Torres del Paine National Park

City of Antofagasta, Northern Chile

City of Antofagasta.

  Antofagasta is a seaport of 361,000 inhabitants (the fifth most populous city in Chile according to the 2017 Census), capital of the homonymous region also known as "Second Region of Chile". The distance by land from Santiago is 1368 Km. 

Economically, much of its main activities are linked to the great expansion of the mining industry. Because of the great mineral wealth that covers the entire area and for being one of the most important cities in Chile, Antofagasta is called "La Perla del Norte" (The Pearl of the North). It should be noted that the nascent city was part of Bolivia, and after the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Antofagasta became part of Chile. 

Its landscape is dominated by the Pacific Ocean and the immensity of the Atacama Desert, the driest in the World. 
Today, the regional economy is mainly based on the exploitation of various minerals, especially copper, deposits of lithium, one of the largest in the World, and a record number of photovoltaic, solar thermal and green hydrogen projects, some of them in their initial stages and others already in operation.


How to get there

By Land: There is good road connectivity with numerous bus lines departing from Santiago and other nearby cities. The road system called "Autopistas de Antofagasta" covering the entire Region, is composed of Route 5 North (Pan-American Highway), Route 1, Route 26 and Route B 400. 

By Plane: Andres Sabella Galvez International Airport is located 24 Km. North of the city. There are daily frequencies connecting with the cities of Santiago, Calama, La Serena and Iquique. 

"La Perla del Norte" is full of interesting places, here are the main tourist attractions in Antofagasta:

La Portada Natural Monument

La Portada de Antofagasta Natural Monument, North of Chile.

La Portada ("The Gateway"), is the best known postcard of Antofagasta and one of the most popular in Chile. It is located 18 Km. North of the city through Route 1 and then a 2 Km. fork corresponding to Route B-446. 

It is a natural rock formation in the shape of an arch, as a result of the erosive action of the sea on the coast, surrounded by cliffs of 70 meters high. The arch is 43 m high, 23 m wide and 70 m long, very close to the seashore. The base made of volcanic rock is around 150 million years old and the arch formed by sedimentary rock has 2 million years old. It should be noted that the geological formation is very similar to the already collapsed Darwin's Arch in the Galapagos Islands. 
From the lookout you can enjoy the immensity of the ocean as well as a wide variety of birds and marine fauna, but due to the aridity of the whole area, the flora is practically nonexistent.  

Plaza Colon

Plaza Colon (or Plaza de Armas) is one of the most representative places of Antofagasta. It is the main square of the city, a site full of history because it witnessed the landing of the Chilean troops in 1879 and keeps symbols of the foreign colonies that founded the region. 

One of them is the Clock Tower donated by the British Colony, installed in 1911 in the center of the square, in commemoration of the first centenary of the Independence of Chile. The monument was originally planned as a scale model of the Tower of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, but the rules that regulated the constructions of that time prevented the total achievement of the primitive project (it was expressly forbidden that there was any construction that would exceed the Cathedral in height). Its chimes evoke the original Big Ben. 

Another of the symbols is the Kiosko de Retretas, also inaugurated in 1911, donated by the Croatian Colony in return for the friendship and affection of the native residents. There, every weekend, there were presentations of folkloric groups or military bands. At present, after having suffered serious damage by a strong earthquake in 2007, the Kiosko de Retretas was fully restored. It is worth mentioning that just like in the  southern end of the country, this region received an important wave of Croatian immigrants, especially in the early 19th century. 

The Statue to Spain and America, donated by the resident Spanish Community, represented by two female images at the top of the sculpture. This set is completed with a Condor holding the Chilean Coat of Arms and a Lion with the Spanish emblem.


Ruinas de Huanchaca

Ruins of Huanchaca

Visiting for the first time the imposing stone construction of Ruins of Huanchaca, really impresses because of its appearance of abandoned fortress of some extinct culture. But in reality this National Historic Monument, the oldest construction in the city dating from 1888, is what remains of an old silver foundry, belonging to a former Bolivian mining company. 
The foundry definitively closed its doors in 1902, since then, more than 60 years elapsed until the facilities were transferred by the Government of Chile to the Universidad Catolica del Norte. In 1974 Huanchaca was declared a National Historic Monument. In 2007, with the creation of the Fundacion Ruinas de Huanchaca, made up of the Universidad Catolica del Norte in partnership with Enjoy Antofagasta, the monument was officially included in  a plan that considered its openness to people. Today, the ruins are located within the Parque Cultural Huanchaca, located at 01606 Angamos Avenue, in front of the Enjoy Antofagasta Casino, a park which also includes the Museo Desierto de Atacama, with astronomical, geological and archaeological exhibits, a great cultural and tourist center of the Antofagasta Region.

