Arica and around

Arica is the northernmost city in Chile, just 19 km south of the Peruvian border. With Peru so close and Arica being the main port for Bolivian trade, the city has a distinct halfway house sort of feel. It is less ordered than most Chilean cities, with hundreds of street vendors and indoor markets selling cheap, imported goods and has a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. The city centre itself is quite attractive, with long beaches, pleasant gardens and extensive networks of sand dunes all nearby. Rearing up to the south is El Morro, the rock that marks the end of the Chilean coastal range. Inland is the verdant Valle de Azapa with olive groves and a museum housing the world's oldest mummies. Day trips can easily be made across the border to Tacna, the southernmost city in Peru.

Getting there

Arica is a long way from most of Chile. All major bus companies serving the north make this their final stop; buses take 30 hours to reach Santiago to the south. Arica is a centre for connections to Bolivia and Peru, with a train and frequent
north to Tacna in Peru and buses east to La Paz in Bolivia. There is also quite a wide-ranging bus service to villages in the sierra and the altiplano.
fly south to Santiago via Iquique and Antofagasta, with some flights continuing on to La Paz in Bolivia or Arequipa in Peru.

Getting around

Arica is quite a large city, and you may need to take some of the
or buses to get to more out-of-the-way places, particularly the clubs, many of which are on the road out to the Azapa Valley.


During the colonial period, Arica was important as the Pacific end of the silver route from Potosí. Independence from Spain and the re-routing of Bolivian trade through Cobija led to a decline, but the city recovered with the building of rail links to Tacna (1855) and La Paz (1913) when it became the port of choice for those two cities. The city came under Chilean control at the end of the War of the Pacific. The Morro in Arica was the site of an important Chilean victory over Peru on 7 June 1880.

Arica remains an important route centre and port. Now linked to the Bolivian capital La Paz by road and an oil pipeline, it handles almost half of Bolivia's foreign trade and attracts Bolivians, as well as locals, to its beaches. There are also road and rail connections with the Peruvian city of Tacna, 54 km north. Most of the large fishmeal plants have moved to Iquique, leaving several rusting hulks of trawlers in the bay, now home to a significant local crow population. Regrettably, there are indications that Arica is also becoming a key link in the international drugs trade.


Unlike in most Chilean cities, life is not centred around the main square, but Avenida 21 de Mayo, a mostly pedestria- nized street full of banks, shops, restaurants and cafés. Just south of this is the
Plaza Colón
, on which stands the Gothic-style cathedral of
San Marcos
, built in iron by Eiffel. Although small, it is beautifully proportioned and attractively painted. It was brought to Arica from Ilo in Peru as an emergency measure after a tidal wave swept over Arica in 1868 and destroyed all its churches; inside the cathedral is a Christ figure dating from the 12th century. Eiffel also designed the nearby Aduana (customs house), which is now the
Casa de la Cultura
Just north of the Aduana is the La Paz railway station; outside is an old steam locomotive (made in Germany in 1924) once used on this line, while inside is a memorial to John Roberts Jones, builder of the Arica portion of the railway. Hidden away on a small side street behind the cathedral is the private
Museo del Mar
, www.museodel, one-room collection of shells and sealife from around the world. If the owner is there he will explain everything to you in English.

To climb
El Morro
, 130 m high, walk to the southernmost end of the Calle Colón, past a small in situ museum displaying a number of recently uncovered Chinchorro mummies, and then follow the pedestrian walkway up to the summit; there are fine views of the city from here.
Museo Histórico y de Armas
, www.museomorro,
on the summit, contains a selection of weapons and military uniforms as well as displays on the War of the Pacific. Basic information in English but most of the exhibits speak for themselves.

A coastal road heads out of Arica to the south. There is no public transport but it makes a pleasant cycle ride. Past the Morro, to the right, is the former Island of Alacrán, now connected to the mainland and a favourite surfing destination. The road passes La Lisera, a beach, crowded in summer, and with a natural pool. Past the empty Playa Brava the air fills with the pungent smell of fishmeal from the processing plant here. At km 7, past further rocky and sandy beaches and a natural blowhole is Playa Corazones, a pleasant beach, quiet except at weekends and in summer. Good cheap seafood is available. Shortly after, the road runs out but a path continues for a further kilometre, past guano-covered rocks, pools full of crabs, starfish and shellfish to the Cuevas de Anzota, a series of caves and fantastic rock formations with crashing waves, a small secluded beach and a sea-lion colony on a small island off-shore.

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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