Blog Post

Visiting the Pucará de Tilcara on a Cold July Morning

The Pucará de Tilcara, looming above the modern town of Tilcara in the far northwest corner of Argentina, seemed to be a straightforward destination as we drove toward it through the vast Quebrada de Humahuaca one cold July morning. Upon arrival in bustling Tilcara, however, it became clear that it is not. There are no signs to the archaeological site, so one must take the streets that go up, in the hope that this is the right direction. Asking for directions in the busier areas can be perilous, as the main streets are fairly narrow and can be packed with cars, vans, buses, and pedestrians.

After a couple of wrong turns, we fell in behind a vehicle that looked as though the driver knew where he was going. We crossed a rickety former rail bridge with uneven, unsecured wooden boards laid lengthwise as a floor, and drove down into the parking lot of the site sooner than we had expected. After declining the offers of coca leaves from children who appeared at our doors before we’d even exited the car, we purchased our tickets and walked to the archaeological site.

Although the 100-mile-long Quebrada de Humahuaca is littered with remains from some 10,000 years of continuous occupation, Pucará de Tilcara is the only publicly accessible archaeological site in this UNESCO World Heritage landscape. Perhaps this is part of the reason that it is so popular with visitors, even during low season, when I visited.

The paths that crisscross the site are perfect for wandering and getting a sense of the scale of the settlement. Some buildings have been reconstructed, leading to charges of over-restoration in some corners, but these are worth investigating. All around the site loom the spectacular mountains, which one never tires of viewing, and below the hill the Quebrada de Humahuaca stretches north and south into the distance.

After spending a good hour traversing the footpaths and snapping countless photos, we took to the main trail that wraps around the hill from the entrance all the way to the main monument on the site, built in the 1930s as a memorial to the archaeologists who began excavations in the early twentieth century. Along this route we saw several spots where the hillside had eroded, and other places where soil and stones looked to be on the verge of collapse. It was clear that stabilization of these sections was necessary. Erosion concerns were one of the primary reasons the site was nominated to, and selected for, the 2012 World Monuments Watch. A new management plan for the site, guided by expert technical assistance, would be of great benefit to this treasure and ensure its survival long into the future.