Maybe it was because we were there in Argentina’s autumn, or maybe it really is off the beaten tourist track? Either way, Cerro Hornocal near Quebrada de Humahuaca is simultaneously one of the most peaceful and most beautiful landscapes we’ve ever seen.
It’s just one of those places that is hard to believe is real, like standing in front of a painting. It’s so surreal. When we first researched the place, we had thought the photos we saw online would have been so heavily edited that it wouldn’t look like that in real life. Not true.
Cerro Hornocal, Humahuaca, Argentina
Cerro Hornocal or Serranía de Hornocal are the names by which the mountain range are known locally. However in a bid to outdo the nearby village of Purmamarca with it’s Hill of 7 Colours, the tourism industry in Humahuaca has rebranded theirs the 14 coloured mountains.
Tourism is hugely important for places like Humahuaca. It financially supports much of the communities who live in the region. We do hope it isn’t, however, unsustainably developed like as has happened with rainbow Vinicunca Mountain in Peru.
Although, due to the ancient Inca caravan road running through it, the whole of the Quebrada de Humahuaca region was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Which thankfully should mean legal protection against environmental damage from overtourism.
Science behind the 14 Coloured Mountains
The scientific name for the rainbow colours of Cerro Hornocal, is a limestone formation called Yacoraite. The geologic formation actually runs along the Andes all the way from Salta, Argentina through the Bolivian Altiplano and on into Peru.
The colorful phenomenon of the fourteen coloured mountains was actually formed underwater some 600 million years ago. When over different time periods various mineral sediments built up in layers, which have now been exposed by erosion.
How To Get To Serranía de Hornocal
The Cerros de los Catorces Colores as their ‘new’ name translates in Spanish, are located 25 km from the town of Humahuaca in the province of Jujuy. And whilst it is relatively easy to get there, the access road is relatively steep and unpaved.
Not so much so that you need a 4×4, a normal car will cope with it, if you go slow. By car is your only way to get to Cerro Hornocal, as there aren’t currently any buses running the route. But you do have two options. To drive yourself or be driven.
If you already have a hire car, or opt to hire one in the nearest city of Salta, the route is on Maps.Me. So simply download the region before you leave WIFI range and jobs a good ‘un. You likely won’t have any signal around Quebrada de Humahuaca, just so you know.
You’ll find the location under ‘Mirador del Hornocal 14 Colores’ or ‘Mirador Serranía del Hornocal’. Or just turn right at the tourist information office in Humahuaca, taking the ruta provincial 73 east.
Humahuaca Rainbow Mountains Cost
You’ll pass a checkpoint where you’ll need to pay $50 ARS pesos ($1.15 USD / £0.90 GBP) per vehicle. It’s impossible to get lost. It’s just one road in and out. It doesn’t go anywhere else but Cerro Hornocal.
Or alternatively, if you are backpacking as we were, you can jump in one of the jeeps going from Humahuaca town. You can either just head to the bus station or there will very likely be a driver who comes by where you are staying each morning to see if anyone wants to go.
The jeeps won’t go until they are full. So it’s best to plan to go in the morning so you’re not waiting around for other passengers. 10am is fine. It cost us $300 ARS pesos ($7 USD / £5.50) each, although we did hear it would be $500 ARS pesos ($11 USD / £9 GBP) so maybe it’s more in high season.
The journey takes less than an hour with a stop off at a viewpoint on the way. You get around 45 minutes at the 14 coloured mountain range. The journey back is quicker, and the trip in total took around 2.5 hours. It’s not an all day thing.
Tour of the 14 Coloured Mountain
Alternatively, instead of staying in Humahuaca or nearby, if you are short on time you can just take a day trip from Salta. It’s an early start and long day but well worth it to see this spectacular landscape.
Get Your Guide have a well put together tour of the Humahuaca 14 coloured mountains.
You’ll be picked up from your hotel by a bilingual Spanish-English guide and get to take in a lot of incredible Quebrada de Humahuaca. Aswell as Cerro Hornocal, you’ll also get to see the Purmamarca hill of 7 colours, the 12th century Pucará de Tilcara fort and the sleepy town of Uquía.
