Pearl of the North
Antofagasta is the largest and most prosperous city of the El Norte Grande region. This port city was built as an export center in 1870 during the nitrate boom and has since sustained itself on the rich copper and other mineral deposits of the Atacama Desert. Until Chile annexed it during the War of the Pacific, Antofagasta was part of Bolivia and to this day it remains a key import-export hub for Chile's landlocked neighbor.
A sprawling metropolis of congested streets and high-rise concrete buildings that rise up abruptly from an arid coastal plain, Antofagasta doesn't see much in the way of tourists. However, the city does have a small assortment of historic sites worth seeing. 19th-century British architecture can be found in the Barrio Histórico, with its grand old Victorian and Georgian homes, and on the old-fashioned Plaza Colón where there is a small replica of London's Big Ben clock tower. Nearby lies the Muelle Salitrero, the pier that was used for exporting saltpeter, and the Museo Regional provides a glimpse into local history and culture, from pre-Hispanic mummified babies to nitrate-era paraphernalia. In the hills overlooking the city one can visit an 1873 silver foundry known as the Ruinas de Huanchaca and along the coast to the north there are some interesting cliff formations at La Portada and great windsurfing beaches at Juan López.
As far as accommodations go, there is a good variety of hotels in Antofagasta, ranging from basic budget options to large modern hotels catering to business travelers. The majority of Antofagasta hotels are located near the Plaza Colón or further south along the coast.