Situated only 12 kilometres from the Peruvian border, this city might be your first or the last experience of Chile. Also called the city of eternal spring, Arica offers a mild warm climate with beautiful beaches and flowering parks. You can either relax on the beach or experience a very active night life in this city. Arica is a good starting point for exploring Chile's most northern National Park, Parque Nacional Lauca. The park has the absolutely beautiful Chungará Lake containing an abundance of wildlife including vicuña, alpaca, ñandu and wild chinchilla, and also some volcanoes and even the highest mountain lake in the world. In Aymara, the word Arica means new opening.
Arica has always been an important place in the region because of the water supply provided by the river Lluta. Its history dates back to about 6000 BC, when it was inhabited by the first settlers, native tribes, who grew corn, squash and cotton and also did basic pottery. Throughout time the people living in the area were part of the Bolivian Tíhuanaco culture and later fell under the dominance of the Incas. After the Spaniards arrived, Arica was witness to Diego Almagro's arduous expedition to Chile.
On August 13, 1868, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed most of Arica. A government plan was designed to redesign the city and many of its public infrastructure. The company that won the contract was the French "Gustave Eiffel et Compagnies" the same one that would create the famous Eiffel Tower.
During the nineteen century Arica was an important port due to the nitrate mines of Potosí. Until today it maintains its position as an important location for business for the Aymara and Quechua people living inland. They come to the city to trade their handmade products. The city became a part of Chile during the War of the Pacific. Currently, the town has a population of about 160,000 and it is known as a popular Chilean summer resort. Arica is a developing seaside resort, with golden sand dunes, miles of seashore, duty-free shopping and lively nightlife.
What to do
Museo Arqueológico San Miguel de Azapa: In this museum you can learn about the Chinchorro mummies. The mummies date back to at least 5000BC, more than 2 thousand years before the Egyptians began mummification. The techniques that they applied to mummification are elaborate and show maintenance, remarkable for a simple hunter gather lifestyle. Note: This museum is 12km outside of Arica.
Iglesia de San Marcos: This church was designed by Gustave Eiffel and fabricated completely of iron in France before being brought to Arica (which at the time was not part of Chile) to be constructed between 1871 and 1875. It has a Gothic spire and is white and airey, unlike most churches in South America. Note how only the door is made of wood, the rest of the building of iron.
El Morro de Arica: The historic symbol of Arica, this 110m rock at the end of the coastal mountain range has a beautiful view of the city and surrounding areas. At the top is also the Museo del Morro (Museum) which has a collection of weapons and other items from the War of the Pacific.
Playa Chinchorro: the beach is clean and spacious, a perfect place to relax. You can also rent jetskis during the summer.
La Ruta de la Aceituna (The Olive Route): Visit the bodegas where the olives are kept until maturation, learn about the process of growing olives and making olive oil. The information office will also arrange tours of the local museums and give information into the local culture, the Aymara people.
Edificio Ex Aduana: This ex-customs house was originally built in 1874 on the remains of the one that was destroyed in an earthquake six years earlier. The building has now been converted into a cultural house. Like the San Marcos church, this building was also designed by Gustave Eiffel.
Sunday Fair: Every Sunday on Avenida Chacabuco there is a street fair.
Sir Francis Drake: The pirate Sir Francis Drake was supposed to have buried three treasures. One in Juán Fernandez Islands, the other in Coquimbo and the last one in Arica. The treasure in or near Arica is supposed to be of 800 bars of silver, 123 bars of gold and 500,000 silver coins that once belonged to King of Spain. If you go to the cemetery in Arica you will find the supposed tomb of Sir Francis Drake.
By Air: Aeropuerto Chacalluta, north of the city, handles domestic flights from Santiago and other Chilean cities, plus international flights to and from Peru and Bolivia.
By Land: The Pan-American Highway connects Arica to Peru and other Chilean cities. Bus services, either domestic, or international to and from Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina are available.
There is a train service to Peru via Tacna, and to La Paz, Bolivia. The train to La Paz offers limited seating, and it's best to make reservations at least a week ahead during the summer months.
By Sea: In addition to being a commercial port, Arica is also a port-of-call for many cruise ships which offer day-trip excursions inland as well as city tours.
Private sailboats and yachts berth at the marina.
When to Go
Arica's mild climate, with year-round warm temperatures, gardens and parks brimming with luxuriant flora have earned Arica the name City of Eternal Spring.
Any time of year is okay for visiting Arica itself, but bus travel from other countries may be affected by weather over the Andes. The coastal fog, called camanchaca, brings welcome moisture to desert plants and burns off early in the day.
As a duty-free port, Arica offers shoppers a number of bargains.
The main shopping street is 21 de Mayo.
Handicrafts markets at Feria Sangra and the Sunday open-air market on the Costanera also have goods from Peruvian and Bolivian vendors.
The Pueblo Artesanal of Azapa Valley, offers ceramics, knitted garments, pottery, stone carvings and other handicrafts in a replica of Paricanota.
Food and Drink
Chile's long seacoast offers exceptional seafood. Arica is no exception. Try Terminal Pesquero for great fresh seafood, and a view of fishing boats and birds. Local fruits and vegetables including olives are also a must eat while in Arica.
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