Northern Chile’s Arica y Parinacota region was once contained within the grand Inca territory, inhabited by indigenous Aymara, Chinchorro, Chango and Quechua tribes, who endowed this desert land with their native languages prior to the Spanish invasion and still live in the area today.
In the Precolumbian epoch, Inca couriers known as chasquis sprinted rapidly between tambos – constructions used for lodging and respite, and as storehouses for food, wool and waiting messages – in the area between Arica and Lauca National Park. The chasquis frequently traveled along the Kapaj Ñam road (now known as El Camino del Inca, or Inca Way), stopping in the roadside tambos to rest before continuing on to deliver goods and communication.
Because the Inca people didn’t use a modern system of distance measurement, the chasquis recognized landmarks with apachetas, stone cairns inviting the chasquis to important locations. With the passing of time and the hybridization of cultures in the area, the existing apachetas throughout the region have acquired garland and crosses, adding a Spanish touch to these traditional Aymara symbols.
Discover the region’s native heritage and cultural architecture
The road between Arica and Lauca National Park, a common route used to access the park, could occupy travelers for an entire day, visiting numerous Inca monuments and touring nine centuries of history, feeling like chasquis:
Morro de Arica hill – called “Ariaka,” or “Door of Entry” in the Aymara language – is located in the coastal center of Arica, near the city’s port. It became especially significant during the War of the Pacific, following the Battle of Arica on June 7, 1880, in which possession of Arica territory transferred from Peru to Chile. Morro de Arica was inhabited at various times by local natives, named Morreros upon the arrival of the Spanish.
Some of Arica’s oldest myths surround Morro de Arica, including tales of the Cueva del Inca (Cave of the Inca). Archives dating back to 1825 indicate that George Taylor, researcher and citizen of Arica, explored the cave to a depth of 1,600 meters, discovering a hidden salt lake inside.
Morro de Arica was declared a National Monument on October 6, 1971.
Tambo de Zapahuira – called “zapa jawira,” or “solitary river” in the Aymara language – is located 50 km from the city of Arica and is prime example of Inca tambo architecture. The Tambo was declared a national monument in 1983.
Waka: Chullpas funerarias – Andean structures built to honor the dead – were created in the 13th century and can be found meters away from Tambo de Zapahuira.
Pucará de Copaquilla – called “qupaquilla,” or “Golden Moon” in the Quechua language – it is located 75 km from Arica, in the community of Putre (also known as “Putire,” or “torrential water” in Aymara). The Pucará was constructed in the 12th century at 3,000 meters above sea level and was declared a national monument in 1983.
How to Arrive?
Arica is 18 km south of Chacalluta Airport. Travel 5 km north of Arica to international route 11-Ch, which follows the river Lluta and arrives to Lauca National Park, located 140 km to the east. Along the way, one can visit Tambo de Zapahuira, Las Chullpas and the Pucará de Copaquilla.
See here for more information about Lauca National Park.