Just over 90km north of Salta by the direct and scenic but rather slow RN-9, SAN SALVADOR DE JUJUY – Jujuy for short – is a tranquil place and, at 1260m above sea level, enjoys an enviably temperate climate. It is the capital of the federation’s most remote mainland province, a small but intensely beautiful patch of land, ostensibly having more in common with next-door Chile and Bolivia than with the rest of Argentina, and little with Buenos Aires, nearly 1600km away. Dramatically situated, Jujuy lies in a fertile natural bowl, with the spectacular multicoloured gorge of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a major reason for heading in this direction, immediately north. The Cerro de Claros (1704m) and Cerro Chuquina (1987m) loom just to the southeast and southwest, and the city is wedged between two rivers, the Río Grande and Río Chico or Xibi Xibi, both bone dry for most of the year. In The Old Patagonian Express (1978), Paul Theroux wrote that Jujuy “looked peaceful and damp; just high enough to be pleasant without giving one a case of the bends; it was green, a town buried, so it seemed, in lush depthless spinach”. The riverbeds, overgrown with lush vegetation though certainly not spinach, only add to the rather abandoned appearance, while the city’s outskirts spill along the riversides, sometimes in the form of shantytowns.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its location, Jujuy lacks the buzz of Salta and Tucumán, and good hotels are few and far between. Scratch the lacklustre surface, though, and you’ll unearth some real treasures, among them one of the finest pieces of sacred art to be seen in Argentina, the pulpit in the cathedral – and the interior of Iglesia San Francisco is almost as impressive. A day or two in this slightly strange “world’s end” kind of place will probably suffice; you’ll soon want to start exploring the rich hinterland, its polychrome gorges and typical altiplano villages of adobe houses. Jujuy is also the ideal springboard for visiting the most accessible of the three cloudforest national parks, Calilegua, as well as the less accessible and utterly remote Baritú.
Jujuy was founded, after a couple of early false starts thwarted by attacks by indigenous peoples, on April 19, 1593. Earthquakes, the plague and further sackings, culminating in the Calchaquí Wars, all conspired to hamper the city’s growth during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and have deprived it of any of its original buildings. Even after the famous Jujuy Exodus ordered by General Belgrano at the height of the Wars of Independence – on August 23, 1812, he ordered the whole of the city’s population to evacuate the city, which was then razed to the ground to prevent its capture by the royalist commander – Jujuy continued to bear the brunt of conflict, sacked by the royalists in 1814 and 1818. It then remained a forgotten backwater throughout the nineteenth century, and the railway did not reach it until 1903. Since the 1930s, its outskirts have spilt across both rivers and begun to creep up the hillsides, and it now has a sizeable immigrant population, mostly from across the Bolivian border to the north. The province – and therefore the city, which lives off the province’s agricultural production – have traditionally grown rich on sugar and tobacco, with a little copper and lead mining thrown in, but earnings from all these products have declined in recent years and forced farmers to diversify into other crops, including fruit and vegetables. Tourism may be the solution for the city’s economic woes but so far has been exploited only half-heartedly, with very little state assistance.Read More