Arica, Chile – A Vibrant Coastal City on Chile’s Northern Border
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Although Arica is only 20 kilometers south of the Peru and Chile border, this small city is where the sandy beach meets the desert, which gives tourists more of a Peruvian feeling. While Arica is famous for beach surfing, there are several beach rentals, accommodation, and interesting places that are worth spending a day or two to check out.
How to get to Arica
As Arica is on Chile’s northern border, you can get to Arica overland from Peru and Bolivia, as well as San Pedro de Atacama. Chacalluta International Airport is the only airport in Arica and it is 11.5 miles from the city center. The airport provides regular service to Santiago, but the cost of air travel is significantly expensive compared to bus trips.
If you arrive at the bus terminal, you can walk to the city center and your accommodation. You can also walk to the beach either from the city center or through the back roads in the alleys. The beach and the shopping street are 15 minutes apart, and you can take a city bus to get around.
Arica is a beach town in the desert, but the climate is sunny and moderately warm. Arica experiences typical desert weather with the same temperature between 13 and 27 Celsius all year around. It was warm in the days and a bit chilly and windy at nights (you just need to put on a jacket) when I was there in early October. The rain was almost non-existent but small earthquakes appeared frequently.
Chinchorro Beach is a long beach that is ideal for sunbathing, surfing, and swimming. You can find some great waves for you to rip through. If you are a beginner, you can take surfing classes at some surf schools in the city and you can rent surfboards from there as well.
If you walk on the shore a bit to the north, you will find another beach connected to Chinchorro Beach and that is Las Manchas. However, because of the strong currents and undertow, Las Manchas is not recommended for casual swimming.
Because the beach has a long stretch of coastline, it has become a playground for children and an entertainment hub for locals and visitors alike.
Eating ice cream on the beach
There are lots of food vendors along Chinchorro Beach. Among them, an ice cream shop Heladeria Terraza, is there every day. The prices start at around 900 CLP and you can choose two flavors among several and go next to the terrace where you can sit and observe the beach scene go by. When I was there, I visited this ice cream shop every day and it became a part of my daily routine.
Other things to do in Arica
If you come from Peru and Bolivia, Arica will be your first touch of Chile. It is a great place to relax and visit the nearby islands, shopping districts and indulge in delicious seafood meals.
Visit Former Alacran Island
In Arica, you do not have to travel far or take a boat to reach the island. There is an island called Alacran just a few minutes’ walk from the city center and you can spend half a day there.
Alacran Island used to be a separate island from Arica and the only way to get there was by boat. Legend has it that this island has hidden treasure, and for many years, fisherman headed out to sea trying to find them, but all they got have been scorpions, harpoons, and hooks.
Nowadays, Alacran Island is connected to the city and a short walk from the city center will lead you to this legendary place. On the one side of the island, the waves come in barrels that allow the surfers to tube through. On the other side, the water is calm for sailing and fishing. There is also a lighthouse on the island to guard ships at night.
The City Center – 21 de Mayo
21 de Mayo is a pedestrian street in Arica featuring shops, restaurants and office buildings. It is the main shopping area where you can purchase clothes and souvenirs, as well as get access to banks and currency exchange.
If you have extra time, you can continue heading further to the Plaza San Marcos that offers some interesting buildings. Among them is the Cathedral San Marcos de Arica, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel, an engineer made his name well-known for creation of the Eiffel Tower.
Visiting the seafood market and eating seafood meals
The seafood market runs every day on the Avenue Santa Maria and(or) San Martin. The produce is fresh and you can also get seafood lunches nearby for as low as CLP $3000. The lunch combo includes soup and a seafood plate.
Morro de Arica
Morro of Arica is a major attraction that is visible everywhere from Arica’s city center. The morro is 139 meters high above city level, and the top offers a fantastic view of the city and parts of Peru. There is a museum on the top featuring the historical facts of the War of the Pacific.
In fact, Arica was part of the province of Arequipa in Peru from 1821 and the 53-kilometer long railroad from Tacna to Arica that is still in operation today was initiated by the Peruvian government. During the War of the Pacific, Morro of Arica serves as the last defense line for Peruvians. However, Arica was attacked and seized by Chile on June 1880 and remained as part of Chilean sovereignty to this day. From the city center, one can easily see the Chilean flag at the top of Morro de Arica.
Watch the sunset on the beach
Lastly, the one must-do thing in Arica is to watch the sunset on the beach. The sunset on Chinchorro Beach is one of its kind and the most unique is the vibes on the beach during sunset time.
When it hits around 8:00 pm, you will see people slowly and happily walk around with their family and friends, and the sunset turns the sky into a fire of pink and gold. The nightclubs start to come alive and food and drink vendors try selling their last bits for the day. It is one of the places not only can you see the beautiful sunset, but meanwhile experience how locals live their lives.
Where to stay in Arica
Here are some recommendations for places to stay in Arica
Panamericana Hotel: this hotel is a bit away from the city center but offers the best option for a luxurious stay. The room comes with free buffet breakfast, minibar, and internet and the hotel has three pools and is close to the oceanfront.
Hostal Jardin del Sol: this hostel offers a single room from $40 and guided tours and breakfast. The most major attractions are within walking distance.
Hostal Sunny Days: budget and shared hostel rooms within a few minutes’ walk from Chinchorro Beach. The room is clean and basic but service is great and the owner is very knowledgable about the city,
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