The Arica region holds fantastic sights, but it's still a bit away from the mainstream attention that has engulfed San Pedro and infrastructure is still somewhat lacking. While distances are quite short to the main spots, factor in the jolting rise to the Andean plateau (altiplano). Plan to spend at least a night at higher ground before heading to the Lauca National Park -- make it a fantastic, not a head-splitting and nauseating, experience. I therefore can't recommend a day trip to the park, though these are readily offered. Check with the tour operators in Putre; they can be cheaper for a small group of three to four people, while also offering a high standard of service. Consider also that you can easily visit the Azapa Valley on your own, which most agencies include in multiday programs.

In Arica, reputable outfits include Belgian-run Latinorizons, Bolognesi 449 (tel. 58/250007;, which offers tours throughout the altiplano and Lauca National Park in addition to railways tours to the Lluta valley, a 4-hour train ride primarily aimed at cruise-ship passengers; and Parinacota Expediciones, at Thompson 21 and Bolognesi, in the Feria Tres Esquinas, office 29 (tel. 58/282-6194; Their prices range from $75 (£50) for 2-day tours to $255 (£170) for 4 days. Also at the Feria Tres Esquinas, office 21, is Raíces Andinas, at Thompson and Bolognesi, in the Feria 3 Esquinas (tel. 58/233305;, which emphasizes sustainable and ethnic tourism and offers trips that include the San Pedro area. Price for a 2-day Arica-Putre-Lauca tour costs $119 (£79), $302 (£201) for a 4-day tour, including Iquique and the nitrate ghost towns. Prices are based on two people. Check the websites for longer excursions of up to 2 weeks. Liqi Liqi, 6 de Junio 196 (tel. 58/25200;, offers local birding tours in and around Arica and the altiplano.

The Morro & Downtown

Three pleasant, palm-studded squares lie just south of the Morro . On the eastern end of Plaza Colón stands the small but unique San Marcos Cathedral. The 1876 neo-Gothic church was prefabricated by the company of noted French engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel and shipped to Arica to replace the cathedral destroyed by the 1868 tidal wave. The three-nave church with a single, octagonal spire ending in a point is made entirely of iron -- touch the tracery to believe it -- and well proportioned, though it could use a touch of new paint in parts. A 17th-century baroque crucifix adorns the high altar.

Eiffel was also responsible for the old Customs House across from the white port authority building 2 blocks away, built in 1872 to 1874 largely from materials shipped overseas from France. With coral-and-white horizontal stripes, the distinctive Customs House is now a cultural center that hosts regular art, sculpture, and photographic exhibitions, open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm. You'll also see the 1913 railway building fronted by an old German steam locomotive as part of a small collection of antique railway cars and early 20th-century railway memorabilia that you can visit Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:30pm. Even if you're not hungry for seafood, I recommend you walk a little farther on the port side of Máximo Lira until you reach the fishermen's port, where you'll find sea lions basking near the railings, along with plenty of pelicans and stray cats and dogs amid stalls selling fish and shellfish. There are boat trips from there to see a penguin and sea lion colony on the rocky coast to the south. Some traditional houses have been restored or at least repainted recently, notably the sky-blue former Peruvian consulate Casa Bolognesi at Colón and Yungay, which now hosts cultural events.


Arica's tourism is still principally geared toward domestic visitors and those from southern Peru and La Paz, who flock to its beaches mid-December through February. It certainly has plenty to offer at a noticeably warmer water temperature than that of the frigid ocean of the rest of Chile. Oddly, beachfront accommodations are comparatively rare and overpriced, with most hotels and small residenciales downtown.

North of downtown, the long Chinchorro beach will give you plenty of room for sunbathing, swimming, or in-season jet ski rental, and there are restaurants, cafes, parks, and an Olympic-size pool -- it's open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 2pm and costs $1 (70p). Farther north, the undertow makes Las Machas too dangerous for swimming, but the waves are good for surfing. You might see the rusting remains of the U.S. steamer Wateree that an 1868 tidal wave ripped from anchorage in the harbor and shoved inland. It was little damaged and subsequently found use as a building, but the next tidal wave in 1877 destroyed it.

South of downtown are four popular beaches safe for swimming. Micro buses run along the length of Avenida San Martin. The closest to the center, just a 20-minute walk, and the most populated, is El Laucho, a pleasant cove of brown sand. The second and more attractive is La Lisera, about 20 minutes from downtown, followed by Playa Brava, and finally the dark sand expanses and curvaceous dunes of Playa Arenillas Negras, which has the benefit of being the quietest stretch, but the disadvantage of having ocean views marred by fish-processing plants. Farther south there are wilder, rockier beaches with a few cheap restaurants, which can be reached on an asphalt road that runs along the coast for 6km (4 miles) from the Morro. Where it ends, an easy, hour-long walk along the rocky shore will take you to a sea lion colony. You can camp and fish near the shore, but it's too dangerous for swimming.

The Azapa & Lluta Valleys

The lush valleys of fruit orchards and olive groves east of the city offer refuge from the dusty dryness of the Atacama and Arica's urban bustle. Enormous geoglyphs adorn the sandy hillsides, along with ruins of several native fortresses. Hundreds of mummies -- the oldest found anywhere -- have been unearthed and placed in the care of an excellent museum. The oldest artifacts found in Azapa date from 9000 B.C. But poor protection threatens these treasures just as they begin to capture the international spotlight.

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.