The speed with which the Virgen de Copacabana emerged as the most revered religious image in the Altiplano after the Spanish conquest suggests that her cult was simply a continuation of previous, pre-Christian religious traditions associated with Lago Titicaca. Immediately after the conquest the Inca temples around the lake were looted by Spanish treasure-seekers, and their shrines and idols destroyed. These included, at Copacabana, a large female idol with a fish’s tail – probably a representation of the lake as a goddess. The town was refounded in 1573 as the parish of Santa Ana de Copacabana, but a series of devastating early frosts swiftly ensued, convincing locals of the need for a new supernatural protector. Santa Ana was abandoned and the town rededicated in honour of the Virgen de la Candelaria, one of the most popular representations of the Virgin Mary during the Spanish conquest of the Americas.

A locally born man, Francisco Inca Yupanqui, grandson of the Inca Huayna Capac (himself the father of Atahualpa, whose capture by the Spanish led to the fall of the Inca empire), began fashioning an image of the Virgin. After his first crude efforts were rejected by the Spanish priests he went to Potosí to study sculpture, eventually returning with the figure that graces the church today, the Virgen de Copacabana, who was immediately credited with a series of miracles. The town quickly became the most important Catholic pilgrimage destination in the southern Andes, and after independence, the Virgin was also proclaimed the religious patron of Bolivia.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Bolivia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Bolivia: make time for South America’s most misunderstood country

Bolivia: make time for South America’s most misunderstood country

Bolivia brims with unique and barely-visited landscapes and cultures. It offers everything from the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, to the Par…

28 Dec 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

15 things everyone learns backpacking South America

South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a…

02 Mar 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
8 must-visit places in South America you've probably never heard of

8 must-visit places in South America you've probably never heard of

Access to even some of the more remote parts of South America has improved in the past few decades, establishing a now well-etched tourist trail. But if you wan…

15 Feb 2016 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month