Arica is Chile’s northernmost city, a legacy of the War of the Pacific. The town is perfectly situated along several nice stretches of beach, and the ocean is as warm here as it gets anywhere in the country. I decided to make Arica the first stop of my month-long exploration of this fabulous country because I needed to replenish my Vitamin D stocks after a few dark, dismal months in the Northern Hemisphere. Natalia, our local guide, and Daniel, our local driver, met us at the small airport after our flight from Santiago, via Iqique, on December 21 and drove us to the Hotel Arica, a faded piece of 1970s chic situated on the water between two beaches.
After settling in, we went walked to town for dinner on a nice new path that the city completed in 2012, past local landmark El Morro. The colors of the stone in the low light were fantastic.
After dinner at Los Aleros de 21 (friendly people, average food — but outside of Santiago, Chile is not famous for its gastronomy), we wandered back through town, picking our way through the crowds doing their Christmas shopping and crashed. My room had a view of the pool area and ocean beyond, and there was a raging party until 3AM — not that late by Chilean standards, but late enough to prevent me from denting my sleep deficit from the overnight flight to Santiago. There was also a small earthquake in the night, which is a common occurrence in Chile. I swapped rooms the next day to escape the nighttime pool parties and got a nice view upgrade as a result.
In the morning, Natalia and Daniel picked us up and took us on an outstanding tour of Arica and its surroundings. The “city tour” far exceeded our expectations. We began south of town along the partially destroyed old coast road, where many locals go to party at night. The walk along the ocean was awesome. That white rock in the distance is covered in bird excrement, not snow.
In addition to crumbling road, there were lots of markers of road accidents past (a common sight along the roads of South America).
The cliffs were immense and made us feel very small, sandwiched as we were between the mountains and the ocean.
We walked for about half an hour, passing through a few small caves along the way.
Daniel drove us to the top of El Morro next, so we could admire the sweeping views of the city, ocean, and valleys behind. Here’s a shot looking towards Hotel Arica and Playa El Laucho.
And a view towards downtown, Playa Chinchorro, and Peru.
Our next stop was Agro, the enormous farmers market at the edge of town packed with local vendors and produce. Since it never rains in Arica, the ceiling is made of woven grass. The bright sun shining though left magical little round light bubbles on the ground.
It was really enchanting. Jen and Clark bought fresh olives here, and we all ate an empanada al pino (meat, onions, and olive). Our exploration continued into the Valle de Azapa, one of Northern Chile’s premier agricultural regions. Plenty of sun and clever use of limited water. There were geoglyphs on the hills overlooking the fields.
We headed to an excellent museum next to learn about the Chinchorro culture and to see some of their mummies, which are the oldest in the world. Natalia knows a ton about Chinchorro culture and the mummies. After a quick shopping trip, Daniel dropped us off back at our hotel.
We walked into town around sunset, and the locals were still hanging out on Playa El Laucho.
We admired the customs house and church, both designed by Gustav Eiffel. A local invited us into the customs house to check out a photography exhibition showcasing photos taken by local students. We took a few photos in colorful downtown Arica on the way uphill to dinner.
We dined at 890, a delicious little cafe full of locals picking up the cakes they ordered for the traditional Christmas Eve feast.
*All photos are copyright Peter Roady and may not be reproduced or reused without written permission*