18 Unusual Roadside Shrines in South America

Often roadside shrines are made to stand out with the addition of flags or specially planted trees, like this one near Illapel, Chile.

Often roadside shrines are made to stand out with the addition of flags or specially planted trees, like this one near Illapel, Chile.

This is a photo gallery post – please refer to individual photo captions for description and locations.

One thing we love about travelling in our own vehicle is that we can stop wherever we like to check out and photograph sites next to the road – even the ones which seem to be rather insignificant. That’s at least the theory, but in practice it often happens that we’re driving too fast to stop or can’t find a spot to pull safely off the road. But overall we feel we are a lot better off than travellers on public transport.

Everywhere in Latin America you find small shrines next to the road, or occasionally also next to rivers or at beaches. Some of these were erected to worship a particular saint or popular figure of saint-like glorification; we’ll post examples of these in the future. Others are erected by family or friends to commemorate a person who has died under tragic circumstances. These can range from traffic accidents (the most common) to other accidents, or a violent death under attack.

Particularly in Chile, the latter ones have a specific name; they are known as “Animitas”. In some regions you see them every few hundred metres. We certainly don’t stop for all of these shrines, but for the ones which catch our eye or happen to be near where we had already stopped for some other reason.

A group of small shrines next to Ruta 40, alongside Rio Grande, in Argentina.

A group of small shrines next to Ruta 40, alongside Rio Grande, in Argentina.

Many of the shrines are relatively plain and unadorned; some are beautified with plantings of flowers or trees around them; some are constructed with more care and dedication than the average house; and a few are simply “over the top”; these certainly catch our eye. In this photo gallery we show several which have car models or real cars embedded in them, and one which had its own solar-powered street light installed next it!

This large shrine was standing next to a road through the Salar de Atacama. It has its own solar street light and several green trees.

This large shrine was standing next to a road through the Salar de Atacama. It has its own solar street light and several green trees, which obviously get watered by somebody. I assume the 3 persons died in a mining accident.

The ones commemorating real people often contain a collection of the person’s favourite things or miniature models of such items inside. It’s not unusual to find soft toys, toy vehicles, cigarettes, books, bottles of soft-drink or beer, and the like, arranged around a small statue of a saint.

We now have our own nickname for many of these shrines: we call them “God Kennels”, which is not meant to be disrespectful, but came to mind after we passed through a region where the majority of these shrines were really created inside the prefabricated dog kennels you can buy at most major hardware stores in South America. These roadside shrines are not exclusive to Chile and Argentina; you find them in every country in Latin America.

For further browsing:
An interesting site [in Spanish] showcasing a lot of Animitas in Chile .
The Spanish Wikipedia entry on roadside shrines.

Have you looked at some roadside shrines more closely?
We would like to hear through the ‘comments’ below…


webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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20 Responses

  1. Connie Reed says:

    How interesting. In the United States people will often erect a small cross and add some flowers in a place where a loved one was killed but nothing as elaborate as those in your photos.

    • Juergen says:

      That’s what’s so astonishing about these, particularly the really big ones! Imagine you would want to erect a large memorial, with a complete car integrated into it, in any of our Western countries! The paper work, the lobbying, the various permissions, safety standards, isn’t it a distraction for other drivers, and so on…

  2. We were in South America last year and although didn’t see many of these (as you say we were on public transport and so didnt have your freedom to stop along the way), we did get interested in the way people commemorate their loved ones. We kept visiting graveyards and looking at all the mementos left by gravesides that symbolised the things that the family member liked. Really interesting!

    • Juergen says:

      Yes, somehow the Latin Americans seem to accept and treat death differently than western societies. Maybe the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations in Mexico are a typical example of this – instead of being unique only to Mexico.

  3. Anda says:

    Your travels are really atypical, guys. Not many bloggers I know would go visit roadside shrines in South America, but I have to say they look very intriguing. In fact, South America in itself is such a colorful and intriguing continent. Thanks for joining me for #TheWeeklyPostcard. Looking forward to your future posts.

    • Juergen says:

      Well, that would be exaggerated… All we do is stop at interesting looking road site shrines when they are along our way. And for each one we stop at there are probably another fifty we just pass by (not interesting, or interesting but no place to pull off the road safely) – they are that common.
      Overall that’s the big advantage of travelling in your own vehicle: you can stop, even briefly, for anything that looks vaguely interesting. You just have to keep your eyes open. (I still have vivid memories of the eerie graveyard I spotted, probably half a kilometer off the road, in the Atacama Desert.)

  4. Jacqueline says:

    We have very similar things here in Taiwan, and I am always so curious about them. My favorite are the ones that appear in the mountains, on trails or down deserted roads!

  5. Unusual is definitely the word for these shrines. It is interesting that death in a tragic accident is marked here in the United States with a cross. Some add flowers, cards and candles. Most of the ones you show in here have a small house component. I wonder what is the specific meaning to that.

    • Juergen says:

      The crosses and flowers are probably used all over christian countries; we have them in Australia too. That people go to such length seems to be a Latin American thing.

  6. John says:

    This is so interesting. I had no idea. I see occasional shrines here in the U.S. by the roadside (usually flowers or a cross or a Teddy bear) and I am sad because I know someone died in a vehicle accident there. I didn’t realize they are so common in South America. Truly an authentic part of the culture you have shared with us. Great work.
    — JR

    • Juergen says:

      So pleased that you liked this post! Sometimes the little, or even quirky, discoveries along the way make slow travel so much more inspiring.

  7. How interesting! We learned something new to look out for during our trip to Chile in December. Some of them seem like quite ornate structures!

    • Juergen says:

      Once you know what to look for you can’t miss them – even not out of the side window in a passing bus. It’s more difficult to stop and actually photograph them in many places.

  8. I think that we mostly see the flowers on a telegraph pole and a cross and at least that serves as a reminder to slow down. These shrines are fascinating and are obviously very important to the families.

    • Juergen says:

      Yes, we’re very often surprised how much effort and ongoing care goes into these. Last week I passed the one in Quintero (the little car with roses inside) right after that section of road had been flooded. The road was still all covered in mud but the shrine was freshly cleaned.

  9. Love this! We often stop to admire such shrines as well. Thanks for sharing

  10. I love seeing the kind of creativity that goes into these roadside shrines! Here in Europe they’re almost exclusively about a person that died there in a car accident, and they’re much simpler: a cross, usually, and perhaps some flowers and/or stuffed animals.

    • Yasha says:

      Some of them are truly amazing structures requiring constant upkeep. The people involved seem to be really committed.

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