Discovering Rural Tourism in Argentina: The Yungas Region
Last February, Hervé, a member of our Argentinian ground team took part in a journey to experience rural tourism in Argentina with members of the local NGO ProYungas, an organisation which supports rural communities in the Yungas region of northern Argentina to develop sustainable tourism programmes as a supplement to their traditional livelihoods.
In his own words…
Community-based tourism in the Quebrada de Humahuaca
I met Avelina from the ProYungas Foundation in Humahuaca, a small village located in the heart of Quebrada de Humahuaca (Humahuaca Valley), an official UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999 which owes this status to the beauty of its landscape and the richness of its culture.
The high altitude of the region didn’t take long to affect us, but it was nothing that couldn’t be solved by a traditional coca tea – a herbal infusion made using the leaves of the coca plant, and a typical remedy used by those in the Andes region. We enjoyed a homemade dinner in the evening and sat down to plan the last details of our trip for the next day.
Homestays with the indigenous people of the Jujuy province
Early the next morning, we were met at the hotel by a local driver from the Omaguacas native community. We started our journey to the rural area of the Jujuy province and the heart of the Yungas region (humid jungle). Our first stop was El Hornocal, a colourful mountain range that impressed us, as you can imagine!
After passing through some small, abandoned-looking villages, we reached Santa Ana, a town surrounded by nature and peaceful landscapes. We were warmly welcomed by and enjoyed a hot tea with our hosts Gabriela and David, a local couple who run their own homestay project.
Once we had settled in, we joined David to learn a little about his day-to-day activities, including how to fit horseshoes on his horse, after which we went for a walk through the empty gravel streets. I felt as if the whole town was deserted – there was not a soul in the streets!
That night we enjoyed a homemade guiso (stew) prepared by the shy but welcoming Gabriela. Her warm smile made me feel comfortable enough to start asking about life in this small village, so rural that they’re still without internet connection or mobile signal. She talked to me about her son, who is a teacher in the rural school of Santa Ana, the everyday work and life of local artisans, and how the people of Santa Ana are starting to consider tourism as a viable option for those who are ready to interact with travellers. It seems that nowadays, agricultural activities alone are not enough to sustain the livelihoods of people in this region.
The project that David and Gabriela are involved in is part of the Asociación de Turismo Comunitario Las Queñoas (Las Queñoas Association of Community Tourism or A.Tu.Co.Que), a community-based rural tourism network that helps manage projects alongside ProYungas.
Trekking across the Yungas region and the Qhapaq Ñam Incan road network
The following day, the Yungas trekking started! Our first stop was Valle Colorado (Coloured Valley), a small, quiet village a 6-hour walk away from Santa Ana. We were lucky that David was heading the same way with his horses and so was able to take our backpacks!
On the way to Valle Colorado, we came across a part of the Incan road system, also known as Qhapaq Ñam, meaning highroad in the Quechua language. It has recently been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is extensive, crossing different provinces of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Perú and reaching as far as Ecuador and Colombia.
After the trek, which was generally low-intensity with a few challenging stretches at intervals, we reached Martina´s house. Local to the area, she had just returned from the pastures where she takes care of the cattle. While we were chatting to her husband, her daughter joined us with some tea and tortas fritas (a fried bread snack). That night we cooked ourselves some pasta in a very basic but functional wooden kitchen.
The next day we walked for 3 hours to Valle Grande, another small village in the Yungas region. After arriving we had a wander around and enjoyed some homemade empanadas (Argentinian pasties) while waiting for our local bus, which would take us on to the town of San Francisco.
That afternoon, we strolled around the relatively ‘developed’ town, which boasts not only wi-fi, but also a single, functional ATM. In the evening, we met a local marmalade producer and shared dinner at her comedor, a comfortable bar located in the heart of the town.
The following day, this journey was over for me. It was time to say goodbye to my travel partners and return to Quebrada de Humahuaca. The rural teachers had invited me to travel back with them in their bus and I enjoyed a return trip rich in beautiful natural scenery and warm smiles.
The whole trip was an incredibly enriching and mind-opening experience. This way of travelling has given me the opportunity to both meet and connect with local people, while discovering the incredible natural environment and cultural diversity of northern Argentina.