Cerro Hornocal Altitude Sickness
An important thing to mention about visiting Cerro Hornocal is that the altitude is serious. 4,350 m.a.s.l of serious altitude. That will become apparent when you pull into the carpark next to the Mirador del Hornocal and see the ambulance that is stationed there.
There’s a short steep path that takes you down from the carpark to a further viewing spot of the Serranía de Hornocal. At which point you’ll also find a sign warning you in Spanish to descend with caution if you are being affected by altitude sickness.
But even if not, go slowly, don’t start running around. It’s easy to get dizzy at that height. Chewing coca leaves will likely help with the effects of altitude. You can purchase them in the market in Humahuaca and are called Hoja de coca in Spanish.
They taste pretty bitter and you may not like them. But we definitely think they help. The technique is to build up a small ball of them and keep it in your cheek, so you can keep sucking on them to release the effects. You don’t eat them.
It’s a pretty steppingstones walk back up to the carpark from the second fourteen coloured hill viewpoint, so take it steady on the way back too.
What To Take To Hornocal Mountains
Okay so Cerro Hornocal is very exposed and it gets seriously windy up there. And even during summer months, it’s chilly due to the altitude. So take a warm jacket. And wear sensible footwear for walking on the trail.
If you want a drink or any snacks you also need to take them with you too. There isn’t usually anything to buy at the 14 coloured mountains, other than maybe the odd souvenir sellar. There is a toilet but don’t expect anything fancy. It’s literally just a hole in the floor.
Humahuaca Jujuy Weather
Close to the border with Bolivia, Quebrada de Humahuaca is in Argentina’s most northern province, Jujuy. The climate around those parts is warm and temperate with dry winters and hot summers.
Because Jujuy is semi-desertic rainfall is rare and temperatures fluctuate greatly from the day to the night. The month that sees the most rain is January, with the hottest month being December and the coldest July.
The most comfortables times to visit the fourteen coloured mountains in Jujuy, when it’s not too hot or too cold, are September – November and February – June. But there is generally good visibility all year round.
Where To Stay in Humahuaca
Humahuaca is a really pretty little town, we loved the few days we spent here. And it’s definitely a good place to base yourself for exploring Cerro Hornocal and this area of Northern Argentina in general.
Here’s our top picks on where to stay in Humahuaca.
Affordable Luxury: Cabaña Andina
This place to stay in Humahuaca is a little out of the centre but it’s worth it for the peaceful mountain views. And it’s still less than 1km away from the centre anyway.
The lodge provides guests with a patio seating area, satellite flat-screen TV, fully equipped kitchen with a fridge and an oven, and a private bathroom with bidet and a hairdryer.
Mid-Range: Hostería Tantanakuy
A pretty guesthouse in beautiful surroundings is centrally located with a choice of double, triple or quadruple rooms. All with private bathroom facilities and a super tasty breakfast included.
Guests say that the beds are comfortable and the rooms well heated. Parking is available on request.
Cheap & Cheerful: La Nueva Puerta Verde
This bright and colourful hostel is centrally located and just a 1 minute walk from the bus station. There’s a pretty garden with chill out area and an onsite bar with happy hour deals and evening entertainment.
A basic breakfast included and reviews consistently say how kind and helpful staff are. The rooms are modern with comfortable warm beds. There are dorms or doubles to choose from.
Good Reads About Argentina:
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
We never go anywhere without travel insurance – and neither should you.
This particularly goes if you’re planning on adventuring in more remote destinations like the 14 coloured mountains in Humahuaca, Jujuy.
World Nomads is our preferred choice for great cover and a no bullshit approach, grab yourself a quick quote below:
Okay that’s about it! If you have anymore questions about planning your trip to Cerro Hornocal or the 14 coloured mountains of Humahuaca, drop us a comment below and we’ll do our best to help.
If you’re exploring more of Northern Argentina you may also find these posts helpful:
- A Self-Guided Bike Tour Of Mendoza Wineries
- Everything You Need To Know About Cafayate
- How To See Argentina’s Grand Salt Flats