Fiesta Grande in Andacollo in Norte Chico, Chile

Fiesta Grande de Andacollo en Norte Chico

The Largest Religious Gathering in Chile Honors Virgin de Andacollo

According to the locals Andacollo is the most religious town of Chile. It has a plaza with a basilica ànd a church, both are National Monuments. The Virgin de Andacollo is highly regarded and each first Sunday of the month she is paraded around the square in a procession. The first Sunday of October she is honored with a religious festival – La Fiesta Chico, but the spectacle of the year is in December: La Fiesta Grande, which lasts from the 23rd to the 27th.

The History of La Virgin de Andacollo

La Virgen de Andacollo

The origins of La Virgin de Andacollo, also named La Virgin del Rosario or Nuestra Señora, remain a mystery, clouded in legends. Does the name Andacollo relate to the Quechua word “Anta-Goya”, meaning “Cobre-Reina” [“Copper Queen”]? Was the statue indeed found by a miner called Collo? Or did the statue originate from La Serena, where it was hidden in the mountains by a priest who fled the city during its destruction?

Whatever the legends surrounding her origin, they are greatly exceeded by the tales of the miracles the Virgin performed. Like stopping a smallpox epidemic in 1871, and healing the stomach, cut open, of a slave who had ended up in a fight during gambling and who had subsequently sought refuge at the Lady’s feet. She is the Patron Saint of miners, healing the sick ones and finding the ones who are lost in the mines.

La Fiesta Grande in Andacollo

Fiesta Grande de Andacollo en Norte Chico

Thousands of pilgrims and visitors flock to Andacollo for the religious festivals honoring the Virgin. Many pilgrims choose to walk to the village, following the Ruta del Peregrino, although during the festivals many extra buses go to Andacollo. Approaching the downtown area one can already hear the beat of the drums to which costumed dancers dance.

About two hundred dance groups come from all over Chile, eight of them from Andacollo itself. They find their spot on the main square and can be divided into two groups: the ancient, indigenous dance groups, often expressing Indian customs and dances, and the modern ones.

Processions, Handicrafts and Eateries at La Fiesta Grande

Processions are held daily, as are Masses, during which devotees grovel to the altar where the Virgin awaits them. Candles are bought and burned while people thank the Virgin or ask her for a favor – and never mind the signs indicating that no candles should be burned in the church. Donations can be given in the “donation room” at the Plaza, for which a receipt is given in return, as well as a postcard or calendar. A museum displays many of the donations the Virgin has received, among which a large number of Chinese vases and dolls.

Secular activities take place behind the square where streets are lined with stalls selling everything from religious souvenirs to leather belts and sombreros. In this area there is also an abundance of eateries, from basic snacks to complete meals at decent prices.

Andacollo – Transportation, Accommodation and Places of Interest

  • Andacollo is situated in the mountains southwest of Coquimbo [50 kilometres] in el Norte Chico of central Chile. It can be reached by bus from La Serena or Coquimbo.
  • The town has several hostels, a campsite [or pitch your tent in the dry river-bed, as the locals do] and bed & breakfasts during the festivals.
  • Other interesting activities can be found in the nearby town of Vicuña: take part in a tour at the pisco distillery of Planta Capel, or enjoy a night observing the stars through a telescope at Cerro Mamalluca.