Museo Regional de Antofagasta 

The non-profit institution Museo de Antofagasta, is a historical, archaeological and geological gallery located at 2786, Jose Manuel Balmaceda Av., historic quarter of the city. It was created in 1964 under the aegis of the former Universidad del Norte and then transferred to the Direccion de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos de Chile in 1984. Today, the Museum has 12 permanent rooms and an auditorium for temporary exhibitions, distributed in two buildings that formerly belonged to the Customs Offices and the Maritime Authority. The collection, grouped in the areas of Bioanthropology, Natural and Social Sciences, has around ten thousand cultural assets, including mineral, paleontological and archaeological samples related to pre-Hispanic cultures of the desert coast.

The Museum also includes an important photographic compilation, of around 1,500 images representing different aspects of Antofagasta's society in the middle of the 20th century. In addition, there are ethnographic components, works of art, objects and historical documents related to the urban and mining history of the Antofagasta Region, especially furniture, and an endless number of implements belonging to the daily life and tasks of the once flourishing Nitrate fields.

Other places that promote culture in Antofagasta are the Regional Library located at 2623 George Washington St, in the heart of the city; the Municipal Theater, at 433 Jose Antonio de Sucre St; the Andres Sabella Culture House at 2535 Juan Jose Latorre St.

Balneario Municipal

Artificial beach in Chile.
Balneario Municipal is very popular, the first artificial beach of Antofagasta. With 130 mts. long, it is located in the southern part of the city, suitable for swimming and all the activities related to the marine environment, there is a floating raft with capacity for 50 people in the middle of the sea, with a surface of 100 mt.2 and a resistance of 32 tons. It is surrounded by green areas, restaurants and places of entertainment. 

The city has a rocky coastline, reason why this is one of the few beaches within its limits. Other beaches suitable for swimming within the city are El Trocadero, Paraiso, La Chimba (the fourth artificial beach in Antofagasta scheduled to open by 2025) and outside the city limits is located Balneario Juan Lopez.

Mercado Municipal

Address: 776, Maipu St., in front of the Sotomayor square, one of the emblematic places of the city. Antofagasta's central market was an old railroad station and plaza and since 1927 it has been one of the tourist attractions with the most traditional gastronomic products of the northern city. 

Another striking feature is its elegant neoclassical building, which makes it one of the most beautiful markets in the country.

Estacion de Ferrocarril Antofagasta - Bolivia

The Antofagasta Railway Station holds significant historical and architectural importance in the city. This railway terminal serves as a testament to the vital role the railroad played in the region's development and its connectivity to the rest of the country. Designed by engineer Gustave Verniory, it boasts an architectural style influenced by French design.

Visitors have the opportunity to explore the building and delve into the region's railway history, as well as its pivotal role in the economic growth of Antofagasta. Additionally, they can visit a small museum featuring exhibits of objects, photographs, and historical documents related to the railway and the history of Antofagasta.

Inaugurated in 1893 as part of the Antofagasta to Bolivia Railway, it stands as one of Chile's most iconic railway projects of the 19th century. During its peak, this railway was the primary means of transporting minerals from the interior of Bolivia to the ports of Antofagasta and Mejillones on the Pacific coast.

The station remains operational, although its contemporary significance in transportation is less pronounced when compared to its historical past.

Its central location, in the heart of Antofagasta, on the corner of Bolivar and Balmaceda streets, makes it easily accessible for tourists seeking to explore the city, learn about Chilean railways, discover the history of the Antofagasta region, appreciate its historical architecture, and explore the museum.

Tropic of Capricorn Monument

An outstanding site to visit in Antofagasta is the Tropic of Capricorn monument, a landmark located where this parallel crosses, north of the city, in front of the Andres Sabella airport.

It consists of a monolithic structure with a bronze plaque that marks the precise point where the imaginary line passed at the time of its inauguration in 1966. It is worth noting that the Tropic of Capricorn is currently located at latitude 23° 26' 14'' south of the Equator, with a difference of 23 seconds compared to the 1966 measurement.

La Mano del Desierto 

("The Hand of the Desert" sculpture)

The Hand of the Desert sculpture, Chile.

75 Km. South of the city, in the middle of the Atacama Desert and next to Route 5 (Pan-American Highway) is located this notable work of the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrazabal. Today, the eleven-meter-high sculpture built with reinforced concrete, has become one of the tourist icons of the so-called "Second Region of Chile". 

Many are the interpretations that travellers give to the monument and in fact, according to its author, he leaves it to the imagination of each visitor to the Hand of the Desert. A negative point is the constant cleaning and maintenance required by the sculpture as it is often scratched with graffiti.

Astronomy Tours

Undoubtedly, the North of Chile, constituted by the "Norte Grande" (Big North) and the "Norte Chico" (Small North), are worldwide recognized as the best place to observe the firmament, due to the clarity and cleanliness of the sky. For this reason, several scientific organizations of global importance have chosen Chile to build their astronomical observatories. According to information provided by the digital newspaper, 40% of the facilities for astronomical observation in the World is concentrated in Chile, estimated to increase to 70% within the next 10 years. 

