Taking the bull by the horns

There is a curious ceremony in an obscure town in the Puna of Argentina which marks the Assumption of the Virgin Mary today (August 15th).

The tiny town of Casabindo, nestled in the Altiplano north of the Salinas Grandes salt flats at over 3,400m altitude, is host every year to a bull-running ceremony dating back to colonial times.

Each animal has a rosette placed on its horns, and competitors have to enter the ring (the main plaza) and grab it, offering it as a prize to the Virgin Mary, on the day of her ascension to Heaven.

The origin of this tradition dates back to colonial times, but as is often the case in Argentina, it’s mixed with pre-Hispanic traditions.

Legend has it that a character called Pantaleón de la Cruz, son of the Casabindo tribal chief, surrendered to the Spanish and before being sentenced to death for his cowardice was given the opportunity to redeem himself by taking on a bull with a red ribbon tied to its horns.

He managed to grab the rosette before suffering fatal injuries: creating a tradition which lives on to this day, with young men from the town taking on a succession of increasingly larger and fiercer bulls.

No animals are harmed in the celebrations of 15th August: the only casualties tend to be young lads who’ve had a few too many bevvies to pluck up Dutch courage before venturing into the ring, and luckily I haven’t heard of any fatalities.

Casabindo has a good argument to be among the oldest settlements in Argentina, founded in 1535 by Diego de Almagro as he came across the Andes from Peru.

The Altiplano town in Jujuy province is also noteable for a gorgeous 18th century adobe church considered “the Cathedral of the Puna”, which has a rare collection of paintings.

These are one of only 15 collections in the world of cuzqueño paintings from the 17th century featuring Angeles Arcabuceros (archangels with guns, no really, they are, as you’ll see here) : another impressive collection of nine paintings is in the church of San Francisco de Paula in Uquia, which we visit on our Essential Humahuaca and Salt & Seven Colours excursions.

Casabindo is thought to mean “frozen valley” in kunza, the language of the original Atacameña tribe who populated this area of the mountain plateau: the Atacama desert of Chile is a short hop across the Andes.

The ceremony is accessible in a day trip from Tilcara or Purmamarca in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, or as part of our Footsteps of the Conquistadores tour.

Hornocal CU
2 days
Group Size
1 to 4

Essential Humahuaca

Combine the highlights of the colourful Quebrada de Humahuaca with the other-wordly Salinas Grandes salt flats in the Argentina Altiplano.

Rich in indigenous culture and colonial history, the old trade route from Buenos Aires to Lima features the Seven Coloured Hill of Purmamarca, and Hornocal's lesser known sierra of Fourteen Colours.

A side-trip to appreciate the immensity of the Salinas Grandes salt flats makes this one of the most diverse two day trips available from Salta or San Salvador de Jujuy.

Click here to view map route.

6 days
Group Size
1 to 3

Footsteps of the Conquistadores

A high altitude 4x4 adventure along the old colonial mining route: bringing you into close contact with the Altiplano wildlife of vicuña, flamingoes, and rhea.

This tour combines the must-see highlights of the UNESCO-protected Quebrada de Humahuaca with little-explored sections of the Argentine mountain plateau, close to the border with Bolivia.

Click here to view map route.

Los Colorados Purmamarca
4 days
Group Size
1 to 4

Fourteen Colours & Cloud Forest

Hike Argentina’s Inca trail, linking two completely different eco-systems, the dry canyon of Humahuaca and the Cloud Forest of Calilegua.

We take a narrow mountain road which was only finally completed in October 2019, tracing the footsteps of Inca explorers of northwest Argentina from the 15th century.

This trip can be extended to include a visit to the gorgeous mountain town of Iruya and the historic settlement of Yavi on the Bolivian frontier.

Click here to view map route.