Events, Festivals and Exhibitions

Fiesta de la Tirana (The Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana), Chile

15 July - 16 July


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The Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana, or Fiesta de la Tirana, melds the traditions of the indigenous peoples of northern Chile, with the church of Tirana’s celebrations for the Lady of Mount Carmel. Many Christian devotees come for the ‘dance of the devils’ (the diablada), in which the men, dressed as the devils, and the women as angels, all in ornate costumes, scare away bad spirits in this expression of purification and celebration.

History of the Fiesta de La Tirana (The Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana)

In the 17th century a hermitage was built here and in the 18th century a village grew up around it. The town’s name literally means The Tyrant and it comes from a suspiciously convenient legend of an Incan princess who was successfully resisting the Spanish invasion until she fell in love with one of her prisoners and then wanted to marry him and become a Christian, which led to her people turning on her, killing them both and carrying on the war without her.

The traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Aymara, Kunza and Atacameño have been incorporated into the ceremonies of the Catholic Church through the centuries and this expression of popular culture is now one of the biggest festivals in modern Chile. The dance is seen as a representation of prayer and worship in a physical and symbolic form.

When is the Festival de La Tirana (The Festival of La Tirana)?

The height of the festival is on the Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 July 2024; however there will be smaller events in the previous days, especially from the 10 to the 14 that build towards the dances on the final two days. Similarly, the revelries will spill over onto the 17 July.

What to Expect at the Fiesta de La Tirana (The Festival of La Tirana)

Fiesta de la TiranaThe town of La Tirana is a tiny place of a little over a thousand people, but over these days it swells to the incredible size of over 200,000, all for this festival in honour of the church’s patron saint, the Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as the Virgin of Carmen, or more familiarly ‘Carmelita’.

Over 200 dance groups come to Tirana from all over the nation and present their performances to the festival organisers in the days of 10 to 14 July, and sometimes earlier too. These are than placed into an order for the two main days of the festival, which is very much a family event. Dance groups perform several times including in the town plaza, in front of the Cross of Calvary and at the church.

On those final two days, there is a procession of the Virgin del Carmen. The dancing starts in the morning and goes on past midnight, sometimes through the night. Expect elaborate, colourful costumes that will follow a particular theme through that dance group. Often the costumes celebrate the traditions of Chile and the music is traditionally a band with lots of wind instruments and drums. Some dancers perform in spectacular masks and fireworks may be incorporated into the movements, or be exploding in the background.

It is hot and dry in the day and cold at night, so bring appropriate clothes for both extremes.

Where is the Fiesta de La Tirana (The Festival of La Tirana)?

La Tirana is a small town in the province of El Tamarugal. This is about 70km east of the port of Iquique in northern Chile.

What to Do in Northern Chile

Atacama DesertNorthern Chile is dominated by the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. In the Atacama Desert, the geology, geography and history of the area provides some fascinating places to visit. The Cejar Lagoon is a desert sinkhole, with 20% salinity, giving you an experience similar to that of the Dead Sea. There is the beauty of the wind-sculpted rocks and sunset in Moon Valley, the desert oasis of Toconao and desert salt flats. If you have time to venture east into the Altoplano of the Anes, there are the geysers of El Tatio.

The adobe huts of Tulor village dateback to around 300BC. More recently, the Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works are a UNESCO World Heritage Site where sodium nitrate was mined for fertilisers and explosives. To appreciate the efficiencies of free market Capitalism, over 30,000 tons of clothes are dumped in the Atacama Desert each year. Take your pick; everything is free.

Flights to Chile

There are no direct flights from London to Santiago, but it is possible to fly with Avianca via Bogota or Latam via Sao Paulo.  According to Skyscanner, British Airways and Iberia flights are the Greener Choice, emitting less CO2.

From the US, Delta fly direct from Miami. According to Skyscanner, these flights are also the Greener Choice, emitting less CO2.

There are domestic flights from Santiago to Iquique with Latam, Sky and JetSmart. The flight takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. That may sound like a long time, but the north-south distances in Chile are huge. A bus takes 25-and-a-half hours. From Iquique there are local buses or taxis that take about 90 minutes, though you may want to consider renting a car for the festival.

Accommodation during the Festival

To find the best accommodation in this area, as well as international flights, please search via our comparison engine, which scans all the major booking sites so you don’t have to.

La Tirana is tiny, so you will need to stay in Iquique.

More information on the Fiesta de La Tirana (The Festival of La Tirana)


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Mike East

Mike East

Mike began his career in travel writing by writing his own guide on his holidays. He sent this manuscript off to a range of travel guide companies and got a range of rejection letters — all except one. Getting a contract to write for Roger Lascelles Publications on Trinidad and Tobago, and The Bahamas was how his career began. With this opportunity came other pieces for British magazines, The Sunday Telegraph and now Travel Begins at 40.

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