It is the cradle of some of the greatest names in folklore. The smallest province in Argentina, it has a lot of native and colonial archeological sites, as well as plenty of traditional holidays.
The Tucumán province is located in the North West of Argentina and is the smallest of the country. It borders with Salta at north, Santiago del Estero at the East and South, and Catamarca to the West and South. San Miguel de Tucumán is its capital city, located 1.312 kilometers from Buenos Aires.
There are many versions about the origins of the word Tucumán, although the most accepted one is that which claims the word comes from the quechua voice “yucumán”, which means “the place where rivers rise”
With a population close to 1.5 million, this province has a long history: it harbors important vestiges of pre-Columbian culture (like the warring Quilmes Indians) and the Spanish Colony. It also witnessed the Argentine emancipation: it was in its capital city where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1816.
The province’s climate is sub-tropical with a dry season in the winter and a very hot summer. It has many microclimates and it is famous for the beauty of its landscapes, thus the expression “The Garden of the Republic”. The capital of Tucumán is an outstanding cultural spot in the Argentine north because of its university, its museums and its animated night life.
The Tucumán National University is one of the most renowned in Argentina, with over 60.000 students enrolled, many of them from Salta, Jujuy and Santiago del Estero.
There are plenty of preserved natural areas in Tucumán. With its lush vegetation, Tucumán’s nature is ideal for enjoying the outdoors by playing sports or touring around the country side. There are several preserved ecological areas, like the La Florida, Los Sosa, and Santa Ana reserves, and the Sierra San Javier Park.
Great artists were born in Tucumán, like the famous architect Cesar Pelli, the singer Mercedes Sosa, the folklore instrumentalist Jaime Torres and the writer Tomás Eloy Martinez.
Tourism in Tucuman revolves around diverse landscapes, historical and archeological heritage, and folklore music. Some tourist sites are San Pedro de Colalao, La Cocha, San Javier Mountain, the Quilmes Ruins, Simoca, the shores of the Río Hondo lake, the Escaba lake-reservoir, Cochuna, El Mollar, the Parque de los Menhires, the Quebrada de los Sosa, Tafí del Valle, El Siambón, Villa Nougues, La Yerbabuena, Concepción, the snowcapped peak of Aconquija, Colalao del Valle and Amaicha del Valle.
The Tucumán province is Argentina’s main producer of sugar and lemons, and second largest source of dry beans, fresh peas, peppers, and green beans.
The rich soil and proper climate have turned growing lemons into a profitable activity in recent years. The province has become the world’s main producer of this citrus.
Over the last 10 years the sector has experienced an average annual growth of almost 10%. There are about 25 packaging facilities, and most of its production is destined to the international market. The main by-products being commercialized are concentrated juices, dried skins, oils and pectin. Most lemon fields are located at the foot of the mountains, a region with plenty of rain and well protected against frosts.
However, the traditional sugarcane production is still one of Tucumán’s main economic activities: 60% of the country’s sugar is produced by 15 sugar mills based in the province. The growing worldwide interest for biofuels has given new impulse to this activity. Oil plants, cereals, tubers, vegetables and fruits are also grown in the province.
Some of them are: soy, corn, potatoes, oats, grain sorghum, tobacco, forage barley, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, rye, garlic, artichokes, cotton, celery, rice, cherries, pumpkins, watermelons, sour cherries, peaches, asparagus, strawberries, peas, lentils, tangerines, apples, melons, quinces, oranges, nuts, avocados, dry pepper, tomatoes and grapes.
The electronics industry, light metallurgy, textiles, footwear and heavy transport are some other sectors of the province´s economy. Auto parts have been Tucumán’s second largest exported product in 2007.
San Miguel de Tucumán
One of Argentina’s oldest cities, it has an intense student, cultural and recreational life. Proof of this are its universities, museums, churches, gardens, bars and clubs.
European and Argentine architects have designed works of great value. Some examples are the buildings of the House of Government, the Jockey Club and the Economic Federation. Some other great architectural works are the churches of Cathedral, San Francisco and La Merced.
Downtown, around the Plaza de la Independencia, are the House of Government, the Cathedral, the Nogués House (today serving as the Secretariat of Tourism), the Padilla House (a sample of Italian influence on architecture in the second half of the XIX century), the Jockey Club, the Economic Federation and the former Plaza Hotel.
Close to this area stands the Historic House where the Independence of the United Provinces of the River Plate was declared on July 9th 1816. Among the museums, the Province’s Folklore Museum stands out housing popular craftsmanship from the northern areas of the country. Other places to see are the San Francisco church and the surroundings of the Plaza Urquiza, where the Tucuman Casino, the San Martín Theatre and the Legislature building are located.
At the 9 de Julio Park is the Obispo Columbres Museum of Sugar Industry, which used to be a country house and later also a sugar mill. At the foot of the San Javier hill, just a few kilometers from Tucuman’s capital city, is the town of Yerba Buena, a very pleasant residential area.
It is a place with very beautiful landscapes, summer villas, and sporting areas. At the entrance of the summer town of San Javier there is a natural area with houses and hills where sports like paragliding, trekking and mountain bikeing can be practiced.
Other recreational areas are Villa Nogués, Raco and El Siambón, famous for the jams made by Benedictine monks. The El Cadillal Lake is a good place for scuba diving, sailing, fishing and other sports.
