Port Town with a Rich History
Chile's northernmost city, Arica is an important port and beach resort rich in history and ethnic diversity. Nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring for its invariably warm, dry climate, it is a popular summer vacation destination among Chileans and gateway to pre-Columbian treasures and stunning natural attractions.
The city's most distinguishing feature is the large hill that towers over it, called the Morro de Arica, site of a decisive battle during the War of the Pacific and now home to a commemorative arms museum. The summit affords bird's-eye views of the city and surrounding area, where there are fascinating museums and historic buildings waiting to be explored. At the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum one can glimpse a selection of the world's oldest mummies, belonging to the local Chinchorro culture and dating to 5000 BC, as well as various indigenous artifacts and a giant olive oil press. The Museum of the Sea displays 1,000 different species of seashells from Chile and all over the world, and the Arica-La Paz Train Station, built in 1913, contains a small railway memorabilia museum including a 1924 German steam locomotive. Arica also boasts two impressive wrought-iron constructions designed by Parisian engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the 1876 neo-Gothic San Marcos Church and the former Customs House, now home to the city's cultural center. The handsome old Bolognesi House, the Peruvian command center during the War of the Pacific and former Peruvian consulate, is also worth a visit.
Arica's warm ocean currents and stellar surf breaks draw plenty of beachgoers mid-December through February, and with over 12 miles of beaches here there's room for everyone. Some of the beaches are lined with restaurants and parks and perfect for jet-skiing, while others are wilder and more secluded.
Just outside the city lie the verdant Azapa and Lluta valleys with their fruit orchards, olive groves and interesting archaeological sites including pukarás (pre-Columbian fortresses), gravesites and giant geoglyphs depicting people and animals. Arica is also the principal gateway to the Lauca National Park of the Chilean altiplano, where strings of lakes and snowcapped volcanoes paint landscapes of singular beauty.
Since most of the visitors the city receives are from Chile or nearby Bolivia and Peru, the majority of hotels in Arica cater to the needs of local vacationers. Downtown Arica hotels are largely small residenciales; however there is also a smattering of pricey beachfront accommodations and backpackers' hostels.