Humahuaca—at an altitude of 2,957 meters (9,700 feet)—is the gateway to the Puna. Its narrow stone streets hark back to pre-Hispanic civilizations, when aboriginals fought Incan marauders from the north. The struggle for survival continued into the 16th century, when the Spanish arrived.

Given its location, the village feels a bit touristy today—especially at midday, when an automated carving of Saint Francisco Solano emerges like a cuckoo from a clock to bless the folks gathered in the main plaza with his mechanized arm. More visitor amenities are slowly becoming available, too: however, the tourist board is less than organized (if you find it open) and lodgings are predominantly hostels. That said, if you’re near Humahuaca around the time of Carnaval (40 days before Easter), it's worth putting up with whatever accommodations you can find to participate in the wonderful festivities that are a complicated mix of Catholicism and paganism.

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