Last Updated on January 18, 2024
Question: The more you travel, do you start to compare every new place with somewhere you’ve been before?
We do this constantly now and not only the general feeling of a place, but even specific corners, streets and neighborhoods, too.It took us quite a while to warm up to Iquique, a city in Northern Chile, but right from the start those comparisons began. The unfinished cement skyscrapers along the coast reminded us of Panama City, Panama – a city we could really only warm to parts of.As we explored the Centro Historico, the clapboard houses spread among the more grand Spanish colonial architecture reminded us of Belize.
And yet, by our last couple of days strolling along the coastal boardwalk under the palm trees down near Playa Canvancha, I couldn’t help but giggle when I said to Dani in all seriousness, ‘Iquique does have a bit of a Miami vibe, though, doesn’t it.’
But there is a certain charm that took a while for us to appreciate. This was partially due to those damn expectations that get built up by reading articles, guidebooks and blog posts about the destinations we visit. The city is lauded by some as both a surfers and a paragliders paradise, so we were expecting a Southern California feel.
We had come here for an extra extended beach weekend, knowing it would be months in the Andes before we would have that again. In reality, the waves are massive and crash with dangerous intensity right on the shore, which meant we only dipped our toes in.
Paragliding is definitely another thing to do in Iquique, and it’s fun to watch people do it right down near the shore. But like most Latin American towns and cities, there are jumbles of electric wires stretching along the streets, and getting tangled in an electric cable salad was not a risk we wanted to take.Instead we spent our days walking up and down the long, coastal boulevard and touring the historic center, the Baquedano, to get a feeling for the city. A highlight was walking past the fish market and watching feeding time for the sea lions, pelicans and other sea life fighting for the bucket of guts the fishmongers would toss out to them.
Further south is Playa Cavancha, which is technically where most of the beach action takes place, and where you’ll find the surfers. On a Saturday, we just kept on walking, further and further south, all the way to our hotel. A few surfers and way more long-boarders and roller bladers mingled on the boardwalk (literally made of wooden boards) along with families, ice cream vendors and groups of Chilean tourists.
The waves crashed to our right and traffic ebbed and flowed to the left for the hour it took to return to our ‘hood, Playa Brava. Our hotel was a ten minute cab ride from the center, but we discovered that down on Playa Brava, we actually had three top restaurants, the best cafe and the most laid-back area of the beach nearby.We ate overpriced but amazing sushi at Otaku Sushi, had seriously authentic Italian food next door at Trattoria Machiavelo and had strong, strong coffee at Ciocolatta every morning.
In addition to outdoor sports, from Iquique you can visit ghost towns of Humberstone and Santa Laura, which are former nitrate mining towns, and take a trip to the Atacama Giant geoglyphs, said to be the world’s largest rock art.There is one thing that makes Iquique truly unique, where we couldn’t make any other comparisons. The city is a relative sliver, long and thin, set between the Pacific Ocean and a giant mountain of sand, almost like an oversized dune right behind it that looms over and gives it a sort of urgent, intense feel that is semi-smoothed over by the palm trees and sun reflecting off the ocean.
- Otaku Sushi (Avenida Arturo Prat 3080)
- Trattoria Macchiavello (Avenida Arturo Prat 3082)
- Ciocolatta for coffee and cake (Avenida Arturo Prat 3078)
Where to stay in Iquique
- Aoteca Hostel – hostel with dorm rooms and private rooms, and a swimming pool. The beach is a 3-min walk away.
- Hostal Aloha Inn – guesthouse with an awesome communal lounge, five minutes from the beach. Double rooms start at US$45, or US$30 for single occupancy. Cheap family rooms available.
- Loft Alpaca – Cute loft apartment with a small dining area and tiny kitchenette. Small but cozy. Apartments start att US$58 for two people, and US$70 per night based on 3 people sharing.
- El Camino Hotel – Comfortable, spacious rooms. The hotel is a 10-min walk from the beach. Double rooms start at US$69 per night.
- Hotel Gavina – beachfront hotel with swimming pool. Rooms start at US$120 a night
- Gran Cavancha Hotel & Apartment – Studios & apartments with sea views and a year-round swimming pool. Studios have a small kitchenette, deluxe rooms have a full kitchen. Studios start at US$140 a night; deluxe rooms at US$233.