Quebrada de Humahuaca, a natural valley corridor in northwestern Argentina, has been used over the past 10,000 years as a crucial passage for the transport of people and ideas from the high Andean lands to the plains. Its distinctive pre-Hispanic and pre-Incan settlements, along with their associated field systems, form a dramatic addition to the outstanding landscape.
Quebrada de Humahuaca, located in the Province of Jujuy, is a narrow and arid mountainous valley, flanked by the high plateau of the Puna and the eastern wooded areas. It is located in the northwesternmost portion of the Republic of Argentina and follows the line of a major cultural route, the Camino Inca, along the spectacular valley of the Rio Grande. From its source in the cold high desert plateau of the High Andean lands to its confluence with the Rio León, it forms a 155-km (96-mi) long, north-south striking natural corridor, where the Grande de Jujuy river flows.
It is a highly representative example of the south Andean valleys, with an exceptional system of communication routes and economic, social and cultural coordination. This is the most important physical linkage between the high Andean lands and the extensive temperate plains in south-eastern South America. Its impressive natural environment is kept almost intact, with hundreds of archaeological and architectural sites that bear witness to its long and rich history.
The valley shows substantial evidence of its use as a major trade route over the past 10,000 years. Scattered along the valley are extensive remains of successive settlements whose inhabitants created and used these linear routes which include:
- prehistoric hunter/gatherer and early farming communities (9000 BC to AD 400)
- large structured agricultural societies (AD 400-900)
- flourishing pre-Hispanic towns and villages (900-1430/80)
- the Incan empire (1430/80-1535)
- Spanish towns, villages and churches (1535/93-1810)
- traces of Republican struggles for independence (1810-20th century)
Of particular note are the extensive remains of stone-walled agricultural terrace fields at Coctaca, thought to have originated around 1,500 years ago and still in use today; these are associated with a string of fortified towns known as pucaras. The field system and the pucaras together make a dramatic impact on the landscape and one that is unrivaled in South America. The valley also displays several churches and chapels and a vibrant vernacular architectural tradition.
The current population, on its part, keeps its traditions in an outstanding cultural landscape. Thus, Quebrada de Humahuaca is an extremely complex heritage system characterized by elements of various kinds inserted in a stunning, impressive and colorful landscape.
The interaction between the geoecological system and the successive societies and cultures that have occupied it for the last 10,000 years shows space-time continuity that is hard to find in other areas. Separated from the ensemble, only a few properties can be considered unique and outstanding. However, the combination of natural and cultural elements has given rise to a site that is beyond comparison in every sense.