Often times, when you’re travelling a country of such length like Chile, you can get caught up in the rush of trying to see everything so quickly. This goes against everything that Chile’s about, which you’ll see when you visit the town of Iquique—a beautiful beach city with an ocean that’s several shades of blue and a historic centre that offers the perfect balance of culture and relaxation.
The most popular beach in Iquique, Playa Cavancha is the bustling, beautiful, golden lining of the city. Running along the Pacific Ocean, Cavancha is a great place to join in on a game of beach soccer, paddle ball, volleyball, work out on its exercise bars, take a dip in the refreshing ocean or just slowly cruise along its boardwalk at a leisurely pace away from the centre of town.
A very important part of the history of Chile, the Corbeta Esmeralda is a life-size replica of the ship that was sunk by the Peruvians in 1879 during the War of the Pacific. The Battle of Iquique lasted over three hours with the Esmeralda eventually succumbing to a superior Peruvian ship. You can take a 40-minute tour to see all the quarters of the ship and learn about the battle itself.
Museo Regional de Iquique
The Museo Regional de Iquique is one of the most diverse and informative museums you are going to find in South America (and it’s free!). Starting with the beginning of recorded time, the museum explains the progression of the Earth from its creation 4.6 billion years ago to the existence and disappearance of the dinosaurs, then to the more specific history of the Chinchorro people and the foundation of Iquique.
Municipal Theatre of Iquique
Right in the centre of town, directly across from the Clock Tower, is the Teatro Municipal de Iquique. Its handsome facade is dwarfed by its grand indoor space, which gives you a look at how theatrical entertainment operated over a century ago in the city. You’ll see how pulley systems used to lift the actors from the rafters to the stage below and into the spotlight, which also offers an insight into the manual effort needed in theatre and its old-timey special effects.
Cerro Dragon sand boarding
Surfing down a gigantic mountain of sand is definitely not something you can do everywhere and when the sun is setting over Iquique, there is no other place you’ll want to be. The view itself from Cerro Dragon is worth the journey, and a tour that lets you glide down its sand makes this one of the most special sunset experiences you will ever have.
Declared a UNESCO heritage site in 2005, Humberstone is an abandoned town that was developed during the saltpeter rush in the late 1800s, which was also responsible for founding the city of Iquique. You can take a bus from the centre of town for a 45-minute journey inland to wander around the well-preserved yet completely deserted town named after James Thomas Humberstone, a British chemical engineer who founded the Peru Nitrate Company.
Walking down this wide, pedestrian-only street leading into the centre of town, you’ll feel like you’re in the Wild West and not present-day Chile. The train tracks running down the street’s centre provide proof of the old street cars that used to run on it and the faded, wooden, saloon-style architecture is reflective of Iquique’s mining history, an instrumental part of the city’s establishment. Calle Baquedano is a great street to wander on for a bite to eat or a drink in the sun.
Taste some delicious ceviche, and other fish dishes, but make sure to keep some leftovers when you visit the enormous sea lions waiting at the Caleta Riquelme’s wharf edge, to whom the fisherman throw their fish scraps. These gigantic sea mammals swim so fast and frantically during feeding time that the little boats waiting in the wharf’s harbor tend to bounce up and down and bump into each other because of the commotion.
Get away from Iquique’s downtown area and make the journey north to get the best view of the sunset in the city. The Marinero Desconocido (or “Unknown Sailor”) is a statue that will keep you company if you go alone. The statue has railings lining the cliff as well as a mock steering wheel, which will make you feel as if you’re sailing towards the horizon.
Iquique Naval Museum
If you’re inspired by the tour of the Corbeta Esmeralda, then you’re in luck! Located nearby the replica of the ancient ship is the Naval Museum of Iquique, which goes into more detail about the War of the Pacific, as well as other battles fought on Chilean seas.