The northernmost port of Chile
Arica, Chile’s northernmost city, 316km north of Iquique, benefits greatly from tourism, with foreign visitors flocking to its pleasant sandy beaches in the summer, and with a smattering of good museums.
Aside from its own attractions, Arica makes a good base for the beautiful Parque Nacional Lauca.
The compact city centre is easy to explore on foot, though a visit to Arica isn’t complete without climbing El Morro, the dramatic cliff that looms high over the city. From the clifftop, home to a number of turkey vultures and a giant Jesus statue that lights up at night, you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of the entire city. Also up here, with cannons stationed outside, is the Museo Histórico y de Armas, with displays of weaponry, uniforms and other artefacts from the War of the Pacific.
Below El Morro is the large, palm-tree-lined Plaza Vicuña Mackenna, and alongside that lies Avenida Máximo Lira, the main coastal road. On the east side is the attractive Plaza Colón, decorated with pink flowers and ornate fountains.
The plaza is home to one of Arica’s most celebrated buildings, the Gothic Iglesia de San Marcos, designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame), made entirely out of iron and shipped over from France in 1876.
The excellent Museo Arqueológico lies instead 12km from Arica in the green Azapa Valley. The museum traces the history of the valley’s inhabitants, from the earliest hunter-gatherers, via a remarkably thorough collection of regional pre-Hispanic artefacts.
A twenty-minute walk south of the centre will bring you to the sandy Playa El Laucho and Playa La Lisera, both popular with sun worshippers and good for swimming, followed by the pretty Playa Brava and the dark-sand Playa Arenillas Negra, which has rougher waves.