Iruya North of Argentina Reading Time:
Iruya, North of Argentina 101
Iruya is in the North of Argentina, and is a magical gem of a town. Iruya is technically located in the province of Salta, though the only way in and out of town is along a dirt road from the neighboring province of Jujuy. Most people come to Iruya after first passing through the Jujeño town of Humahuaca, which is about 3 hours away.
The road from Humahuaca to Iruya is unpaved, bumpy, and incredibly curvy as you wind your way down the mountainside and into the valley. Bring some Dramamine with you if you have a tendency towards carsickness, and choose a seat in the front of the bus. It helped me quite a bit.
The town of Iruya has a population of just over 3000 inhabitants and sits at 2780 meters (9120 feet) above sea level.
The landscape surrounding Iruya is one to sit and admire. It’s totally unique and drastically different from the mountains I got accustomed to in the Jujuy province. The main activities in Iruya are eating, walking around town, hiking, and catching the views from the lookout points (miradores).
What is Iruya known for?
Argentines will tell you that “Iruya es un sueño,” Iruya is a dream. Iruya is known for its nature and incredible desert/mountainous surroundings. This small Salteño town is not that easy to get to, which means fewer tourists, and less tourism than a lot of other Argentine towns. But a trip to Iruya is completely worth it. It’s known for being a little bit cut off from the rest of the country. The name Iruya comes from the Quechua language and means “abundance of straw.” The population of Iruya is mostly made up of people with indigenous roots.
How to get to Iruya (como llegar a Iruya)
Get to Iruya by bus (Humahuaca a Iruya)
The easiest way to get to Iruya is from Humahuaca by bus. But ‘easy’ is subjective. You might hear Argentines say “es peligroso ir a Iruya,” (it’s dangerous to go to Iruya), and that is kind of true. There are hours of winding dirt roads, zig-zagging back and forth across the landscape, slowly making its way down into the valley where the road ends in Iruya. Sometimes the bus took such sharp turns, I found myself looking away, because I did not want to look down at those massive drop-offs that had me imagining my death. I put all my trust into the bus driver who does this route hundreds of times per month. If you get carsick easily, take some Dramamine and choose a seat in the front of the bus.
The bus terminal in Humahuaca is right on the main road in the center of town, very easy and obvious to find. There are a few stops along the way to Iruya from Humahuaca where people are selling tortilla rellena, which is great if you start getting hungry. I suggest buying your bus ticket one day in advance if you can. You can buy them at the window at the Humahuaca bus station where you see signs for Iruya.
The schedule Sunday to Friday: 8:20, 10:30, 16:00
The schedule for Saturdays: 8:20, 10:30
PRICE: 650 pesos
TIME: 3 hours
The Iruya bus station is right at the entrance to the town. When you leave the bus station, turn left and walk up the path towards the IRUYA sign. This is where you’ll find the hotels and the center of town.
When you arrive in Iruya, check the bus times to return to Humahuaca. Consider buying your return ticket in advance, since there are not many buses going back. This will help you plan your time in Iruya.
Get to Iruya by car
If you have your own car, or if you choose to rent a car, it’s totally possible to drive to Iruya. The only road to get to Iruya is from Humahuaca. The camino a Iruya does take 3 hours, but I strongly suggest driving slowly, as the roads are twisty and bumpy. There are sharp turns and steep drop-offs. Drive during the day and avoid driving at night. If you’re not familiar with this road, you need to drive extra cautiously.
Leave Iruya by taxi
It is possible to take a bus back to Humahuaca (3 hours), and then another bus to Salta (4 hours). But the fastest way is through a shared taxi. It’s best to have a local message or call for you to make the reservation one day in advance. I was told that if I message from my foreign whatsapp number the driver will try to take advantage and ask for more money. The taxi leaves Iruya at 4 am, but more than likely the taxi will be delayed.
COMPANY: Remis Rapido y Curioso: +54 9 387 615 7439
PRICE: 3000 pesos ($15 usd)
TIME: 5 hours
What to do in Iruya: Lookout Spots & Hiking Trails
Que hacer in Iruya? What is there to do in Iruya? In this precious town, there are many great lookout spots and hiking trails for every level of traveler. Here are my recommendations.
