Remembering the peculiar name of Antofagasta often seems to be quite difficult for English speaker. Nevertheless, one of the wealthiest cities in Chile is fast also becoming one of the most visited, and the memories you create here, and photos you take away, will ensure that you never again forget the name antipasto… sorry… Antofagasta.
Mano de Desierto
One of the strangest artistic expressions you will find in South America is located outside the city of Antofagasta, an hour’s drive to the southeast. As the name implies, the completely remote Hand of the Desert is a 36-foot (11-meter) hand coming out of the desert floor, created by Chilean sculptor and artist Mario Irarrázabal. Although it’s a bit of a journey to get to, it is well worth it if you have a rental car and some free time.
From manmade art to the greatest artist of them all, Mother Nature has created a beautiful sculpture of her own with La Portada. Millions of years of wind, spray, and waves have eroded not only this picturesque archway sitting just a few meters off shore, but the whole jagged coastline north of Antofagasta. There is a museum located on the viewpoint overlooking La Portada, as well as artists selling souvenirs and artifacts from the area.
Before walking into the center of town, swing by the seafront and visit the Museum of Antofagasta to learn about the history of the city you are about to explore. Located in the old Antofagasta Customs Office, this museum has two stories, 12 separate areas, and over 10,000 historic pieces and artifacts from pre-Hispanic times.
Antofagasta has grown around the Huanchaca ruins, which are located at the southern outskirts of the city and look like relics from an ancient civilization, when in fact they are from a much more recent era. As business expanded from Bolivia in the 19th century, Antofagasta become a hotbed for mining, and Huanchaca had a brief part in its history as the refinery was opened for work in 1893, but it was then abandoned less than a decade later, in 1902.
For the keen stargazer, there is an unmissable destination just south of Antofagasta. This is the second-largest optical observatory in the world, with the largest telescope on the observatory being known very simply as the VLT, or Very Large Telescope. Public tours are offered every Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and are free of charge, but due to high demand, must be booked in advance.
It will come as no surprise that the most popular sport in the world is the most popular sport in Chile as well, and there’s no better way to take in the tense, buzzing atmosphere than at a live match. The recently renovated Estadio Regional de Antofagasta stadium is a great setting to take in a football match, with almost guaranteed sunshine and a beautiful landscape with the towering ridge in the background.
Antofagasta shows off its wealth and pride with its gorgeous center, Plaza Colon, and continues to do so all the way along Avenida Arturo Prat. It’s a wide, busy, pedestrian-only street that covers several blocks and has a number of restaurants and stores, as well as squares where you can relax and take in some of the amazing street musicians.
You’ll find unique, local clothing and accessories in the local market, and high-end fashion in the Mall Plaza Antofagasta. The central market in Antofagasta is hard to miss, as it is one of the most impressive buildings in town, and the Mall Plaza Antofagasta backs right onto the ocean and offers a terrific outdoor café.
Mingle with the locals on this little golden strip of beach located a short walk from the center of town. Join in a heated game of beach football, take a dip in the brisk water, or come on a Sunday afternoon and accompany what feels like half of Antofagasta, to enjoy the final sunset of the weekend.
On the top floor of the Antofagsta Shopping Center and Lider Supermarket is a hidden kart track known as Rally Karting. It’s not off road, as the name would imply, but these little karts can really get moving on the tight, curvy little track. You can purchase packages of seven, 14, 24, or 35 laps, and you get more discount the more laps you pay for.