Hidden in a deep canyon of the Prepuna region, the little Salta town of Iruya is the prettiest of all the high-altitude villages for its natural setting, and the cornice road that must be driven in order to get to its steep cobbled streets offers some of the most spectacular views available in this part of the world. It lies at an elevation of 2,780 meters above sea level, and to reach the peace and quiet that it has in store, you have to ascend to the Abra del Condor ridge at 4,000 meters and then descend more than 1,000 meters on a hairpin road whose tight curves dazzle you with a long series of landscapes in unforgettable colors and textures.
Every year, the town’s feast day in honor of the Virgin of the Rosary takes place on the first Sunday of October. Hundreds of people from the Puna come to take part in the processions and exchange their products in a fair that harks back to pre-Columbian times. This is when baptisms and marriages take place, and it is a time to enjoy religious processions whose protagonists are “cachis,” a group of disguised people with masks that are used only in this festival and kept in the church the rest of the year. The group, comprised of 10 people who for the most part are pilgrims from Iruya itself, symbolize a family who with their possessions and livestock entreat the Virgin for her protection against the temptations of a black man who also acts as a buffoon, but is really the group leader. The characters they play are the young and old members of the family, a bull and two horses. They dance in front of the Virgin whose image advances with the procession through the streets to the accompaniment of musicians who play traditional instruments such as the erke and the sikus.
This year, the festivities will take place on October 3 and 4. There will be processions at noon and in the evening on Saturday, and at noon on Sunday.
Iruya is 307 km from the provincial capital, and you have to drive through the Humahuaca Valley in Jujuy to get to the road that communicates the town with the rest of the world.
For more information, visit http://www.iruyaonline.com/ and http://www.turismo.salta.gov.ar/
PHOTO CREDITS: Iruya, and an erke player who precedes dancing cachis during the feast day. Salta Tourism Ministry.