The Atacameños
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The Atacameños

Earth Cultivators

Earth Cultivators

Venture across the oases and valleys of the Atacama salt basin and Loa River and learn to live off the land like the Atacameños do.

The Atacameños are also known as apatamas, alpatamas, kunzas, likan-antai or likanantaí which translates to 'the inhabitants of the land’. For years the communities have made the northwest of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia their homes.


  • Region is South America

  • Climate here is Arid



Atacameños divide their land into different territories. Each section determines what that land can give back to them. They’ve developed and perfected hydraulic systems to prepare, harvest and utilise these terraces and ravines so that they provide sources of food which is then either sold or eaten.

Animals play a vital role in the community. You’ll find llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats and mules. Each provides wool, meat, fur and transportation. When used for transport, they collect firewood and plants, fruits of the carob tree and the chañar which is sold on as flours and drinks to the main cities.


Families tend to live within their farms and land. Residing in a stable area of their farm, alongside their herd, ranches and fields. But this can differ from village to village.

Like true cultivators, they use the earth’s resources to build their homes. Houses are made from stone, mud and even carob. They store their harvests such as corn, potatoes, quinoa and chañar on their roofs. It’s tradition that when a new home is built, a cross made of red and white wool is hung from the ceiling to ward off evil spirits.


Social Structure

Traditionally the community is made up of 3 parts. The social, economic and religious relations of the collective territory where the family units merge. To be welcomed in the community, an individual must own land that can be used within a farm and they must be skilled land workers.

Community matters are decided by the highly regarded Communal Assembly. This group is composed of both male and female landowners. They delegate roles based on experience and responsibility. Positions include ‘judge of waters’, ‘captain’,'puricame', and 'ensign' to name but a few.


The majority of the community converted to Christianity after the arrival of the Spaniards. Today their beliefs are in the Christian after world and religious activities are a blend of Andean-Christian. You’ll still find there are more traditional practises held in smaller villages.


The Atacameños pride themselves on their rich and diverse textile tradition, as well as dance and music which are common in rituals.

They strongly believe that their surrounding hills are “providers” and supply their community with wealth, whether that’s livestock, mineral or water sources. They rely on these spiritual gifts for their agriculture, fertility and atmospheric phenomena. They believe it’s all connected to their health, protection and prosperity.


The original “kunza” language was made extinct by the early 19th century. Now you’ll hear the Atacama speaking Spanish.


The Atacameños consider a few art forms with high regard. These include ceramics, basketry, textiles, goldsmithing, dancing and of course, music. With ceramics, they practice the ancient pottery skills of San Pedro. Beautifully engraving geometrical patterns or abstract human faces into a single colour such as red or black.


Ritual manifestations are performed mainly during festivities and celebrations of the community’s patron saints. Local healers are commonly seen at the festivities and enlighten others with their knowledge in ritual and medicine; which is known as “yatiri”.

Celebration feasts: Honouring the patron saint of each community.

Funerals: A year long affair made up of 4 phases.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

Los Atacameños have learned to live for centuries in the driest desert in the world, organizing the recovery of scarce rain in irrigation systems to cultivate wheat and corn with little water.

They didn't need detergent to wash the clothes, because they know some small berries that grow and give soap. They make their own beer and wine and use the feathers of pink flamingos for ceremonies.

Photo credit: Atacama Desert Baltieri

Photo Credit: Atacama Man
Chlie Office of Tourism

Photo credit: Woman in Atacama Shavshyna

Photo credit: Llama in Atacama

Photo credit: Abode church Atacama