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Getting There

By Plane -- Arica's Aeropuerto Chacalluta (ARI; tel. 58/211116) is served by LANExpress (tel. 600/526-2000; www.lan.com) and Sky Airline (tel. 600/600-2828). LAN has three daily flights from Santiago to Arica, and one on Fridays from Calama; Sky has two, along with two from Calama connecting via Antofagasta. A taxi to Arica costs around $8 (£5.30). Annoyingly, as is the case with most airports other than Santiago, there's no ATM.

By Bus -- Nine bus companies provide service to Arica from Santiago, a grueling 28-hour, $40 to $65 (£27-£43) trip; a flight booked well in advance might not be that much more expensive than a good seat on a bus. Connections throughout the far north are readily available from the domestic terminal, Diego Portales 948 (tel. 58/241390), north of downtown. From here, Géminis (tel. 58/241647), Tur Bus (tel. 600/660-6600), and Pullman Bus (tel. 58/223837) offer connections to San Pedro for $11 to $15 (£7.30-£10). Along with these, Flota Barrios (tel. 58/223587) serves the similarly priced, 10-hour Arica-Calama route six times a day.

The international bus terminal next door at Diego Portales 1002 (tel. 58/248709) has connections to nearby Peru and Bolivia; buses on the La Paza route will drop you off or pick you up at Lake Chungará in the Lauca National Park. Buses Humire (tel. 58/260164) makes the trip from the international terminal to Parinacota three times a week, Buses Martínez (tel. 58/220106) twice. Buses to altiplano villages also depart from across the handicrafts market downtown on Pedro Montt. La Paloma, Germán Riesco 2071 (tel. 58/222710), runs to Putre and villages on the Codpa-Belén route.

By Car -- Unless you're in Chile on a road trip and with considerable time and tolerance, you won't drive here from Santiago, which takes 3 days with 24 hours behind the wheel. Distances can be deceiving; even Calama is about a day's drive south of Arica. However, renting a car can be a rewarding and convenient way to visit sights near Arica. While the city is pretty easy to negotiate and roads are in good condition for all but the last 25km (16 miles) from the Bolivian border, consider the inconvenience of driving at high altitudes around the Lauca National Park before rushing off. You'll need 4*4 transportation on roads south of Surire, and this trip should not be risked in poor weather. It's far more remote than San Pedro, so instead seriously consider taking it easy and picking a guided 2- to 4-day altiplano tour in Arica or Putre for less stress and more of a holiday.

The airport has rental kiosks for Avis (tel. 600/368200; www.avischile.cl), Budget (tel. 58/258911; www.budget.cl), and Hertz (tel. 58/219186; www.hertz.cl). Check with your airline, as your ticket may get you a rebate deal with one of the rental agencies at the airport or in town. Downtown, you'll find Avis, at Chacabuco 314 (tel. 58/214671); Budget, in the Hotel Arica on San Martín 599 (tel. 58/258911); and Hertz, at Baquedano 999 (tel. 58/231487). You can also shop around with smaller agencies that might help you book a car during high season: American, General Lagos 559 (tel. 58/252234); Cactus, Baquedano 635, Local 36 (tel. 58/257430; cactusrent@latinmail.com); and Klasse Rent a Car, General Velásquez 760 (tel. 58/252954). Klasse can handle the paperwork for crossing into Peru, but it's not worth the hassle and extra cash.

By Train -- Sadly, passenger travel to the Andean highlands and as far as La Paz has been suspended for several years now, with no near-term return of service in sight. You can take a train to Tacna in Peru, however, with trains departing daily from the station just north of the port. Tickets are a rock-bottom $1.75 (£1.20) for the 1 1/2-hour trip, but get them at least a day early to ensure you can travel on the day you want. Departures from Arica are Monday through Friday at 10:30am and 8pm and at 4pm Saturday; from Tacna, Monday through Friday at 7am and 4:30pm, and at 4pm Saturday.

Orientation

Arica's main squares, Plaza Colón and Vicuña Mackenna, almost jut against the Morro in the southwest corner of downtown, which is otherwise laid out on the typical colonial Spanish square grid that one can easily walk. A pedestrian area extends for 5 blocks to the east, away from the port, and the ever-present hilltop serves as an excellent orientation marker. A swath of property as big as downtown belongs to the army and extends practically to the bus terminals, making them too far to walk to comfortably. The main avenues leading east from downtown will take you to two roundabouts that each offer exits to the Azapa Valley. The airport and border with Peru are to the north; along the way, Hwy. 11 branches off toward the altiplano and Bolivia. The main beaches are well north of downtown and just south of the Morro.

Visitor Information

Government tourism body Sernatur (tel. 58/252054; infoarica@sernatur.cl) operates a visitor center near Plaza Colón on San Marcos 101. It's open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:20pm; in peak season (Jan-Feb), hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 7pm and weekends from 10am to 2pm. The staff can provide detailed maps of the region and provide helpful, objective information on the levels of professionalism of various tour operators. Somewhat removed from downtown, the Conaf forestry service has an office where you can make reservations for their shelters in the region's national parks -- a must if you want to stay there. It's at Av. Vicuña Mackenna 820 (tel. 58/250739), and is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:15pm.

Fast Facts

Bolivian Consulate -- At press time, Bolivia announced that it would introduce visas for U.S. visitors, possibly also for citizens of E.U. countries. Its consulate in Arica is at Patricio Lynch 298, on the corner of Sotomayor (tel. 58/231030).

Currency Exchange -- Try Yanulaque, 21 de Mayo 175 (tel. 58/232839); Daniel Concha, Chacabuco 300 (tel. 58/251632); or Marta Daguer, 18 de Septiembre 330 (tel. 58/232975). All are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 2pm and 3 to 6pm. You'll find plenty of ATMs in the banks and pharmacies on pedestrianized 21 de Mayo.

Hospital -- The city's hospital is at 18 Septiembre 1000 (tel. 58/232242). For emergencies, dial tel. 131.

Internet Access -- Internet cafes abound downtown on 21 de Mayo and its side streets. There are also several close to the bus terminals. Galera on 21 de Mayo 211 is open daily from 9am to 1am.

Laundry -- Try La Moderna, 18 de Septiembre 457 (tel. 58/232006).

Post Office -- Correos de Chile is at Prat 305 (tel. 58/257775), and is open Monday through Friday 8:30am to 2pm and 3:30 to 6:30pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.