Arica (15th Region) and Iquique (1st Region)
Arica, the northernmost significant city in Chile (population around 180,000), is located in the rainless Atacama Desert. Along with Valdivia, Arica has the most pronounced and stultifying history of tsunami activity through the centuries. It is a Second World city in my estimation, and a great place for people with infirmities to live, especially allergies. Things do not always work in Arica, such as internet service, but the city has been moving forward with reasonable development. There has been some considerable worry expressed by some about possible residual toxic waste contamination in Arica, especially lead and other heavy metals. (You will have to do your ow research on this topic.)
There are two fertile valleys inland from Arica, irrigated with well water and/or a seasonal river (resulting from Andes runoff). These pleasant, verdant areas are reminiscient of southern Italy. Situated right on the Peruvian border, and reasonably close to the Bolivian border, where one can drive to see ancient Incan hillside drawings and flamingos in season. There is an airport with daily flights to Iquique and Santiago. Arica is near the (bargain-center) Tacna, Peru airport too (30 minutes by taxi plus whatever time is needed at the border stations) with a late afternoon flight to Lima, Peru.
Some of the nicest people in Chile live in Arica, including hoardes of Peruvian immigrants. And Arica offers the ex-patriate some veritable inexpensive Second World living. Thus, while there is little or no English spoken, Arica is a convenient place for an American immigrant of modest means to live. A couple can live without too much trouble on $1,000 per month. Arica also has the added benefit of being relatively close to low-taxed shopping. Indeed, one’s real real tax rate can be very low if he shops in the free zone (Zofri) in Iquique and in the mall in Tacna.
The folowing photos are of Volcán Parinacota (20,807 feet or 6,342 meters) which rises above Lago Chungará (14,763 feet or 4,500 meters), on the Bolivian border, altiplano wildlife, and ancient Incan mountainside markings. These spectacular sights are about 3 to 5 hours’ drive from Arica. Chungará is a seasonal stop for flamingos, whose pink tint creates spectacular scenery on the blue lake below the snowcapped peak. The animals are vicuña, which are related to the larger llama but are scarcer, hard to domestícate, and have finer wool than other chilean camelos. In the same family of animals, Chile also has the domesticable alpaca (whose size is between a llama and a vicuña) in the north, and the smaller, wild guanaco, mainly in the south of Chile.
The following photo captures a building in central Arica.
These next photos are overlooking the south end of Iquique, population 227,500 (including the town of Alto Hospicio directly above it), which has spectacular beaches and is somewhat more developed than Arica. Iquique used to be part of Peru and its settlement was expanded mainly by the British in the 19th century in their quest to exploit the area’s saltpeter (salitre) reserves (used in making gunpowder). Much of Iquique’s original wooden buildings and walkways were constructed from wood first used as ballasts on British ships. The region also has large iodine and copper deposits. Iquique is the site of one of Chile’s greatest naval victories (over Peru) on May 21, 1879, during the War of the Pacific. In that war, Chile gained all of its territory from Antofagasta (which used to be part of Boliva) northward to Arica. In Iquique, one can look out into a seemingly endless Pacific Ocean and most days are clear. (There is often some transient morning fog that obscures the view.) But it never rains in Iquique, and the absence of any rivers makes it even drier than Arica. There are no snakes in Iquique, and no animals or plant life either–other than what is brought it from elsewhere and kept alive by humans. One can buy a new, luxury apartment (condo) for $80,000 to $200,000. Also included below is a photo of ex-pat Bert and his family in Iquique.
Iquique has some of the rudest people in Chile, along with Santiago and Puerto Montt. But there are still nice benefits of living in the town beyond the obvious benefits of great climate and low-taxed living. Like in Arica, there is world-class surfing and sea kayaking, and Iquique offers the best paragliding in Chile. There is an inexpensive yacht club and one can eat at one of several nice restaurants. Plus, Iquique offers modern malls and shopping. Iquique has a low unemployment rate and is booming on account of local copper mining activity (ever-increasing) and a booming import wholesale business, with customers coming from other parts of Chile as well as adjacent Bolivia and Paraguay (notably for new and used automobiles). There are a number of pleasant thermal hot springs located a few hours’ drive inland from Iquique too. Some structures in the old downtown area are captured in the images below. There is no native wood in Iquique, of course, and much of this older construction (buildings and boardwalk) seen in the images was built from the discard ballasts coming off of British and other ships during the great saltpeter era (approximately 1880 to 1950), one of the most important economic events in Chilean history.
Most Chileans who go to Iquique regularly prefer to live in Santiago or live in the mining areas of Calama and Antofagasta. But there is considerable mining activity near Iquique as well, drawing some permanent residents to the town. Everyone coming to Chile should at least plan to visit Arica and Iquique.
Iquique is one Chilean destination that one can enter directly from international hubs like Santa Cruz, Bolivia and (formerly, but currently suspended) Lima, Peru. Even though these cities provide a more direct route to Iquique or Arica, the extended layovers often make at least one leg of the trip much longer than just connecting through Santiago (a two to three hour flight south depending on if you have to make a connection). And at present there is no reciprocity tax for Americans, Canadians and Australians (cost: $131) at the Iquique airport (IQQ), unlike the Santiago airport (SCL). Anyone who arrives in Santiago with these passports, even if only connecting to another city, will pay the tax. The tax only needs to be paid once and is valid as long as your passport is valid. Visa holders do not have to pay the tax.