Step into Chile’s ancient past at Pukará de Quitor

Remnants of the ancient desert fortress Pukará de Quitor still keep vigilant watch over San Pedro de Atacama’s fertile river valley, a reminder of the Atacameño people who once inhabited the now-solitary site.

Constructed around 1100 AD high in the craggy hills near San Pedro, Pukará de Quitor was a formidable stronghold, designed with a strategic military advantage that protected its people for centuries.

Like other “pukarás,” or fortresses, built throughout the Atacama region, Pukará de Quitor was made of stone, and located on a rocky slope surrounded by cliffs and canyons that would be nearly impenetrable to enemy invaders.

The Ayllu de Quitor people who occupied the Pukará were a peaceful and largely sedentary group, who spoke the Kunza language and skillfully farmed the rugged desert until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

Despite the architectural ingenuity of its native designers, Pukará de Quitor was defeated by the Spanish in 1540 in one of the final battles of the Atacameños.

Visiting Pukará de Quitor

Pukará de Quitor was declared a Chilean National Monument in 1982. It is located approximately 3 km from the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Visits to the site are permitted daily between 9 am and 7 pm, and a visitor’s center is located at the entrance, collecting a small entry fee.

Pukará de Quitor is reached via a moderately-strenuous walking path that rewards with a breathtaking view of the San Pedro valley. Other nearby trails provide opportunities for longer hikes to areas like Valle de la Muerte (Valley of Death) and Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon).

A place for contemplation

Among the calm ruins of Pukará de Quitor, one can sit quietly, absorbing the arid breeze and dramatic views of distant volcanoes, imagining the buildings as they once were, with high walls and thatched roofs, full of daily life and hallowed ceremonies, smoke from cooking fires curling into the dry air.

The winding San Pedro river below – the life-force of the desert’s inhabitants – meanders through an alien landscape of folded red earth and strange geologic formations, which inspired ancient Atacameño myths.

Following your imaginative journey, learn about the legends and culture of the Atacameño people by visiting the Museo Arqueológico R.P. Gustavo Le Paige (“R.P. Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum”), located in the center of San Pedro de Atacama.

How to Arrive to Pukará de Quitor

Since Pukará de Quitor is only 3 km from San Pedro de Atacama, it is possible to arrive walking or biking. Take Domingo Atienza street north out of town, continuing on the left side of the river until you reach a sign pointing to the site.

Tours to Pukará de Quitor are also numerous and readily available in San Pedro – inquire at any tourism agency in town.

By Gretchen Stahlman, written for Chile.Travel
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