About a month before we even made it to Salta, Argentina we met a guy at one of our hostels that was traveling the opposite direction that we were. He had just come from Argentina, so we asked him what places we should see. One of the places he mentioned was Salta, and showed us pictures of a mountain with 14 different colors, the Serranias del Hornocal.
Unfortunately, we should have done some more research because the Serranias del Hornocal is in the state of Salta, but not the city. It’s actually about a 5 hour bus ride north of Salta near a small town called Humahuaca.
Once we found out it was so far away, then we had to figure out how we were going to get there. We had a few options, but per the usual, we wanted to find the least expensive option and the one that gave us the most flexibility to do what we wanted.
Our Options for Getting to Serranias del Hornocal
Finding an automatic car in South America is nearly impossible. Finding an automatic in Salta is actually impossible. I’m not sure why, but when you look online it’s hard to even find a car rental company that has any available cars… manual or automatic. Unfortunately we arrived in Salta on a Sunday, which is a day that almost every business is closed. It seems like 95% of the town just shuts down. I’m not kidding.
We just happened to pass by a woman on the street that was advertising rental cars. We asked her how much it was for a one day rental and if they had automatic cars. Apparently the minimum is only 2 days and they only had manual cars. When I looked online again later, I saw that the other companies in Salta only offered manual cars as well.
I wanted to avoid taking a tour, because most tours always seem to rush by certain things and never give us enough time to do what we actually want to do. Lynn convinced me that we should at least see what the tour companies have to offer.
The tour agency that we found had a full day tour (12 hours) that made multiple stops at different towns and rock formations. One of the towns it stopped in was Humahuaca, but they did not take the bumpy trip up the mountain to see Serranias del Hornocal. The tour was priced at 410 pesos ($30) each, but had three downsides:
- It didn’t actually go to Serranias del Hornocal which was the one thing we really wanted to see
- It stopped at towns and markets, which just seemed like a waste of time to us
- It was a 12 hour tour which seemed very long
Local Bus to Humahuaca
We read online that it was possible to take a local bus from the main bus terminal in Salta up to Humahuaca. It was a 5 hour bus ride, and once you arrived in Humahuaca the article we read mentioned that you had to walk to the bridge and there you would find trucks or vans offering transportation to Serranias del Hornocal.
We found the Balut bus online that offered round trip tickets to Humahuaca for 300 pesos ($23) each. The bus would leave Salta at 7am and arrive in Humahuaca around noon. Our return bus would leave at 5:15pm and arrive back in Salta around 10pm. There was a later bus, but it had us getting back around 2am… not something we wanted to do.
In the end, we decided on this option because it gave us the most flexibility and actually got us to the mountain we were looking forward to seeing.
Balut Bus Ride
We got to the bus terminal early that morning to make sure we purchased our tickets and got seats on the buses we wanted. We were pleasantly surprised when our bus arrived, as it was a nicer looking bus than we were expecting.
Our seats were way in the back, which had it’s positives and negatives. The positive was that we could recline our seats without having to worry about anyone being behind us. The negative was that the back of the bus is where the AC unit for the bus is. Not only did it feel colder back there, but it was also pretty loud and rattled a lot whenever we hit bumps.
During the bus ride they played movies, which was a nice added bonus. The movies were in Spanish which was unfortunate, but it’s amazing what you can understand through just actions and the little bit of Spanish we know. Let’s just say it was something to watch instead of just staring out the window the entire time.
Arriving in Humahuaca
We arrived on schedule and found that we didn’t even have to walk to the bridge to find transportation to Serranias del Hornocal. As soon as we got off the bus there was a guy that came over to ask us if we were interested in going to see Serranias del Hornocal. We’ve learned to not always trust the people that are pushy and trying to get you to commit to something. We told him we needed to discuss it and we would get back to him.
After a brief discussion of what we wanted to do, we decided to go back to the guy and get some additional information. He gave us the rundown of what the trip included:
- Truck leaves at 1pm
- 45 minutes to drive up to the viewpoint for Serranias del Hornocal
- 45 minutes to walk around once we get there
- 45 minutes to get back to town
- 120 pesos ($10) each
That was basically what we wanted to do, so we agreed. He told us that we had time to get some food and then the truck would pick us up at his hostel which was just a block down the street we were on. Right on that same corner was a restaurant that sold empanadas to go, so we grabbed an assorted bag of empanadas and went to the hostel to wait for our ride.
Truck Ride up the Hill
When the truck picked us up at the hostel there were two people waiting there with us. It was a pickup truck with room for 1 in the front seat with the driver and 3 in the back seat. Lynn sat in the back with the other two, a couple from Buenos Aires. Since I was the tallest in the group it was nice of everyone to give me the seat with more leg room. Luckily, we got seats in the truck when we did, because the driver stopped at the bridge and tried to get more people to join the tour to see Serranias del Hornocal. No one joined us, but if they had they would have been sitting in the uncovered bed of the truck. Not only did it look uncomfortable, but it would have been cold and possibly wet since there were rain showers in the area.
We had read online about how terrible the road was up to the viewpoint to see Serranias del Hornocal. People said it was a bumpy dirt road that twisted and turned up a scary hillside. Lynn and I were waiting for the road to get bad, but it never did. Apparently the people that were writing about how bad the road was had never been on a jeep tour through Bolivia.
