Chiu-Chiu is a small town located approximately 130 Km away from San Pedro de Atacama - another hidden gem in the Atacama Desert. The place is known among locals for its ancient church, the eldest of the country. Chiu-Chiu is a place of cultural importance; it used to be part of the Inca Trail and home to the Atacameños, an indigenous culture of the north of Chile.
The main attraction of Chiu-Chiu is its ancient church, built in 1540. Like other iconic churches of the north of Chile, it is made of adobe, cactus wood, and leather. Adobe is a technique that consists of making buildings with sun-dried bricks of mud and branches glued together. It is especially useful to regulate the temperature inside buildings. Highlights of the church, besides its construction technique, are a painting of the passion of Christ (it is that special because it is painted front and back) and a transportable cross for a religious ceremony that takes place on October 4th each year. Not only is it filled with tradition but also with spirituality, so keep that in mind when you visit.
Ask the locals where the river is and walk around it; the view is beautiful and hard to find anywhere else. It is especially beautiful when the swamp foxtail grass is long, and the animals bred by locals are loose! It does not sound as so, but it is an opportunity to connect with the landscape and the energy of the desert.
A highlight of Chiu-Chiu! The Inka Coya Lagoon is very special because it is shaped like a perfect circle, and locals say it has no bottom! A fun fact told by locals is that the famous explorer Jacques Cousteau went to town and searched for the lagoon's bottom, but never found it! My favorite part of the lagoon is the legend that surrounds it: Colque-Coillur was the most beautiful princess from the Atacama's Indigenous culture and fell in love with an Inca called Atahualpa Yupanqui. She was so in love that she soon got pregnant with his child, but their love affair did not go well. One day Atahualpa betrayed her heart, and she decided to drown herself with their newborn baby in the waters of this lagoon. It is said that the lagoon has no bottom because it is "as endless as the princess's sadness." According to the legend, her body was never recovered because the lagoon is bottomless, and now she is one with the water.
After all the walking, sightseeing and adventures, lunch and some rest would sound nice! Chiu-Chiu has a small yet very traditional and satisfying gastronomical offer. The best part of it is that everything has been kept local! Since Chiu-Chiu is not as mainstream as San Pedro de Atacama, it has a preservation of native customs and gastronomy. Most restaurants cook with native ingredients to make creative yet traditional dishes for you to enjoy. One of the locals' favorite restaurants is Muley Restaurant; it is a family-oriented restaurant based on Atacameño cuisine. Their goal is to keep it local and to preserve tradition.
The Púkara is not in Chiu-Chiu but 10 km away from there, in Lasana, a small Atacameño town. In there you can see Púkaras or Pucaras, constructions built as a fort to protect the villages. The Púkaras were made with stones, and their structure was mainly walled. Its walls were subdivided into rooms for living or gathering, among other functions. The Púkara of Lasana is considered by some as 'the eldest monument of Chile, because of the time it was built and its cultural importance. Lasana is very small but carries an incredible history that you can still see nowadays.
Chiu-Chiu is a hidden gem of the north often overlooked. It should not be because in there, you can still experience some rough, well-preserved traditions and actually live and see the indigenous customs of Chile. Besides, the landscape is like no other! If you come to Chile, visit Chiu-Chiu and get in touch with the true northern tradition.
Like this story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.