Warming up to the Iquique coastline in Northern Chile

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Last Updated on February 12, 2014

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.

iquique playa cavanchaIt 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.
iquique at sunsetAs we explored the Centro Historico, the clapboard houses spread among the more grand Spanish colonial architecture reminded us of Belize.
iquique baquedanoiquique tramsiquique baquedano towerAnd 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.’

iquique beach promenadeNo, it really doesn’t.

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.
iquique surfersWe 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.
iquique daniParagliding 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.

iquique paragliders at sunset chileInstead 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.
iquique sea lion and pelicansiquique pelican chileiquique sea lionsFurther 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.
iquique beach promenade chileThe 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.
iquique cafe at sunsetWe 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.

iquique beach chileThere 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.

iquique jess at sunset chile
Our favorite eateries in Iquique: Otaku Sushi (Avenida Arturo Prat 3080), Trattoria Macchiavello (Avenida Arturo Prat 3082), Ciocolatta for coffee and cake (Avenida Arturo Prat 3078)
iquique coffee and kuchen[flickrslideshow acct_name=”globetrottergirls” id=”72157639879264813″]

Tags : chile


    1. Yes, Chile actually has quite a few nice beaches (not surprising, considering it has 6,435km (!) of coastline 🙂 I still prefer Caribbean beaches to the rougher waves of the Pacific, though 😉

  1. Looks amazing- between these posts and alex in wanderland I’m dying to get to S. America! ALso, how the heck do you make your photos have rounded edges- I’ve tried so many ways and can’t do it! is it on wordpress or when you edit them?

    1. Her posts get us excited for all the places that are yet to come, too! I actually use a photo viewing program to make the edges round, before uploading them on Flickr 🙂

  2. We are totally guilty of this too. I think most people who travel a lot are. Here in Budapest, I find myself walking around asking Zab “this street is a bit Vienna, isn’t it?” and “this cafe could be right out of Buenos Aires, don’t you think?” I love the idea that there could be a bit of Miami in northern Chile. Even if that’s completely ridiculous!

    1. Oh, Buenos Aires was the worst for comparisons! There, we said all the time ‘this street is like Paris! This street is like Madrid!’… 🙂 Iquique definitely needs some work still to become Chile’s Miami, but it’s well on its way, really! 😀

  3. I think comparing is in the nature of human being. Maybe a way of trying to “explain” the unknown or the urge to find something to hold onto. Perhaps a bit like stumbling into a pitch-dark room, looking for the light switch. While feeling around for it and coming across a familiar shape or something, the room won’t get any brighter, but our steps may become more confident…
    Lovely photos, as always! And this slice of choc cake looks gigantic!! 🙂

    1. I think you’re right! But looking back at Iquique we have to say that it doesn’t really compare to any other place. The high mountains peaking up right behind the city were pretty unique 🙂

  4. I always compare new places to other places I have been too. We arrived in La Paz today and for some strange reason it reminded me of Phnom Penh. It is of course completely different, but that chaos, grittyness and the vibe just seemed familiar. It was so lovely meeting you two the other day by the way. We must repeat it when our paths cross again one day!

    1. Hope you’re enjoying Bolivia!! It was great meeting you and Chris too! I am sure our paths will cross again somewhere in this world 🙂

  5. It looks like it has a little bit of a Miami vibe although perhaps a little more shabby on the edges. We’re skipping Chile on our trip to South America which is a bit of a shame, but we thought Bolivia would suit our budget better.

    1. Bolivia is definitely the budget friendlier place 🙂 I still hope you’ll make it to Chile at some point, it has so many amazing places!!

  6. We really liked Iquique and were really disappointed when we went to Arica (home of surfing). It is normal to make comparisons. The really disappointing thing about Iquique was down by the harbour. The stench made me want to retch. It looked like a good idea that went sour. We did go swimming as the water wasn’t that cold. Reminded me of my youth on the Jersey Shore! 🙂 We got taken out by a large wave! Great fun! We loved the paragliding too!

