way, a few cars passed by so I figured there must be something worth seeing up there since others were going there on purpose. I had a quick look at Google Maps and saw a spot marked “estacionamiento Quebrada de las Señoritas.” It showed the small blue ‘mirador’ (outlook) icon, so I figured there must be a beautiful viewing point. What I found was more than I ever could have expected.
After walking only 15-20 minutes past the town of Uquia, I reached the parking lot (“estacionamiento”), paid the 100 peso ($0.50 usd) entry fee, and had a chat with the guides there. They showed me the map of the area which has two main routes. The green route weaves to the right and leads to the Cañon de las 13 Vueltas (Canyon of the 13 Turns), and the yellow route is a bit longer and weaves to the left, ending at the Cueva de las Señoritas (Cave of the Young Ladies).
It was quite a hot day, so I chose to head in the direction of just one spot: The Cañon de las 13 Vueltas. I bought a 100 peso water bottle from the guide’s cabin and set off. If I walked directly to the canyon, it would have taken only 15-20 minutes. However, I stopped constantly to take photos and videos along the way. Every time I turned around, I was blown away, and wanted more photos. The massive red rocks at the entrance to the area next to the parking lot were quite impressive, so it took me several minutes and several photos to finally separate myself.
Once I was satisfied, I continued along the red sandy path towards the canyon. The landscape along the way is the ultimate desert terrain: red sand, cacti, sun, rabbits.
I then reached the canyon’s mouth, which is where I met Carmen. Carmen works there, and I surmise it is her job to ensure nobody climbs on the rock faces in the canyon, and because I was there without a guide, she came with me. Carmen and I made conversation, and she told me a bit about the area, and how in the rainy season in the summer months, this canyon turns into a river and it’s impossible to walk through. I felt very fortunate to be visiting in the winter, off season.
As the name of the canyon suggests, there are 13 turns before reaching the end. Carmen and I weaved back and forth, massive red rock walls on either side of us. Since I now had a companion on my journey, I asked Carmen several times to take my photo in this amazing environment, and, several times, she happily complied. By the end, she got quite into it, and even started suggesting great photo opportunity spots.
Inside the canyon was shady and therefore much colder than under the direct sunlight. I was taking off and putting on my sweater all day.
Once we reached the end of the canyon, we took several phots, and then headed back through the 13 turns the opposite way. Back at the start of the cave, I waved goodbye to Carmen, and she then turned back to make sure the newer arrivals weren’t climbing the canyon walls.
At every turn I was amazed and blown away. This was the best surprise I never expected to find in Uquia. The other landscapes I’ve seen in the region have been incredible, but this one by far was the most amazing. You can only see the Serrania del Hornocal from a distance. The Cerro de los Siete Colores is great but it’s just a circular route through the mountains. Being here, in the canyon, I could touch the walls. I felt very much a part of the nature surrounding me and I was in heaven.
I headed back to town the same way I came up, but this time a few more things were open. A small cafe, Lo de Chari, definitely caught my eye so I stopped in for a lemonade, empanadas, jazz music, and a great view above the city of Uquia. I strongly recommend making a pit stop here.
After my empanada break, I headed back into the center of town to find a small church serving as the background for a quaint market, full of the same items from the area: sweaters, slippers, hats, magnets, etc.
After a stroll through the market, I crossed the highway and sat at the bus stop until the colectivo arrived just 15 minutes later to take me back to Humahuaca. The price back to Humahuaca from Uquia was 100 pesos on a local bus.