San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: Pukará de Quitor

Pukará de Quitor, Chile

After two days of group tours exploring the amazing scenery around San Pedro de Atacama, I needed a bit of a break and the opportunity to explore the area more independently.  One of my tour companions was Sam, a friendly American from the East Coast who had recently finished a year teaching English in Santiago.  We decided to rent bikes and head to the Pukará de Quitor early in the morning to avoid the brutal afternoon sun.

View of San Pedro de Atacama from the Pukará de Quitor, Chile

The Pukará de Quitor was a fortress created by the Atacameño people to defend themselves from the Incas as they expanded into the area that is now Chile.  The hill chosen for the Pukará de Quitor affords a clear view of the area surrounding San Pedro de Atacama and the varied landscapes of the region.

Pukará de Quitor, Chile

The ruins themselves are built from the red rock of the surrounding hills and were reconstructed in 1981 by the Universidad de Antofagasta.  As the Atacama region is a desert, the ruins are particularly susceptible to damage from heavy rains.  Recent torrential rains in the region meant that many pathways were closed off to visitors.

Pukará de Quitor, Chile

Sam and I rented bikes from B Bikes (which you should reserve in advance, something that never occurred to me!), who also provided us with a map to get to the Pukará de Quitor.  The route is fairly straightforward and not particularly complicated or strenuous, though they are dirt roads and you need to keep an eye out for vehicles.  There are several bike racks to lock up your bike outside the entrance to the ruins, and once you pay your entrance fee you’re free to wander on your own on the designated paths.

Pukará de Quitor, Chile

It’s not particularly surprising that this pukará reminded me of the others I’d seen in the nearby Argentine northwest back in 2001 and 2002.  I tried to imagine what it would have been like for the Atacameño people, defending themselves first from the Incas and then from the Spanish conquistadores.  The site also has a small museum which provides information on the history of the ruins and the artifacts that have been found there.

Sam Pointing out the Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte, Chile

After exploring the ruins and taking in the views of the valley below, we decided to explore the longer route, a 30 minute walk which takes you up to a mirador (viewpoint) and a monument honoring the bravery of the Atacameño people when faced with the cruelty of the Spanish conquistadores.  While the pathway is pretty steep, it’s not particularly hard and provides excellent views of the ruins and the surrounding region, including Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte.

“God, God, why have you abandoned me?” at Pukará de Quitor, Chile

This monument is inscribed with “God, God, why have you abandoned me” in several languages, including Atacameño and Spanish. According to the monument, the Spanish conquistadores brutally massacred the Atacameños, who used this saying from the Spanish Bible to protest the horrifying actions taken in the name of Christianity.


Views from the Pukará de Quitor, including the pathway to the mirador
After taking in the ruins and the amazing views from the mirador, we headed back to the museum, stopping to pose in this attractive doorway.  As we were leaving, big tour groups came in, so we were glad that we had gone early, as we had had the ruins almost entirely to ourselves.

After dropping off our bikes back in town, I headed back to the hostal to sit in the sun and do some much-needed planning for the next portion of my trip. Sam and my dormmate, Aurelie, had done thorough research on the Atacama region, and I knew there were several other places worth visiting, off the typical tourist itinerary. This was time well-invested, as my next two destinations yielded the best photos and the most interesting historical perspective from my trip to the Atacama desert.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Recommendations for San Pedro de Atacama, Chile:

  • Rent a bike to visit the Pukará de Quitor, and make reservations the night before to ensure they have a bike for you.  There are many bike rental agencies, but I used B Bike.  A half-day rental was sufficient to bike to and explore the Pukará at fairly relaxed pace.
  • The entrance fee to the Pukará de Quitor costs 3.000CLP but there are discounts for students.  If I remember correctly, this site is run by the local indigenous community.
  • Eat dinner at Inti Sol, one of the best restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama, and both friendly and affordable.  There was live music the night we went.
  • Research your visit with several tour agencies, TripAdvisor, Wikipedia, and Wikitravel.  There is way more to see in the Atacama region than the major guidebooks mention!  If you are spending several days in San Pedro, visit the tour agencies to let them know where you want to go, as some of the less-known tours do not happen unless there is sufficient interest!
[July 8, 2013: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile]

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