Iruya’s Mirador de la Cruz
This is the easiest lookout to get to. It sits just above the city center. If you follow the Calle San Martin up and around, you’ll arrive in just 15 minutes. From there, you have a fantastic view overlooking the town of Iruya and the surrounding mountains. You can also take a look across the river and up the mountain where another mirador sits: Mirador del Condor.
GOING UP: 10-15 minutes
GOING DOWN: 10 minutes
LEVEL: Easy (just a little steep)
Mirador del Condor Iruya
I was told it is best to reach this lookout around 3-4 in the afternoon because that is when the condors fly around the area. I reached the top around 1:30 pm and didn’t see any condors, so there could be some truth to that. The route up is quite steep, and as everyone will tell you, go slowly, one step at a time. Heed that advice. It would be almost impossible to go fast. Once you reach the top though, it’s very worth it. You can see the road in and out of town, the road leading to San Isidro, and the entire village of Iruya below.
GOING UP: 60 minutes (most people told me 90 minutes, so depends on pace)
GOING DOWN: 30 minutes
Mirador de Iruya
This must be Google Maps taking the piss. There is literally nothing here. The ‘Mirador de Iruya’ marked on Google Maps is in reality just a random spot along the road where a few houses are. There is nothing special here. Don’t waste your time.
GOING UP: 15 minutes
GOING DOWN: 15 minutes
Mirador de San Isidro Iruya
This lookout point is about 6.5 km to the north of Iruya. Follow the road out of town (on the opposite end of town from where you entered/the bus terminal), cross a small river that falls down the edge of a cliff, and keep going. There is only one road so you won’t get lost. The path zig-zags back and forth several times as you go along, so be prepared to jump over some stones as you cross the river. When you reach the town of San Isidro, after about 2 hours), you’ll see a sign welcoming you, and then go up several stairs. Go left at the top of the stairs, and keep following the path to the left. It will zig-zag a few more times until you reach a cemetery at the very peak. Follow the path around to soak in the views before heading back the same way you came up. I suggest stopping at the small restaurant at the top of the stairs to get some empanadas. It’s family owned and you can sit in the sun while enjoying the amazing view.
The path is mostly flat with just a slight incline the whole way, but the last 20 minutes before reaching San Isidro it definitely gets a bit steeper. The entire way, the path is a dirt road with many small rocks. Expect to balance your way across the larger rocks when crossing the river many times.
GETTING THERE: 2.5 hours
GETTING BACK: 2 hours
Food in Iruya, North of Argentina
Cafe Resto Iruya
After adventuring around town, I strongly suggest making a stop for lunch at Cafe Resto Iruya. The views are incredible. The owner, Greta, is a kind and open person who makes fresh dishes full of love. They close early in the winter because it gets cold and the only tables are outside on the patio. But for breakfast, lunch, and merienda, this place is the absolute best!
Hosteria Chez DidierM
This is both a restaurant and a hotel. I came here several times during my 3-day stay in Iruya because it often seemed to be the only place open. In a small town, things close early and open late. But Hosteria Chez DidierM was always there for me. Dinner with live music. Early morning breakfast before my hikes. They weren’t just a place with lights on either. The food was fantastic and affordable.
Where should I stay in Iruya? Hoteles en Iruya.
Whatsapp: +54 9 3885 47 3711
0388 497 8674
Price: 2000 pesos/night (shared bathroom); 3000 pesos/night (private bathroom)
RATING: 3/5 – Very basic, space heater, no breakfast, wifi, no soap in bathrooms
This is one of the more affordable places to stay in Iruya for budget travelers. El Hostelito has a shared kitchen and offers towels and bed linens. You can only pay in cash. The location is great, right in the center of town and near a market.
Hosteria Chez DidierM
As mentioned above, Hosteria Chez DidierM was like an oasis in Iruya, always with a light on, meals to serve, and the occasional live music. But this is also a place to sleep, with a great breakfast included.
The most beautiful hotel in Iruya is Hotel Iruya. It is tucked away in the very back of the town of Iruya, on a hill that overlooks everything. There are stunning views of the town, the valley, and the mountainous cliffs. Breakfast is included each morning, along with fresh fruit juices.
Is it worth it to visit Iruya north of Argentina?
Absolutely yes! Visiting Iruya is a totally unique experience. There are so few travelers due to the difficulty of reaching Iruya that you will be treated to an interesting, and genuine experience in the north of Argentina. If you can, try to stay a couple of nights to really soak it in and enjoy the quiet and peaceful nature of Iruya north of Argentina.
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