Argentina: The Andes before the Incas

“In the far north west of Argentina in the high and arid  landscapes of the Andes bordering Bolivia,   archaeologists have excavated pre Hispanic ruins – home to people who lived here before the Inca Empire came to dominate the region and long before the arrival
of the Spanish .

Dozens of settlements have been found – like those  at Quilemes and Tilcara, each hosting several thousand people.
This area is also famous for its huge multi coloured rock formations and mountain cliffs, but with fertile river valleys cutting through the dramatic landscape.

At the higher altitudes salt flats can be found at elevations of almost 15,000 feet.
The descendants of the people who lived in ruined and lost settlements like  Quilemes  and Tilcara can be found today in towns  such as Purmamarca and  Humahuaca

These places have become popular for travellers attracted by the stunning geography and the customs of the people .

Purmamarca is small , a village almost, and famous for  coloured rocks cliffs that overlook it.
Humahuaca is bigger , more of a town .

An even more speculator kaleidoscope of rock formations can be found  40 minutes outside the town – at 4,000 metres -high up in the Andes.

It’s a rocky drive on winding mountain dirt roads to get there.
Here high mountain cemeteries dot the sparse landscape and roaming herds of llamas and vicuña  can be found.
The Spanish conquered  this region in the 16th century and the tribes here were driven out of their hilltop settlements.
It wasn’t until the early 19th century that Argentina gained its independence ,celebrated by a massive sculpture above Humahuaca by native Tilcara sculptor,Ernesto Soto Avendano. A top sits a native Indian, arm raised in freedom.
Before independence the area  had been a transit route for silver coming from nearby Bolivia and with the coming of the railways , a line ran high up into the Andes-   it’s long shut down  but the relics of this bygone era remain in places like Volcan.

Nowadays the indigenous people of the Andes embrace their ancient heritage more than ever. Special flags fly over the old ruined settlements at Quilemes and Tilcara , a reminder of their special significance and status , and  schoolchildren visit to eagerly learn the history of their ancestors”