    1. Glad to hear we didn’t miss out on anything when we decided to skip Arica 🙂 We must have been lucky when we were in Iquique that we didn’t smell any sewage. Maybe that was only on Playa Cavancha, not down on Playa Brava where we were staying? You two are badasses for paragliding there!! It must have been amazing to see it all from above!

      1. We were right down near the beach at The Backpacker’s Hostel. It didn’t smell down there, but when we went to the other side of town by the harbour and the big ship museum, it was rank. There was so much garbage in the water and on the bit of beach there. We saw the sea lions and pelicans, but I got put off taking photos. You were lucky when you were there.
        I was a bit nervous about the paragliding, but it was surprisingly relaxing and the views were amazing! I did feel a bit queasy a couple of times because of chasing thermals, but on the whole, it was a great experience! Now that I’ve done it, I don’t have to do it again! 🙂

  7. Yes I do the comparison thing. I know people who say they don’t do this and I never quite believe them! Seems automatic to me. I love that there are photos of chocolate cake in so many of your posts!

  8. I didn’t make it to Iquique, but now I see your post, I wish I had! I just finished a book by and he spent a long time there learning to paraglide. It sounded exciting, but quite dangerous! They even had a paintball game in the air!!! Loving your Chile posts! 🙂

    1. Oh wow, I want to read that book!! The many paragliders there were fascinating. I bet reading that book would make me want to try it 🙂

  9. love your pics…you ladies are professionals…I enjoyed my time in CHILE…never made it to the north..just central and southern Chile….food was great….loved Humitas and hot dogs donw there….I know you didn’t like ’em at all….but it all depends who cooks them…Lol…thanks for sharing your postings and be always safe!

    1. Thanks so much, Chris! I am sure the meat dishes in Chile are awesome 🙂 As a vegetarian, you always miss out on the best local dishes, unfortunately.

  10. No tienen idea de la comida nacional!!, dieron unas especificaciones falsas en el diario Las ultimas noticias de Chile sobre el mote con huesillos, sopaipillas, completos y humitas, les recomiendo averiguar bien de que estan echas y que ingredientes tiene cada comida y despues hablen y comenten en su blog!

  11. Como dice Chris…todo depende de la mano del cocinero…y del sazón y el cariño con que se prepare la comida…lamentablemente dani y jess son vegetarianas ….y no pudieron apreciar de la gastronomía que cada región tiene , las humitas bien preparadas con buenos maíces, albacas, cebollas, su aliños correspondientes son exquisitas, un mote con huesillos utilizando buenos ingredientes es fabuloso…ahora las SOPAIPILLAS…también son una comida buena pero se come sola sin aditivos…y fritas en un buen aceite su saber es muy bueno…PERO NO PUEDEN DECIR QUE LA COMIDA DEJA MUCHO QUE DECIR Y QUE NO BUENA… .Hay extranjeros que saben de la buena mesa que tienen disponible Chile….Bueno Dani y Jess son VEGETARIANAS jejjejejeje

  12. No regresen a Chile…GRINGAS PUTAS!!!!!…espero q en otro pais las maten!!!!!…xq si no, aquí las haremos mierda….por putas…. BITCHES!!!!

    1. Lamentable este tipo de comentarios. Cada persona tiene gustos distintos, si a ellas no les gusta algo están en todo el derecho de decirlo y no por eso vas a andar insultándolas o recriminando.
      A mi me encanta la comida nacional, pero hay que reconocer que comparados con nuestros vecinos la comida chilena si deja harto que desear.

