High up in the northern Argentinian Andes, the Quebrada de Humahuaca Carnival is about to kick off. This region in Jujuy province is marked by ancient traditions and a strong culture linked to land and fertility, and so too, is this carnival celebration born from inherited pagan rituals practiced by indigenous tribes.
The carnival runs for nine consecutive days and begins with crowds of revelers walking through the hills to find and dig up the pujllay, or little devil, that was buried the previous year. Groups of singers and musicians (comparsas) will start dancing to the beat of popular music and the locals emerge in the streets of Humahuaca to join the party.
Humahuaca Carnival brings the locals out into the streets / Image Source
TRADITIONS OF HUMAHUACA CARNIVAL
In every comparsa, you will find performers with trombones, saxophones, bass drums, and such native instruments as the charangos. Each group has its own distinct identity and it is common for villagers to invite the musicians into their home for a refreshment. The women customarily dress in gypsy attire while the men don devil costumes and together they douse each other in flour and carry basil leaves – considered an aphrodisiac – filling the air with an unmistakable aroma.
To conclude the ceremonies, the pujllay is buried once again with offerings of alcohol and cocoa, and at nightfall, the rhythm of carnival continues as everyone dances around a campfire before meeting at different points in town, named fortín, to resume the revelry until dawn.
Learn more about the programming of the Quebrada de Humahuaca Carnival here.
TIPS FOR ATTENDING THE QUEBRADA DE HUMAHUACA CARNIVAL
This is not your typical city Carnival. You will not find 5-star hotels here and the infrastructure around town is not great. Embrace the less sophisticated atmosphere.
Be prepared for one big party. The locals do not offer a separate tourist celebration, instead putting all their efforts into traditions, songs, dancing, and rituals that have been practiced for centuries.
It is the perfect experience for adventure lovers, backpack travellers, anthropologists, sociologists, and anybody with a curious nature.
As this is a time for partying, there is no guarantee that other activities will be available – not all tourist services will be operational. Enquire in advance to be sure.
The Mountain of Seven Colours in the small town of Purmamarca / Photograph by Luiza Cavalcante
WHAT TO DO IN QUEBRADA DE HUMAHUACA
Experiencing Quebrada de Humahuaca Carnival is a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and in addition to the festival, you can also explore the spectacular nearby scenery. Visit the small towns and villages that carry traditional Andean cultures and soak in the stunning desert landscapes:
In Purmamarca you can see the striking Cerro de los Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colours), which is in close proximity to the central town square and a local handicraft market.
Journey to Tilcara, a town host to the Ruins of the Pucará de Tilcara: breathtaking landscapes of cacti and Incan ruins are waiting. The Garganta del Diablo is another must-see for those who love hiking and adventure, and further geological wonders in the area include Cerro de la Pollera Coya, Volcán Yacoirate and Falda de los Hongos.
Whilst in town, you should sample the delicious and exotic regional delicacies: llama meat (used in empanadas), tamal (a dish made of masa steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf), and chatasca (dried beef stew with peanuts and potatoes).
If you are up in the city of Salta, take a tour to Quebrada de Humahuaca and see the main attractions in just one day.
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If you are visiting Latin America for carnival this summer, we can help you enrich your travel experiences. Check out our tours and activities in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Buenos Aires, and across Argentina.
By Luiza Cavalcante Edited by Simon Hall