Purmamarca, Argentina - The Hill of Seven Colours
by Tess McArthur Dowty
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
How many times have we all heard the old “It’s about the journey, not the destination” mantra? Let me tell you – after 28 hours, 2 buses and a 1.5-hour walk, dragging our suitcases on gravel in the glaring mid-afternoon sun – Purmamarca for me was definitely more about the destination.
Why go to Purmamarca?
Purmamarca is a tiny town in Jujuy province northern Argentina, famous for its Cerro de Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours). The drive there from Salta or Jujuy (the largest nearby cities) alone is stunning, with dramatic red and purple mountains and giant cactuses surrounding the road. The town is directly at the foot of the famous rainbow hill itself, and it’s almost impossible to find a place in town where you can’t catch a glimpse of it.
Things to do in Purmamarca
Cerro de Siete Colores Viewpoints
There are a couple of lookouts to give you a good view of the Cerro de Siete Colores. For some of them you are going to need to pay, but it’s only AR$10 (which, at the time of writing this is about AUD$0.50/USD$0.37/EUR0.31, though inflation is a big problem in Argentina so it’s worth checking current exchange rates before you go). From these vantage points, you can see a full panorama over the rainbow hill, town, and mountains.
Paseo de los Colores
The surrounding landscape is also stunning, so once you’ve seen the Cerro de Siete Colores from a couple of different viewpoints, I would also recommend doing the Paseo de los Colores, a 3km easy walk through the surrounding mountains. For the most part you won’t be able to see the main hill itself, but there are many other beautifully coloured landscapes you’ll get to see. The whole place is very easy to navigate, though not always well signposted, so just follow the walking trails or roads. Maps.me also has maps showing all the walks and viewpoints (“Miradors”) so I’d recommend downloading that before you leave, as signal isn’t always great so it’s always handy to have an offline map.
In the centre of the town there is also a market on every day, which sells all kinds of multicoloured alpaca scarves, socks, and those jumpers that you can find all over the region, and seem to be an obligatory purchase for all travellers. By the end of the day as the sun goes down and it gets colder you can’t see a single person on the street not wearing their newly purchased warm clothing. It’s all very reasonably priced as well, and make sure you ask around, as some stalls are slightly cheaper than others.
How to get there
Bus Stops: Terminal Purmamarca vs Purmamarca Cruce
Aside from renting a car, the other option is to take a bus, which is what we did. We were coming from Mendoza, which involved a 19-hour bus trip to Salta, and a 2-3 hour bus trip to Cruce Purmamarca. Here’s the thing, Purmamarca as a town does have a bus terminal. It’s not very big, but it has 3-4 bus stops, a café, kiosk, its own viewpoint of the Cerro and bathrooms that you’ll have to pay AR$10 to use. However, Cruce Purmamarca is not this bus stop. We found out the hard way that Cruce Purmamarca is actually is the crossroads on the highway before the turnoff to Purmamarca.
On the bus, the conductor just shouted “Purmamarca” and we all got prepared to leave. This had been my part of the trip to plan and I had spend A LOT of time looking into where exactly the bus terminals were, and not found anything telling me that they were anywhere other than in the centre of the tiny town itself. But the bus just stopped on the side of the road, and unceremoniously dropped our bags off beside us and drove off. In Mendoza it had been 2 degrees Celsius and snowing, so our clothes were not suited to this 25 degree Celsius sunshine we found ourselves in. Tired, confused, and uncomfortable, I got out my offline map and realised that we were at the intersection of the highway and the road to Purmamarca, which was 3 km away.
Phone signal was patchy at best, but we tried to call the hostel we were staying at and see if they could help us in any way – surely there must be some taxis? We managed to speak to the hostel owner for long enough for him to tell us that there weren’t, in fact, any taxis before my phone ran out of credit. On a normal day where you are wearing clothes appropriate for the weather, are not carrying 3 weeks worth of clothing in a suitcase, and haven’t been on buses for the previous 26 hours the walk would have been easy. There were no large inclines. There was no possible turn off to get lost at, and you even pass by what I’m sure would have been a beautiful lookout had circumstances been different. Given the circumstances, we arrived 1.5 hours later to our hostel, covered in dust, sweat, with sore backs, legs and arms. As soon as we got there we all just collapsed onto our beds for several hours, unable to do anything else that day.
How to Learn from my Mistakes
Check Several Sites Online
Making sure to check several sources is always a good idea, however in this particular case even that may not help. I have gone back to check on various websites the information provided on our bus – the 10.30am Balut bus to La Quaica. On Busbud, it claims to arrive at “Terminal Purmamarca”, and even provides a map of where the terminal is, in the town itself. However, the same bus on Plataforma 10 says it just arrives at Purmamarca, and when clicking on the list of other stops for the bus (‘Recorrido’), specifies that it stops at ‘Cruce Purmamaraca’ (which is code for the side of the road). Searching directly on Balut’s website claims that the bus goes to ‘Purmamarca Aceso’, and won’t give you a map of where that is. With all this wildly different information flying around you can see where I became confused for our own trip.
Check With the Bus Company Directly
My suggestion to you if you also find several sites saying different things is to check directly with the bus company before you buy, and when you’ve purchased your ticket double check what it says. Ours said ‘Cruce Purmamarca’ on them but only after I bought them. There are a lot of buses on the same day, so you probably don’t need to book far in advance, I would just suggest going and talking to them in person, and asking specifically how to get to ‘Terminal Purmamarca’. If your bus is going to ‘Cruce Purmamarca’ and you’re staying there overnight, get in contact with your hostel or hotel first and see if they can help you to arrange transport. Or, if all else fails, wear good walking shoes and carry lots of water.
Was it worth it?
Honestly, I was so exhausted and frustrated upon arrival that I barely took anything in. I’m glad we stayed the night in this town full of day-trippers though, as the next day I realised how beautiful the town and landscape is. Everything has a very chilled-out vibe, and it’s a beautiful place to take a leisurely, suitcase-less stroll through the desert mountains, eat a llama steak and browse the local market, before maybe being lucky enough to be treated to live music, a local dance lesson, and meet a real-life gaucho in a bar in the evening. The stunning rainbow mountains and friendly people, both tourists and locals, made the whole thing worth it in the end.
by Tess McArthur DowtyWednesday, September 12, 2018
I am a 23 year old Australian currently travelling South America, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, attempting to learn Spanish. I have a passion for film, travel, and am particularly talented at finding cats in various cities across the world. I graduated from university in 2016, and am currently in the middle of my third gap year of what I'm sure will be many.Read more at traveltessmcd.com