At first glance, you would think that Iquique is a popular tourist destination in Chile simply because of the constant sunshine, sparkling ocean, relaxed town centre, and beautiful beaches that line the whole city. Although those are prominent reasons why people vacation in Iquique, travellers tend to frequent here for the historical aspect and cultural experiences available at the excellent museums.
Humberstone Saltpeter Works
No museum can be more interactive than the preserved town of Humberstone, which visitors can walk around. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, this destination, located just under 50 kilometres (31 miles) inland from Iquique, was one of the ‘nitrate towns’ that grew during the late 1800s, and it feels as if everyone got up and left everything behind, which they essentially did.
Regional Museum of Iquique
A very informative, free museum in the centre of town on Baquedano Street, the Museo Regional de Iquique takes you back in time as far as science can record. Starting at the creation of the universe, visitors can ‘travel’ through the Jurassic era, into the local history of the Chinchorro people, and into the expansion of Iquique through saltpeter mining. There are a lot of visual aspects, including ancient mummified human remains and fossils.
Iquique Naval Museum
The history of Iquique is much more than a fast-growing mining town, and the Iquique Naval Museum explains its pivotal point during the War on the Pacific. The exhibits inside the fortress-style building delve into the maritime past of Iquique, exploring the battles that took place on these shores and the brave sailors who fought them. It’s a great way to get informed of the history of Iquique while on the way to the Corbeta Esmeralda.
Corbeta Esmeralda Museum
Complete your Iquique naval history lesson with a view into the living quarters, and battle stations, of a 19th-century warship at the Corbeta Esmeralda Museum. To get a feel of what is arguably the biggest sea battle ever fought on Chilean waters, walk aboard a 1:1 replica of the famous Esmeralda ship that sunk off the coast during the Battle of Iquique. Tours run for 40 minutes, but be sure to call in advance. They book up quickly, and some days are by reservation only.
Along with the Torre del Reloj, or clock tower, directly in front, the Municipal Theatre and Museum in the centre of Iquique is possibly the most beautiful building, inside and out, that the city has to offer. The theatre, completed in early 1890, is still immaculate inside and now acts as a museum showcasing the entertainment history of Chile as well as the old-fashioned techniques and procedures used to create special effects during the performances.
Military Museum of Tarapaca
Behind a very unassuming, beige exterior hides more information on the history and independence of Tarapaca, the province that hosts the town of Iquique. The Military Museum of Iquique is another reminder that Chile’s history and independence was a bloody one. Seemingly prehistoric muskets and rifles, as well as cannons and daggers, are on display, allowing visitors to compare the form of war from just over a century ago to what it is today.