Winter in Chile doesn’t only have to do with snow capped mountains and epic outdoor adventures. In Chile’s far north, you will find a spectacular annual event known as “Fiesta de la Tirana”, that takes place every July 16th and is the most popular religious event in the country. This colorful event is certainly the most beautiful cultural celebration in northern Chile, with some impressive costumes, masks and dances. It is a wonderful festival for kids and families, with thousands of dancers and lively music all around the place.
Welcome to the most extraordinary festival in Chile!
¿Where does the Fiesta de la Tirana take place?
The Tirana festival takes place in the small town of La Tirana, in the Tarapacá region of Chile. This locality in northern Chile is located about one hour west of the city of Iquique and about 4 hours south of the Peruvian border (this is how “far north” it is!).
While La Tirana is a town of only 800 inhabitants, between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors come every July to witness the yearly celebration.
A short history of Fiesta de la Tirana
The history of the festival takes place back in the 1540s and mixes both legend and history. Ñusta Huillac was an Incan princess who rebelled against European conquerors. She was known for executing or enslaving Europeans or christians who encroached on her territory, and quickly made herself a reputation of “tirana”, the translation of “tyrant” in Spanish.
Ñusta Huillac, who was living near Iquique in northern Chile, eventually fell in love with one of her prisoners, Vasco de Almeida. She ended up converting to Christianity in order to marry him. Her subjects felt betrayed and killed both her and her lover. A church was erected at their burial site in the 18th century, known today as “Santuario de Nuestra Señora del Carmen de la Tirana”. Today it is a place of pilgrimage and devotion and one of the main places of the Fiesta de la Tirana.
While today La Tirana Festival is a celebration that is done in the name of the Virgen del Carmen, many traditions still stretch back centuries to the indigenous Andean people. The origin of the celebration itself is linked to the Aymara workers who worked in the copper and silver mines (as saltpeter workers). The festival was redefined in the 19th century with Chile’s nitrate boom. After the end of the war of the Pacific (late 19th century), July 16th was defined as the date of the celebration.
It quickly became a unique mix of Andean dances (like the “Dance of the Devils” that was brought by Bolivian salt miners) and Chilean more recent dances, including the “chinitas”
What to see on the Fiesta de la Tirana?
The Fiesta de la Tirana is a lively mix of ancient customs and “newer” traditions. Thousands of dancers come to dance before the statue of the Virgen del Carmen in the well-known local sanctuary. In the days before July 16th, members of the “bailes” (groups of dancers) hold amazing performances to greet the virgin, known locally as “La Chinita”.
Thousands of pilgrims come from all over Chile, Peru and Bolivia to sing and dance. And while July 16th is the “official date”, the celebration usually starts around July 10th when the doors of the “temple” (or sanctuary) are open and where plenty of pilgrims are seen on the streets of La Tirana. Bailes (dancers) make their entrada from July 11th-14th. If you enjoy cultural events and photographs portraying typical celebrations, this is the event you’ve been dreaming of!