After lunch we set off on the road to Iruya, an inaccesable and picturesque hamlet that has captured the heart of Argentina’s touring class. The road to Iruya is legendary, and involves 50 km of offroading over up to a 4000m high ridge and back down again. The road was a rocky dirt track, and crossed a few running streams, but we didn’t run into any particularly sticky situations and we were left to enjoy the scenery for the two hour drive.
After passing a few tiny herding settlements and the ocassional burro, we began to ascend the desolate landscape. As we topped the ridge we were treated with some amazing views into the Iruya’s Quebrada, a much steeper valley than that of Humahuaca. Clouds hung onto the opposing ridgetop; below, the mountains cascaded dramatically into a patchwork of simple green fields and a few lonely farm hamlets. Amazingly, these tiny settlements sat precariously close to the edge of cliffs that rose vertically from the mostly dry riverbed below. Further down the valley, countless ridges folded into a multishaded vista that completed the otherworldly scene. We snapped a few photos, knowing that they wouldn’t do justice to experience.
Then the hour-long descent down switchbacks and blind corners to Iruya itself, the first site of which is a picture perfect hilltop church nestled at the foot of an improbably steep rock face. In the background looms the rest of the canyon in all its splendor.
If there was a contest for the most beautiful Argentine village, Iruya would certainly be a string contender for the top spot. What it lacks in architectural beauty it makes up for in location. The setting really is about as dramatic as one could imagine. As you meander the steep cobblestone streets (the only thing to do anyway, especially during the extended afternoon siesta hours), you’re treated to the spectacle of the valley walls everywhere you look. Every direction brings a unique landscape. As the light changes throughout the day, different colors dance among the rock formations in an endless spectacle of light and texture.