Antofagasta and around

On the edge of a bay, nearly 700 km south of Arica, Antofagasta is the largest city in northern Chile and the fourth largest in the country. It is not a terribly attractive place, perhaps only worth stopping at to break a long journey. That said, the combination of the tall mountains and the ocean is dramatic, and after a week in the desert interior it is pleasant to breathe the sea air while relaxing on one of the beaches south of town. Apart from the lack of rain, the climate is pleasant; the temperature varies from 16°C in June and July to 24°C in January and February, never falling below 10°C at night. The city's economy depends on the enormous mine at La Escondida in the interior, where 8000 people work, doing week-long shifts at the mine before spending a week in the city; the city's port also acts as the processing point for the copper from La Escondida and Chuquicamata. As well as being the capital of Región II, Antofagasta is also an important commercial centre and the home of two universities.

Getting there

Antofagasta is served by many regular buses from both north and south. All major companies serving the north stop here and there are frequent flights with
LanChile
,
Principal
and
Sky
south to Santiago and north to Calama, Iquique and Arica.

Getting around

Antofagasta is one of Chile's largest cities, and you may need to take
colectivos
or buses to get to more out-of-the-way places, particularly the discos and bars in the south and the university campuses. Avenida O'Higgins is also known as Avenida Brasil.

Sights

In the main square,
Plaza Colón
, there is a clock tower donated by the British community in 1910. It is a miniature of Big Ben with a carillon that produces similar sounds. The pedestrianised calle Prat, which runs southeast from the plaza, is the main shopping street, full of crowds and busking musicians and performance artists. Two blocks north of Plaza Colón, near the old port, is the former
Aduana
, built as the Bolivian customs house in Mejillones and moved to its current site after the War of the Pacific. Inside is
Museo Regional de Antofagasta
, www.dibam.cl/sdm_m_antofagasta,
recently refurbished with displays on marine life, ecology, archaeology, anthropology and mining, as well as the nitrate era and a typically one-sided account of the War of the Pacific. The explanations are in Spanish only. Opposite are the former offices of the
Capitanía del Puerto
(harbourmaster) and the
Resguardo Marítimo
(coastguard).

East of the port are the buildings of the
Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Company
(FCAB) dating from the 1890s and beautifully restored, but still in use and difficult to visit. These include the former railway station, company offices, workers' housing and the
Museo del Ferrocarril a Bolivia
, www.fcab.cl
, which has an interesting collection relating to the history of the Antofagasta-Bolivia railway. Just north of the port is the
Terminal de Pescadores
, where there are markets selling seafood, fruit and vegetables. Pelicans sit on the fish market roof and sea lions and sea turtles swim in the harbour; there are half-hour tours of the port available from
La Cabaña de Mario
.

The former main plaza of the
Oficina Vergara
, a nitrate town built in 1919 and dismantled in 1978, can be seen in the campus of the University of Antofagasta, 4 km south of the centre (take
colectivo
114 or 333 from the town centre).On a hill to the south of town (bus 103) are the imposing ruins of
Huanchaca
, a Bolivian silver refinery built after 1868 and closed in 1903. From below, the ruins resemble a fortress. With the new casino and hotel opposite, the ruins are being cleaned up and a museum is planned.

There are two main beaches in town, the
Playa Paraíso
by the Líder supermarket just north of the centre or the nicer
Balneario municipal
, by the McDonald's about 2 km south of town (take bus 103). Alternatively stay on the 103 past the Balneario Municipal and get off at any quiet spot that takes your fancy. The coastal road has been redesigned with cycle paths north and south and is surprisingly pleasant.

Around Antofagasta

La Portada
, 16 km north of the city, is a natural arch with fantastic rock formations that are the symbol of Region II and are often seen on postcards up and down the country. Take any bus to Mejillones or Juan López. From the main road it is 2 km to the beach which, although beautiful, is too dangerous to swim. A number of bathing beaches are within easy reach.

A windsurfers' paradise,
Juan López
, is 38 km north of Antofagasta. Popular in summer, it is almost deserted during the rest of the year. The sea is alive with birds, especially at Caleta Constitución opposite Isla Santa María (fishermen there can take you to the island). If you have your own transport, follow the road out of Juan López to the beautiful cove at Conchilla. Keep on the track to the end at Bolsico.

Located on Cerro Paranal, 2600 m high in the coastal
cordillera
, 132 km south of Antofagasta, is, at present, the most powerful telescope in the world, although it will soon be usurped by a rival telescope that is currently being built near La Serena. The site at
Cerro Paranal
was chosen as 350 clear nights a year were guaranteed . Tourists are able to visit the observatory on the last two weekends of each month, January to November. Visits last around two hours and should be booked at least three months in advance. For more information, including an application form, see www.eso.org/paranal.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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