  13. HI!! leí el reportaje de LUN y me animé a escribirles y hacerles solo un par de sugerencias. Primero que como comida típica de chile el “completo” no junta ni pega, más encima, chicas, ustedes siendo vegetarianas, supongo que el “completo” no se lo sirvieron con, vienezas o como se prepara el AS, que es exquisito con plata, tomate y carne…¿¿¿pero comida típica???. Bueno también supongo que en el sur de Chile, no probaron todo lo que es la gastronomía proveniente del mar, mariscos y pescados, el típico curanto de P.Monnt por ejemplo. etc etc., el pastel de choclo sin el pino con carne y trozos de huevos, como realmente se prepara un pastel de choclo con todos sus ingredientes y bien hecho, es exquisito!! pero como son ustedes, vegetarianas, supongo que lo comieron adaptados a sus costumbres y así podría seguir con las humitas (con ensalada a la chilena, que no necesariamente por ser chilena es picante!!) y mucho más!! supongo comieron todo adaptado a ustedes (comidas vegetarianas), las sopaipillas con zapallo, mmmmmmmmmm ñam ñam jajaj con pebre (bien preparado) una delicia!!!, probaron el pebre? bien preparado??? en fin, en gustos no hay nada escrito pero si son vegetarianas, creo que sus comentarios van dirigido solo a turistas extranjeros, que visiten Chile y que sean vegetarianos que quieran probar comida típica de chile que obviamente no les va a agradar por los ingredientes…osea no vas a ir al sur de Chile sin probar los mariscos digo yo!!!, Creo que ser vegetarianas no tiene nada de malo, pero de ser así podrían haber visitado Chile de norte a sur, probando restaurantes solamente vegetarianos, y así hacer comentario con un objetivo mucho más claro que es, COMO ES LA COMIDA VEGETARIANA EN CHILE, O, QUE COMER EN CHILE, SI ERES VEGETARIANO.


  14. recomiendan comida y son vegetarianas vayas al pais que vayas la oferta de comida vegetariana no tiene nada que ver con la idiosincracia culinaria de un pais

  15. hola chicas lamentable que realicen ese tipo de comentario CHILE es un país hermoso tranquilo lleno de lugares maravillosos por conocer tenemos mar en todo nuestro país, protagoniza, desierto, cordillera de los andes e incluso una islas hermosas las cuales están llenas de cultura y buenas historias para aprender y la comida al parecer no fueron a los mejores lugares a comer ya que muchas personas extranjeras quedan fascinadas con la comida Chile tal como mencionaba nuestra amiga anterior, curanto, pastel de choclo, pastel de papa, empanadas, pebre picante, unos ricos porotos granados, cazuelas, asados, y muchos tragos que son maravillosos lamentablemente no supieron realmente que es chile, un lugar donde principalmente la gente puede vivir tranquila sin guerras y eso nos hace ser por sobre todo el mejor país. VIVA CHILE MIERDA!!!

  16. quizás que probaron y comieron o se com……jejjejeje antes estas Globetrottergirls Vegetarias de cuerpo y alma…..jejejjeje……antes de comer humitas…completos y el mote con huesillos que no les gustó…

  17. Lei el reportaje y tienen toda la razón en muchos puntos, las pizzas de telepizza y las “grandes” marcas son todas igual, secas y si sabor (mejor dicho el mismo sabor, sin diferencia) pero si saben buscar encontraran buenos locales, sobre los completos exactamente lo mismo, sobre las sopaipillas nada que decir, una comida llena de grasa, es como comer aceite solido. Ojala vuelvan a iquique y pasen al restoran el asador, donde trabajo jajaja y comerán las mejores parrilas, aunque creo haber leido que son vegetarianas ajajaj..

    Saludos y a mis compatriotas no enojen, cada quien tiene su opinion y son todas respetables.

    Un saludo de un iquiqueño de corazon.

  18. I swear every time I read your posts I have to add something else to our travel list. Once we get out of Chilean Patagonia we’ll have to check out some of Chile’s coastline. Some lovely comments here too…. Who knew people were so touchy about food?! Hopefully our paths will cross at some point in Chile! Happy travels!

    1. Thanks, Mike 🙂 I hope you’ll make it to some of Chile’s beaches, there are several ones only a couple of hours from Santiago that are well worth spending a few lazy beach days at 😀

  19. I’ve been in Chile for 18 years, and I can say this: Iquique is not the place u want to be for more than a week. It has very high crime rates and most things are overpriced due to tourists and foreigners living in that City. A friend of mine from Australia got assaulted inside a car (the thief broke the window from the outside and took off with her purse).
    Most people doesn’t speak English and are racists, e.g. saying racist comments to foreigners, including the police.

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