The Calchaquí Valleys
This circuit combines nature and history, especially pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial periods, when Jesuits inhabited the area. It is one of the areas which attracts the most Argentine and foreign tourists, and also the spot in Tucumán where cheeses are made in the same way the members of the Society of Jesus did it in the XVIII century.
Some tourist sites are the city of Acheral, San José de Lules, the Indian Monument and the Menhirs Park, a sample of a primitive culture. Fishing and nautical sports are practiced at the La Angostura Dike.
The towns of El Mollar and Tafí del Valle form the main tourist area and have pleasant microclimates. An excellent cheese is made at the Los Cuartos ranch and other dairy farms such as La Banda, El Churqui, Las Tacanas and the Las Carreras ranch.
As for Amaicha del Valle, traces of pre-Colombian history can be found. This place is also worth a visit for its homemade wines, alfajores, nougat candies, and the traditional Pachamama Festival (dedicated to the Earth Mother). Just a few kilometers away are the Quilmes Ruins. They are the last remaining traces of that warring native tribe. Some Tafi del Vallle lodging places are the Castillo de Piedra Lodging House, and the Las Carreras and Los Cuartos ranches.
Ampimpa Astronomic Observatory
It is located at 2.560 m on the Aconquija Mountains, 150 km from San Miguel de Tucuman. The observatory offers the possibility of performing astronomic observations and attending lectures by experts on the matter.
Folklore and traditional holidays
One of the masters of Argentine folklore, the singer, guitarist and poet Atahualpa Yupanqui (Héctor Roberto Chavero) lived in Tucumán during different periods of his life. Today, singer Mercedes Sosa from Tucumán is a great folklore artist. Lucho Hoyos, Topo Encinar, the La Yunta duet and Los Puesteros are other great musicians. The Zamba and the Chacarera are traditional Tucumán dances.
Every Saturday, small producers, craftsmen and farmers gather in the traditional Simoca town fair, 50 km from San Miguel de Tucumán. Typical regional foods can be tried at this market, such as locro, tamales, empanadas, chorizos, barbecued pork and honey tablets.
National Fair Festival
The Simoca Fair Festival is celebrated on every Saturday of July. Handicrafts, animals, and traditional foods are sold during the celebration. It also includes sulky rides (horse drawn cars), gaucho parades and folklore music. The Fair is open for public all year long.
Some of the many fairs and festivals of Tucumán are the National Cheese Festival in Tafí del Valle; the Taming and Folklore Festival in Graneros; the National Empanada Festival in Famaillá; the National Lemon Festival in Tafí Viejo; and the National Sugarcane Festival in Aguilares.
Ruins of Quilmes
They are located in the Calchaquí Valley on the Alto el Rey hill, 20 kilometers from Amaichá del Valle. They form one of the country’s main archeological sites and the largest pre-Hispanic human settlement. A tribe of some 3.000 people, the Quilmes maintained their power from the year 800 up to the XVII century. The shape of the native’s houses can be noticed by visitors. There are some fragments of constructions that worked as mills, canals, paths and patios.
Juan Bautista Ambrosetti Archeological Museum of Quilmes
It is located next to the Ruins of Quilmes, 5 kilometers from the famous national route 40. Among the displayed pieces there are funerary urns, blankets, arrow tips, stone axes and mortars from the area’s native cultures.
Petroglifos de Ovejería y Piedra Pintada
At a natural area in San Pedro de Colalao, there is a rock known as the “Piedra Pintada”. It has 45 figures on it that represent birds and other animals, probably related to the worshiping of fertility.
Ruins of Condorhuasi
They were a part of the settlement where natives from the Quilmes area took refuge after their fall against Spanish conquerors in 1667. The place had been previously occupied by other indigenous tribes between 1000 and 1500 AD.
Ruins of San José de Lules
They re conformed by the old chapel and convent founded by Jesuits in 1670. They are a vestige of the Spanish conquest and the presence of the Society of Jesus in the north of Argentina. Among these elements of great historic value is the tabernacle containing the image of Saint Joseph. Here is where Argentine generals Manuel Belgrano and José de San Martín based their camps during the independency wars.
La Banda Jesuit Compound
It’s on the Tafí del Valle tourist villa. The oldest section was build by Jesuits in the first half of the XVIII century.
The museum inside the complex has pieces of the Tafí and Santa María cultures. There are paintings of Cuzco style and furniture from the Jesuit and post-Jesuit periods.
Pachamama Site Museum – Amaicha del Valle
It is located on route 307, at the entrance of the tourist centre. It holds preserved reproductions of different elements from the Calchaquí Valley dating as back as 800 BC. There are halls dedicated to geology, anthropology, textile art and paintings.
The Menhirs Archeological Reserve
It is right in front of El Mollar’s main square and has 114 menhirs: huge granite stones carved more than 2000 years ago that were spread over the Tafí valley.
The tour was great, and we all enjoyed our guide whose name I have already forgotten. She was very good...well informed and delightful. I felt that we covered a lot in our three hours and enjoyed the stops at the Cemetary, Bocca, and the main Square. Our guide was very accommodating and let people off in a couple different spots in the City on the way back to the Recoletta. I would definitely recommend this tour as a "must" for newcomers to Buenos Aires.