October 25, 2009
South America has thousands of alternatives for travelers with a spirit for going off the beaten track and searching for unusual, remote and unique touring experiences. One of such kind is the remote, yet accessible, north of Chile, namely the city of Iquique and its surroundings, dominated by the gigantic Atacama desert, one of the world’s highest, biggest and harshest deserts, a real case of stark beauty..
Due to the enormous distances in Chile’s long geography, best way to get into the Atacama desert area is to fly from the capital city of Santiago de Chile (or Antofagasta, the second largest city), into Iquique, a mining town of some 200.000 thousand inhabitants, directly on the Pacific coast, with a giant brown dune behind: the mighty Atacama desert…
The average rainfall here is two millimeters a year and, as normal on an arid environment, water is scarce, water is the talk of the town and water is, more than anywhere else, a symbol of life. It is not uncommon to find here homes and other buildings, standing roofless.
Iquique looks at the Pacific and to the east, the awesome wall of sand of its mythical neighbor, the Atacama desert. The rugged scenery here is simply spectacular and the sunsets reflecting over the brown mountain dunes are even more dramatic when used as a backdrop for native dancers on their bright red costumes. At night, a giant digital clock, brightly illuminated, tells the people what time it is.
Iquique was known, since colonial days, centuries ago, as the Grand “Salitre” (Saline) Port, being the center for the commerce of salt, coming from the saline mines around the ocean. Its Historic Centre bears the style and architecture of the colony and many buildings, monuments, museums and places of attraction for the visitors. An unquestionable highlight is the seafront, including the colorful fishing port, the main harbor and the stretches of great sandy beaches, waiting for swimmers and sunbathers to come and enjoy the year ‘round warm and dry climate. Top class luxury hotels line the seaside overlooking the Pacific and providing superb views of the giant desert in the opposite direction. Restaurants galore everywhere and provide one of Chile’s main features: its delicious gastronomy, particularly related with fish and seafood. Night life is lively and there is fun or relaxation for every taste.
In addition to tours to the intriguing desert landscapes and many landmark locations nearby, such as the National Monuments of Salitreras de Santa Laura and Santiago Humberstone; the Oasis outposts of Pica, with the neighboring semi-thermal springs of La Cocha Resbaladero and the Oasis de Matilla with its antique Spanish Lagar or the church of San Antonio and the stone bell of the XVIII century; voyagers can also take a variety of excursions to Calama and San Pedro de Atacama. The Iquique area teems with the most varied activities to enhance the enjoyment and rare beauty of such unusual environment, from conventional or specialized city tours to cruises, fishing, scuba diving, canoeing and kayaking, hang-gliding, horseback riding and mountain bike; as well as wine routes are some of the alternatives for those who make the appointment with adventure and unique experiences at this remote and fascinating region in the north of Chile. Why not check out for travel alternatives to this magic place?