Inside of Copao fruit from Chile - Woodward Culture

The fruit that most people associate with the Valle del Elqui (in the north of Chile) is the Papaya. However, there is a lesser known fruit also typical of the zone called Copao.

What is a Copao?

It is the fruit of a wild cactus called “Eulychinia acida” (great, got the big scientific word out the way). Now, did you notice that last word “acida” which in English means sour/acid. Yes, the Copao is VERY acidic. The first taste makes you wrinkle your face like that of a 90-year-old sucking unripe lemons. Having said that, it is a yummy taste between kiwifruit and grape (I could have said chicken too, have you noticed how every tastes like chicken? … but surprisingly this doesn’t) which is best served with dollops of sugar to take away its biting sour roundhouse kick.

A plant (cactus) with Copao fruit from Chile. Notice the really long spines! - Woodward Culture

Look at the photo of a Copao plant above. Yes, Copao come from cacti with REALLY REALLY long spines. Imagine stumbling into a cactus like this at 3 in the morning after a night out.

Where can you buy Copao?

Since the fruit is native to the Valle del Elqui you can easily find stands on the side of the road offering both the unpeeled fruit as well as the already squeezed juice. There are a number of stands at the Embalse Puclaro (dam) near Vicuña where you can get them. The ones we bought were from the Craft market on the north side of the main Plaza de Armas (square). Outside of the 4th region of Chile, Copaos are hard to get.

Bowl of Copao fruit from Chile - Woodward Culture


If you have ever been in Chile you are sure to have tried a Pisco Sour or ten. But have you tried a Piscopao?

Yes, instead of using lemon you can use the juice of the Copao to make this new cocktail. You will need to add a bit more sugar than your usual Sour though.

Did you know…?

The famous Palo de Agua Rain sticks that are sold in almost every craft market from Arica to Punta Arenas are actually made from the Copao cactus. The stem is dried, thorn branches are crammed into the middle and seeds are added to give it the “rain” sound.

Have you ever tried this fruit?