Astronomical Tourism is an activity that is growing, attracting more and more people, both Chileans and foreigners, and during the tours that last an average of three hours, tourists can observe stars, planets, constellations, galaxies, nebulae, the sun and the moon through modern and powerful state-of-the-art telescopes.

The largest number of observatories nationwide is located in the fourth Coquimbo Region, however Antofagasta stands out for the importance of its facilities such as Cerro Paranal and VLT (Very Large Telescope), the world's most advanced optical instrument, 130 km south of the city, considered the largest installation of its kind worldwide, operated by the European Southern Observatory. Paranal has the most advanced facilities for astronomy, being the most productive observatory all over the World, based on its investigations, more than one scientific document per day is issued. 

Other very important observatories are ALMA (Atacama Large Millimiter Array), the largest Radio Telescope in the World, consisting of a group of 66 antennas or radio telescopes seven and twelve meters in diameter. On the top of Cerro Armazones (Armazones Mountain) will be located the ELT (Extremely Large Telescope), still under construction, which should become the largest optical observation center ever built. Several of the large scientific observatories accept visits through online reservation systems, but these must be made months in advance. 
On the other hand, in the local Tourism Agencies, you can hire tours to smaller observatories, but no less interesting such as Paniri Caur Chiu- Chiu, 35 Km. from the city of Calama; Ahlarkapin Astronomical Observatory, staffed by natives of the archaeological town of San Pedro de Atacama; the tour to Licanantay Ethno-Astronomical Observatory, also in San Pedro de Atacama; the Qatachilla Astronomical Tours departing from Antofagasta and others. 


Salar de Atacama (Atacama Salt Flat)  

Image: Roxana Vergara - Pinterest                              
If you are visiting "The Pearl of the North", the excursion to the Salar de Atacama, one of the largest lithium deposits in the world and great attraction near Los Flamencos National Reserve is a must. 
The largest salt flat in Chile is located just over 300 km East of Antofagasta and 55 km South of San Pedro de Atacama, the nearest town. Within the white landscape it is possible to find several bodies of water formed by the erosion of the terrain, the most important being the Chaxa Lagoon, the banks of which are home to flora adapted to the salty environment and desert climate. The fauna includes flamingos, which gave the National Reserve its name, as well as other birds such as piuquenes, rheas and ducks, and some mammals such as guanacos and vicunas, which coexist with their domestic camelid descendants, llamas and alpacas. Tours start either from Antofagasta or San Pedro. 
Location of the Salar de Atacama HERE.

Other must-sees when visiting the Antofagasta Region

San Pedro de Atacama, the small town of San Pedro de Atacama has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Chile, for the various excursions that will take you to know its Andean landscapes, native flora and fauna and archaeological wealth. The Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum, houses rich archaeological and ethnographic collections recovered by the Belgian Jesuit priest G. Le Paige (1903-1980), with the largest collection of archaeological pieces of the AtacameƱo culture (about 380,000).

El Tatio Geysers, a magnificent 10 km2 geothermal field of volcanic origin where water and vapor spring up with force from the depths of the earth. The distance from Antofagasta is 390 km. and from San Pedro de Atacama 78 km.

Valle de la Luna (The Valley of the Moon), one of the most barren spots in the Atacama Desert, but certainly, one of the favorite places to visit in this part of northern Chile. It is located 13 km W of San Pedro de Atacama and 110 km SE from rhe mining city of Calama.

Port Authority building, Mejillones, Chile
Image: Chile del Ayer
Mejillones, a town and commune located 65 km. north of Antofagasta. Despite being a small city (estimated population of 14,000 inhabitants), the Mejillones port complex has acquired great importance since large mining companies have decided to concentrate their operations here for reasons of proximity, geography and climate. 

But the commune also has sights and tourist attractions that are worth mentioning, such as the old construction of the Mejillones Port Authority, an emblematic view of the town, a building dating back to 1910; the Corazon de Maria Parish, built between 1906 and 1908, with Oregon pine used for the entire construction; the beach of Mejillones, in a beautiful bay, considered one of the best places for bathers in northern Chile; the small Museo Historico Natural, at 110 Francisco Pinto street, a museum with 5 exhibition rooms featuring relevant archaeological, historical and biological information of the area.

Hornitos, town and beach, located 88 km. North of Antofagasta, near the town of Mejillones, Hornitos is always mentioned as one of its important attractions for being one of the most beautiful beaches in northern Chile, with a coastline of 5 Km. of fine sands and little waves, nestled at the feet of the coastal cliffs, typical of the region.
Its good waves make it an excellent destination for surfers and water sports enthusiasts. It should be noted that Chile's beaches are not very warm because the temperatures are regulated by the Humboldt Cold Current. Despite this, the name Hornitos ("Little Ovens") is due to the high temperatures recorded in this area of northern Chile during the hottest months (25 to 28 degrees C).