Travel guide

How to find a community-based travel adventure in Chile

Indigenous communities respond to growing interest in their traditions and cultures, part of a new movement that is already taking off in Chile. Come see for yourself.

Friday, October 21, 2011 Category: Tourism - Culture - Enviroment
A horseback tour through Alto Biobío with indigenous Pewenche guides. (Photo courtesy of Trekaleyin) A horseback tour through Alto Biobío with indigenous Pewenche guides. (Photo courtesy of Trekaleyin)

Chile is a land of many cultures, languages and histories. From the Aymara in the north to the Alacalufes in the south, indigenous communities - both traditional and non-traditional - are opening their doors to a growing contingent of conscientious, adventurous travelers looking for “community-based tourism” - or turismo comunitario, as they say here in Chile.

Here, we offer an overview of what’s on tap and where to find it, from north to south.

Tarapacá Region
Cancosa Marka waits in the shadow of the Sillajuay mountain range and its snowy peaks in the far northern desert, 105 miles (170 km) northeast of Iquique. The indigenous Aymara community makes its living from the herds of alpacas and ñandúes native to the desert as well as its quinoa plantations. Cancosa Marka decided to introduce community-based tourism into its local economy, based on the concepts of reciprocity (ayni, in Aymara), duality (chacha warmí) and well-being (suma qámaña). 

Antofagasta Region
Ecored Lickan Antay forms a group of men and women of the Licanantay (or Atacameño) culture, located outside the popular travel destination of San Pedro de Atacama. Travelers can take tours of the desert alongside llamas, enjoying a traditional lunch and experience the beauty of the desert first-hand with a post-hike soak in the thermal baths to top it off. Ecored Lickan Antay is also home to excellent chefs, skilled artisans and a resident expert on Andean astronomy

Metropolitan Region
Quempo Turismo offers a glimpse of the long and storied tradition of the Chilean cowboy - or huaso - in the Colorado river valley of the Cajón del Maipo. A rural tourism outfit in the high-mountain towns of Maitenes and El Alfalfal offer guided horseback tours with information about the native birds, animals and plants. Those looking for a mellow day can opt for a picnic in a high-altitude meadow, while those in search of a different sort of “adventure tourism” can try their hand helping shear sheep during the annual esquíla (shearing).

BioBío Region
Trekaleyin is a Pewenche community in the foothills of the Alto BioBío that has opened its doors to tourists interested in learning how to bake bread or just share a cup of maté. Guided horseback rides offer the chance to learn more about the Pewenche history and worldview from the back of a horse, in the midst of lakes, waterfalls and towering araucaria trees.

Los Lagos Region
Mapulahual invites tourists to the ancestral lands of the Mapuche and Huilliche people in the coastal region west of Osorno. Visitors have the chance to stay with families or take a special five-day, four-night tour from Osorno to the coast, passing through fishing villages and undisturbed forests while sharing meals with their hosts each night and learning about Mapuche traditions.

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