The road up to the viewpoint does a decent climb in elevation, but it’s not that noticeable on your way up. The town of Humahuaca is at about 3,000 meters (9,880 feet) and the viewpoint for Serranias del Hornocal is at 4,350 meters (14,270 feet). Maybe Lynn and I are just used to the high elevations at this point, but all we noticed was our ears popping a little.
Serranias del Hornocal Viewpoint
As you drive along the road to enter the viewpoint for Serranias del Hornocal, there is a small booth that collects the entry fee. The fee was 30 pesos for our truck which we split with the couple riding with us.
Once we got to the viewpoint we were a little disappointed because there were clouds rolling in and it looked like it may rain. It didn’t make sense because it was so nice when we were down in Humahuaca. As we’ve learned, the weather in the mountains is always unpredictable. Luckily, it never did fully rain, but we did feel a few rain drops while we were there. It also was a lot colder up there, so Lynn and I were happy that we decided to bring our fleece jackets with us.
The driver told us that we had 30 minutes to walk around and take pictures. This was less than what the guy had told us originally, so we were a little annoyed. We decided that the driver was probably not going to leave without us, especially since we hadn’t paid him yet, so we took our time and got all of the photos we were hoping to get.
The viewpoint has a small parking lot and from there you can get some pretty decent pictures. There is also a path that goes down a hill to another little hill with an even closer view of the Serranias del Hornocal. Lynn and I walked down there and took as many pictures as we could.
Serranias del Hornocal is also known as the 14 color mountain, which isn’t overly noticeable in our photos, but that is mainly because of the lighting we had. Apparently in the afternoon if the sun shines on the mountain you can see all of the different colors of the mountain.
With darker clounds rolling in we headed back to the truck. It wasn’t until we had to walk back up the hill to the parking lot that Lynn and I noticed the difference in elevation. We were huffing and puffing a little once we got to the top. I guess maybe we are not so used to the high elevations as I thought.
During the trip back down the weather magically started to get better and better. We stopped along the way at a small pulloff and took some pictures of the valley below with the road winding down the hillside. It was a nice view that wasn’t quite captured exactly as it looked in person.
Back in Humahuaca
Once we got back to town the driver dropped us off and we paid and thanked him for the tour. Unfortunately, we didn’t understand all of the tour because the driver only spoke Spanish, but we got some of it. The couple from Buenos Aires helped us out with some of the interesting facts, but their english was about as good as our Spanish… not very.
We walked back into town from where we got dropped off at the bridge. At that point it was only about 3pm, and we had a bus that didn’t leave until 5:15pm. We decided to walk around Humahuaca and see if we could find some postcards and possibly a keychain that we could repurpose as a Christmas ornament. Unfortunately, we didn’t find anything interesting, so we were happy that we were able to find a nice keychain the day before in Salta.
As we walked around town we noticed a lot of stray dogs wandering around. Some of them were looking pretty sad and hungry. Since we had a couple left over empanadas, Lynn decided to feed a couple of the dogs. The first dog we found Lynn nicknamed “Empanada” (how original), and he seemed so happy for the food he followed us around until we walked into a gift shop.
Since we had additional time to kill before our bus, we made our way up a set of stairs in the town to see a large statue sitting on top of a hill. It wasn’t the most interesting statue, but it gave us something to do and helped us kill some time. We also stopped back at the empanada restaurant and had a couple beers before our bus arrived.
Bus Back to Salta
By the time our bus arrived and we got on it, we were tired and ready to be back in Salta. Unfortunately, we had a long 5 hour ride ahead of us. On our ride back, we had better seats, but the bus seemed a little more local. There were a few families and for some reason, quite a few older people.
Most of the kids were annoying as usual, but that’s not even surprising anymore in South America. At one point, the older man sitting across from me thought it was a good idea to get up and get some coffee. On his way back to his seat he ended up almost falling, which forced him to spill half of his coffee all over the floor. One more step and he probably would have spilled it all over me. If he could have just waited, the bus stopped literally 2 minutes later.
Even though we were done with riding buses for the day, the bus did arrive back in Salta on time. We were able to get a quick taxi back to our hotel and get a late dinner at a restaurant that was closed the previous day.
Choosing to sort of create our own tour and see Serranias del Hornocal in Humahuaca was a tough choice, but we were pretty happy with our decision. It was a long day, but we got to do exactly what we wanted to do.
We still think it would have been nice if we could have rented a car and driven ourselves to see Serranias del Hornocal and some of the other sites around Salta, but it just wasn’t possible. If either of us was more comfortable driving a manual we may have done it, but it just didn’t make sense for us.
The ride up to Humahuaca from Salta was beautiful and very colorful. I would suggest renting a car and taking the drive if you are someone that is comfortable driving a manual. I feel like there are plenty of places to stop and take pictures along the way. There are probably some short hikes that could be fun as well.
Lynn and I actually wish that we had stayed a little further north of Salta (instead of in the city of Salta), so that we would have been closer to a lot of the sites in the area. Staying in a city north of Salta would put you in a more central location and make it easier to get around and see all of the sites.