Multiple times, people (among them, the rental car clerk) warned us from taking our rental car to Iruya, a small indigineous town nested against the mountainside at an elevation of 2,780 m. Iruya is accessible only via a 50 km-long unpaved dirt road that, at several points, crosses small rivers.

Despite our determination to go there (if not at least to see how far we could make it in the worst case), once we got to the street sign that indicated to go off-road, we were a bit unsure whether or not we should give it a try. What if the road was muddy and we got stuck? There was not much time for deliberating, though. Soon, the exact same car model stopped next to us and after a brief chat (with, as turned out later, two Austrians from Vorarlberg) we followed their lead and took on the road. It was indeed 50 very bumpy kilometers with several creek traverses, but rewarded with amazing views of the mountains and valleys we crossed. And we also had a tête-à-tête with a very interested donkey mum and her kid. We also tried to boost our Karma by picking up backpackers from Chile on the way.

Close to the sky, far from everything

Iruya is not exactly what you would call a charming alpine town. You can see and feel that life’s rough up there given the location and climate.

Although Iruya is popular with tourists, the town doesn’t seem to alter itself just for a few pesos or a bit of attention. Signs all over the town remind tourists to be respectful, not to take photos of the locals and to consult immediately the tourist office “to avoid accidents” (?).

The height and the sun took their toll on us and we went to bed early—hoping that it wouldn’t rain so we would be able to take the road back to the Quebrada de Humahuaca valley. The first drops went down at around 10:30pm…