Walking in a painting called Purmamarca

By Eelee Koay
December 22, 2012
A walk through the Paseo de los Colorados is really wondrous. — Pictures by Eelee Koay

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 22 — Would you believe me if I told you that somewhere in the world there lies a valley surrounded by mountains of different colours? Well, it really does exist. In Jujuy, the northernmost province of Argentina, is such a place, surrounded by magical hills that overlap one another in a perfect harmony of colours you never imagined could be on rocky terrain. It is called Purmamarca.

This small and charming village is becoming increasingly popular both to local and international visitors, who endure many hours on the coach just to see for themselves the marvellous scenery so often photographed for postcards.
Purmamarca is a charming colonial village.

Travelling by bus from Buenos Aires takes almost 24 hours, and costs 500-600 Argentinian pesos (RM300-400). As there are no direct coaches to Purmamarca, you will likely need to stop at the capital city of San Salvador de Jujuy and catch a local bus there. Otherwise it is perfectly reasonable to take a coach headed to Tilcara or the border town of La Quiaca and arrange with the bus company to drop you off at the head of the road leading to Purmamarca. From the main route, it is a pleasant 3km walk to the village.Purmamarca is famed for retaining its earthy colonial charm but thanks to its growing popularity as a tourist destination, don’t be surprised to find that there are quite a handful of expensive boutique hotels.

For the budget traveller, Mama Coca Hostel charges about 50 pesos per night, and for those in for a splurge, boutique hotels offering all the works go at a minimum of 500 pesos per night.

But venture around and you may find something great in between. Thankfully the town is small and it’s easy enough to ask around.

A recommended option is Hostal El Cardon, which is unassuming from the outside, but offers cosy, comfortable, spotless rooms equipped with ensuite bathroom and amenities.

At low-peak seasons, a friendly enquiry could even get you a discount. I was happy to pay for a double room for 140 pesos instead of 200 in September. The best thing about the hostel, however, is the clever patio upstairs that gives you a fantastic view of the hills.
A great view of Cerro de Siete Colores from the hostel patio.

The main attraction of Purmamarca is the Paseo de Los Colorados, an unforgettable walk through the canyons with a great view of the Siete Colores hills. The hill changes from the liquid-like mounds of red earth that look like a scene out of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, opening up to views to the valley, unobstructed and unblemished by man-made structures. All along the path you feel as though you are watched over by giants, and you are but a tiny speck on the dirt path. The rocky mountains loom above, changing tones as you progress, from shades of mossy green, golden brown to violet hues and surprising pastel pink.

Formed from layers of sediment that have been pushed up from the ancient oceans over millions of years, the hills display a range of colours like the rainbow, blending effortlessly from one layer to the other.

The thought of hopping on a bus trip that lasts 24 hours may sound daunting but the opportunity to experience the vastly different landscape of this part of Argentina is well worth it.

Forming a part of the journey to the north which includes the other popular spots in Jujuy such as Tilcara and Humahuaca, Purmamarca is genuinely a picture come alive.

And when you look back at the postcard you picked up along the way, you might wonder if you were in a dream once, where you found yourself strolling through a beautiful painting.

Further details: Hostal El Cardon, Calle Belgrano S/N, Purmamarca, Argentina (http://hostalelcardon.com/)