The province of Jujuy in northwestern Argentina has four distinct regions: Yungas (Jungles), Valles (Valleys), Puna, and Quebrada. The Quebrada de Humahuaca is the most visited region in Jujuy. Besides being a major tourist attraction, the Quebrada is also the geographic feature linking the lowland Valles to the highland Puna. Quebrada translates to gully or gorge. The Quebrada de Humahuaca is 30 kilometers wide and extends over 170 kilometers in a steep north-south direction. The Quebrada is bound by high hills with steep slopes which are beautifully eroded by water and wind to expose brightly colored mineral bands from various geological periods. This region combines exceptional natural beauty with a very sunny climate, making it ideal for hiking.
The whole landscape is characterized by its colorful hills, caressed by the Rio Grande throughout the entire length of the Quebrada. The river gives life to many small but fertile wooded valleys which have been inhabited by subsistence farmers for about 10,000 years. To the south the vegetation is abundant due to the high moisture content of the air. The landscape changes as the elevation increases and humidity decreases until the only plants visible are cacti and stubborn clumps of grass or scraggly bushes. The main economic activity in rural areas is sheep, goat, and cattle herding as well as the small-scale farming of high quality vegetables and fruit.
The Quebrada de Humahuaca has been an invasion route since prehistoric times. Successive invasions have contributed to the unique cultural and spiritual richness evident in archaeological sites and brought to life in religious festivals. The indigenous peoples of the Quebrada speak Quichua, the language of the Inca, as well as Spanish, but neither language is native to the region. The Inca tended to erase the cultural identities of conquered peoples but they had barely finished pacifying the Quebrada when the Spaniards showed up, so not all has been lost. The present day religious festivals and ancestral customs combine elements of all the cultures that have left their mark in the region in order to strengthen and deepen the local sense of community. The people of the Quebrada have always been farmers, thus the most outstanding celebrations are the ones that mark the cycles of nature, such as the cult of the Pachamama (mother earth) every August.