Ethno-tourism boost for southern Chile’s tsunami-stricken Tirúa

Ministries of Housing and Public Works will invest US$22.5 million (CP$11 billion) over the next four years to rebuild the Pacific coastal town of Tirúa with improved infrastructure and cultural facilities focused on the area’s indigenous heritage.

The Pacific town of Tirúa.

Following the earthquake that shook Chile in February of 2010, a tsunami swept onto the mainland causing widespread damage in coastal towns like Tirúa in the Biobío Region, 202 km south of Concepción, its regional capital. Now with funds and plans for reconstruction being finalized, the municipality sees an opportunity to rebuild Tirúa as a national center for ethno-tourism.

Many of the proposed construction projects are designed to repair damage from the tsunami and secure the town center against similar natural disasters in the future. Nearly US$100,000 (CP$48.4 million) will go toward the construction of a coastal park designed to guard the town against incoming waves, with another US$4.6 million (CP$2.25 billion) allotted for a park to be built on reclaimed land along the shore of the Tirúa River.

Reconstruction efforts in the town center will include a new municipal gym, a new structure for the city council, a police office and a new stadium. More than US$4 million (CP$1.97 billion) will be committed to cultural structures designed to encourage the growth of ethno-tourism in the town, including a library with a large collection of books on indigenous cultures, a new cultural center and a market of traditional Mapuche food and handicrafts.

In the early hours of the morning on February 27, eight-meter waves razed to the ground 12 acres (5 ha) of the town center, affecting about 30 percent of the town’s population and sweeping away 48 buildings, including the homes of 18 families, the school, the gymnasium, the police station and the library.

Over the course of the next four years, the Ministries of Housing and Public Works will invest US$22.5 million (CP$11 billion) to develop new infrastructure for preventing future disasters, and to transform the affected area with cultural, artistic and gastronomic centers.

As 70 percent of Tirúa’s population descends from Chile’s largest indigenous group, the Mapuche, the increasing interest in cultural tourism combined with the need for widespread reconstruction has created an interesting new tourist opportunity. The Chilean Economic Development Agency (Corfo) hopes that by attracting tourists these projects will also create opportunities for growth in service industry businesses like hotels and restaurants, permanently changing the odds in the town’s struggle to redevelop itself.