2,062km (1,281 miles) N of Santiago; 614km (382 miles) NW of Calama

Chile's northernmost city, just 19km (12 miles) south of the border with Peru, Arica lies on a large bay dominated by the massive Morro, the landmark desert hill that almost juts into the Pacific Ocean alongside the city's main square. Founded in 1565 and seized from Peru in 1880 during the War of the Pacific, the city was the exit harbor for the massive silver exports to Spain from Potosí in what is now Bolivia; its port handles much of Bolivia's present-day trade. With a year-round, springlike climate and string of pleasant beaches, Arica has become a popular area for vacationing Chileans. For most travelers, however, Arica's main draw resides in its location as the gateway to world-class ancient treasures in the pleasant and lush Azapa and Lluta valleys.

Though its colonial heritage has been wiped away by successive natural disasters, this city of 180,000 residents exudes stately pride with graceful, palm-studded squares from the cathedral to the port and brightly painted houses jutting against the Morro. It's also one of Chile's most ethnically varied cities, with the presence of Peruvians and Bolivians adding an indigenous mysticism to Arica's provincial quaintness. Development has been rapid and ill thought out; the pretty cast-iron cathedral just manages to escape being overshadowed by ugly 1970s government buildings, and monolithic high-rises are springing up along the Chinchorro beach in the northern suburbs.