Desert juxtaposed with coast, blue skies and warm air, a fresh breeze running off the sea and a booming tourist industry. Folks, I present to you, Iquique.
The city, home to well over 200,000 Iquiqueños, boasts a landscape like no other. Look over one shoulder and the sea tumbles out into the horizon, look over the other and the sand dunes, or rather ‘sand mountains’, loom overhead creating a terracotta backdrop against sea, sky and the city below.
100% Iquiqueño: Photo by Marie Drucker-Allister
In the height of summer, Playa Cavancha is where the main troops of tourists throw down their towel on any patch of sand left available. However, out of season the beach opens up into a vast stretch of white sand available for you to claim whichever spot you want for the day.
Playa Brava is a short walk towards the south side of the city. This beach isn’t swimming friendly which means that it is never busy except for the odd jogger getting some evening exercise with the dog!
Iquique from the sky: photo by Marie Drucker-Allister
If it’s a spot of meeting the locals you’re after, look no further than the Café Literario Rendez-Vous tucked into one of the streets near the central Plaza Prat. Owned by retired couple Sonia and Ángel, coffee and cake meet culture in this quaint and quiet little place. The walls are lined with shelves of books, magazines and newspapers for you to delve into whilst taking a look at the lunch menu served daily from 1pm or the selection of ice-cream, juices and cakes. Aside from their culinary delights, every Thursday at 8pm take advantage of the cultural workshops and presentations on offer to the general public from cinema screenings to talks.
Taking the lead from Santiago, Iquique has recently formed its very own Poliglota group. Every Tuesday from 8-10pm a group of keen linguists meet to converse in both English and Spanish in the bar Barsovia to practice and improve both languages in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The best thing is that it’s absolutely free, apart from a drink or two to accompany you through the night and have you talking like a native in no time.
La Esmeralda: photo by Marie Drucker-Allister
Iquique’s history lies in the legend of the famous Arturo Prat whose name graces the main plaza. The Esmeralda, a reconstruction of the ship that Prat fought on in the battle of Iquique during the War of the Pacific, May 21st 1879, is docked in Iquique’s port and is open for daily guided tours. Visitors can explore this Museo Coberta Esmeralda in order to get an incite into the battle that made Prat a Chilean national hero and gave him a prime spot on the ch$10.000 bank note.
El Agro market: photo by Marie Drucker-Allister
For all kinds of shopping, the mall, the famous tax-free Zofri centre and various supermarkets provide the essentials. However, if you want something a little more rustic, a little more local, and a little more ‘second hand’, then head to El Agro market. Pairs and pairs of roller skates and blades hang from the market stalls alongside diving gear, snorkelling equipment, clothes, shoes or house ware. Ice hockey and skiing gear are even for sale, despite Iquique boasting a year long summer surrounded by desert and sea. But hey, there must be a niche market somewhere! Delve further in and you’ll encounter the meat, poultry, fruit and veg section full of an array of colours and smells.
With the beach and sea at its doorstep and the desert at its back door Iquique doesn’t shy away from sporting activities. Surfing competitions are held year round and you’re never far away from a surf or body board school in order to update your moves or start as a complete beginner. La Punta in Playa Cavancha is where the surf pros go to catch their wave of the day.
Paragliding over Iquique: photo by Marie Drucker-Allister
If you’re not much of a water sports person, then spread those wings and take to the air for a spot of paragliding. Various companies located along the boulevard Baquedano which links to Plaza Prat offer paragliding sessions to get the real birds eye view of the city. Don’t forget to take the classic “these are my feet, therefore I really am in the sky” shots to show just how extreme you really can be in Iquique.
Heading back down to earth for some ‘normal’ sporting activity, why not join in on the Gimnasio al Aire Libre (Open Air Gym), an initiative set up by the Muncipalidad de Iquique to bring more free sporting activity to the community. Aerobic, cardio and toning exercises are employed all in the fresh open air with the sea view behind you whilst you work out.
Despite the fact that Iquique’s streets are jam packed with cars honking their horns for no particular reason, the city is perfectly accessible using other means of transport. A leisurely stroll along the beachside boulevard will take you to the centre or if walking isn’t your thing then the hundreds of taxi style colectivos will drop you door to door for a mere ch$550 pesos. The niftiest way to get around is definitely by bike. Take advantage of the sea-front ciclovias (cyclepaths) stretching all the way along playa Brava and playa Cavancha towards the centre.
In terms of places to carretear (party/go out) the main bars can be found on two separate sides of the city. In the centre on the pedestrianised Baquedano the cafes and restaurants become bars for the night. On the south side of the city opposite playa Brava a row of themed bars line the street. At the weekend the strip is full of atmosphere as all the Iquiqueños step aboard the Jolly Roger bar or swagger into bar Runas.
Sunset in Iquique: photo by Marie Drucker-Allister
If you’re looking for more than just a pint and a piss-up why not add a bit of drama to your night and head to Salon de Te-Atro on a Friday or Saturday night. Squeeze into a small but cosy room in the close company of like-minded strangers and enjoy the latest play or gig on offer whilst having a bite to eat and a drink or two at your table thanks to Acana Teatro’s independent theatre company. Just make sure that you book early to secure a table before the night fills up.
And finally…Iquique wins top marks for its sunset. Nothing beats watching the day wind down whilst strolling along playa Cavancha, jogging along playa Brava or simply settling down on a patch of sand to watch Iquique’s hard worked sun pack it in for the day.
Café Literario Rendez-Vous
Patricio Lynch 271
Museo Corbeta Esmeralda
Paseo Almirante Lynch S/N
Children, students and pensioners: ch$1.000
Gimnasio al Aire Libre
Monday – Friday
09:00-10:00, 19:30-20:30 and 21:30-22:30.
Salon de Te-Atro
Restaurant: Monday to Friday 09:00 – 20:00
Akana Teatro Theatre
Theatre: Friday and Saturday 22:00
Tel: 426283 – 82601921