This valley, whose name means "soft land" in Aimara, is an authentic oasis in the middle of the arid Atacama desert. In its 60 km extension, this historic and fertile valley located in the Arica y Parinacota Region stands out for its incredible landscape, prehispanic localities, vegetable and tropical fruit plantations and its archaeological development with more than 10.000 years of history. It also has an amazing route for trekking lovers; the path to the Virgen de las Peñas Sanctuary, which combines history, culture, nature and spirituality.Share this destination:
Red: Route to Virgen de las Peñas Sanctuary
Blue: Route to Livilcar
AccessThe Azapa Valley is located only 7 km from Arica, city with daily flights to and from Santiago. There are multiple alternatives to get to and explore the valley: private vehicle, bus, taxi, bicycle and even horse ride.Private vehicle: from Arica, you must take the A-27 Route (which runs through the valley) heading to San Miguel de Azapa, main urban nucleus of the valley.Bus: from the Arica bus terminal (Diego Portales avenue 948) you can take buses to San Miguel de Azapa for a cost of CLP 1.000.Taxi: there are taxis that you can take in Arica that head to San Miguel de Azapa.Bicycle: technically it is possible to explore the valley with a bicycle. However, you must take in consideration that there are no bicycle lanes along the A-27 Route, and there is a constant moderate slope that makes the journey more difficult.The ValleyThe Azapa Valley is an exceptional place that combines beautiful landscapes with places of archaeological and spiritual interest, as well as being an excellent destination for those who enjoy good gastronomy. This fertile valley is known for its production of guava, olives, mango, banana, as well as unusual plantations of papaya. Many people who come to this place spend the day visiting plots where these products are offered. An authentic field trip in the middle of the desert. For history and culture lovers the attractions are innumerable. Multiple geoglyphs along the valley, prehispanic villages and one of the best museums in the country where you can see the world's most ancient mummies (3.000 years older than the Egyptian mummies).The valley is located minutes away from Arica, a city with several accommodation alternatives. You can also find camping areas (from CLP 5.000) and hotels in the valley.
San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological MuseumThis museum stands out as one of the main archaeological attractions in the region and the country, where the world's most ancient mummies can be observed. It is a modern museum where 10.000 year old remains of the Chinchorro culture are exhibited, an ancient culture that developed in the region before the arrival of the Incas. All the museum's exhibits are original, there isn't a single replica. Outside the museum 13 petroglyphs can be observed, while in the inside a chronological exhibition stands out, covering the period of fishermen and hunters before the Chinchorro mummies to the period of Aymara shepherds, communities that inhabit the region to this day, direct heirs to the ancient andean civilizations.The museum is located in San Miguel de Azapa, 13 km from Arica. The entry fee is CLP 2.000 for adults and CLP 1.000 for kids.
Pucara of San LorenzoAnother archaeological highlight of the valley, the Pucara of San Lorenzo was an ancient defensive village surrounded by a perimeter wall which dates back to the XII century, now in ruins. It is located in a strategic place, based on artificial terraces with a great view over the valley.This patrimonial sanctuary is located 17 km from Arica along the A-27 Route, near the San Miguel de Azapa locality.GeoglyphsThe Azapa Valley is an area full of ancient geoglyphs located in the hillsides, some of which date back to, at least, 600 years. These geoglyphs were made accumulating dark stones over the lighter terrain of the hillsides, presenting large figures of humans, llamas, serpents and lizards which are visible from a distance. The Atoka and Azapa Petroglyphs stand out. The first ones are located to the east of Cerro Sombrero, 7 km from Arica, and represent a llama caravan with its guide, preceded by two dancing figures, scenes linked to the ancient caravan traffic. The Azapa Geoglyphs are located in the hillside of Cerro Sagrado, 4 km from the Atoka Geoglyphs. It presents human figures, llamas and lizards. It is estimated that 500 years ago Cerro Sagrado must have been an important place of adoration for the local natives.
Route to the Virgen de las Peñas SanctuaryTo the interior of the Azapa Valley one of the most emblematic routes in the region can be found, a route that is currently a road of pilgrimage but was in another time a prehispanic caravan route. Llama caravans loaded with resources and goods that came from the lower and altiplanic lands passed through this route, which was afterwards used by the Spanish settlers.This is an amazing route, which combines history, culture, nature and spirituality. It is full of sites of archaeological interest like pucaras and petroglyphs. It goes through an area of incredible beauty; imposing cliffs border the fertile valley where the San Jose River runs, a contrasting sight with the desolate and arid desert that surrounds this route. The Virgen de las Peñas Sanctuary is the destination of hundreds of pilgrims who do this journey each year, which adds to the mystique of this adventure.The route to Las Peñas covers a distance of 11 km, has a 2,5 to 3 hr duration (one-way) and has a medium difficulty. To access this route, you have to get to the end of the road that crosses the Azapa Valley (50 km from Arica), starting point of the journey. Additionally, after reaching Las Peñas and visiting the sanctuary you can continue to the locality of Livilcar located 10 km upriver from Las Peñas. This last section has a duration of 2 hrs.The localities of Las Peñas and Livilcar are small uninhabited villages (except for 1 or 2 people) most of the year, returning to life during religious festivities. Camping in these places is a possibility, although it is recommended to consult with members of the community first. The villages, churches, ruins and the route itself are part of the local historic heritage, if you plan to do this route take care of them and don't leave trash!
Precautions and Recommendations
1. Best season: This is a destination that can be enjoyed throughout the year, because of the region's privileged weather. You can expect sun and good temperatures. However, is in the month of January when you can enjoy the best fruits of the region.2. Carnavalon festival: In the month of February you can enjoy and participate in the "Carnavalon", a festival that corresponds to a salute to the earth and sun, which is celebrated in several altiplanic villages to ensure a good year.3. Food: The star products of the Azapa Valley are its characteristic red wine coloured olives, of an intense taste and aroma, and olive oil. Tropical fruits also stand out.4. Clothes: Remember to bring light clothing to explore the valley, as well as sun screen.5. Trash: DON'T leave any kind of trash or garbage in the valley. Also don't interfere in any way with the local flora and fauna. Be a responsible backpacker and contribute to make sure nature is well cared for!