In the far north of Chile, nestled right up against the border with Peru, sits the charming city of Arica, Home to around 200,000 people, it is a relatively small but busy city, and is Chile’s northernmost coastal town. Being so close to the Peruvian border means it is also quite diverse, being home to a large number of indigenous Aymara people as well as a mixture of other Chilean, Chinese, African and Europeans.
It was originally part of Peru until 1883 at the end of the War of the Pacific where it was captured by Chile.
A fascinating aspect of Arica is that with only around 0.5mm of rain per year, it is officially the driest inhabited place on earth. As dramatic as that sounds, its coastal location does help it keep a relatively humid atmosphere despite the lack of rain. It is blessed with large sandy beaches which often see dramatic Pacific Ocean waves crash over the shoreline while hundreds of birds swoop overhead. This combination of low rainfall and a consistently warm year-round climate has earned the city the title of the City of Eternal Spring.
The city itself is dominated by El Morro de Arica, a huge rocky hill that looms over the centre and which played an important role in the War of the Pacific, being the last point to be captured from the Peruvians by the attacking Chilean forces. An enormous Chilean flag has since proudly flown on the summit.
Employment in the city seems to be dominated by three main themes. Inland, the Azapa Valley and Lluta Valley both converge at Arica and are both well irrigated, creating a rich agricultural environment for a multitude of fruits and vegetables. On the coast, a huge Bolivian free trade port buzzes 24 hours a day with huge containerised trucks loading and unloading before commencing their journey along the Pan American Highway out of Arica towards Bolivia (the result of various political agreements between Chile and Bolivia). Thirdly, it is apparently also very popular tourist destination, which is unsurprising given its location. It didn’t seem too touristy to me though, although perhaps that is because I was there in the winter month of August.
The city square is dominated by the Catedral de San Marcos de Arica (St. Mark’s Cathedral), a fascinating construction fabricated entirely out of cast iron frame and paneling. It was designed and manufactured by Gustaf Eiffel in France and was commissioned to replace the old cathedral that was destroyed in an earthquake in 1868. Incredibly, it was then shipped half way round the world from France to Arica, where it was reconstructed in 1876.
Arica is a really interesting place to stay and explore for a few days. It is also the perfect place to base yourself before starting a journey higher up into the Andes mountains and the Lauca National Park and Las Vicuñas National Reserve.
Check out the full gallery for some more Photos of Arica