Curly-horned devils prance, a sea of short skirts swirls, a galaxy of sequins twinkles and scores of drum-and-brass bands thump out rousing rhythms during La Tirana's Virgin of Carmen festival. Chile's most spectacular religious event, the fiesta takes place in mid-July. For 10 days as many as 230,000 pilgrims overrun the tiny village (permanent population 1300) to pay homage to the Virgin in a Carnaval-like atmosphere of costumed dancing.
The village, 72km from Iquique at the north end of the Salar de Pintados, is famed as the final resting place of a notorious Inka princess and is home to an important religious shrine. The Santuario de La Tirana consists of a broad ceremonial plaza graced by one of the country's most unusual, even eccentric, churches.