Arica, Chile

Chile’s northernmost town is Arica, a Pacific Ocean seaport steep in history and the world’s most arid city. Come explore this town’s landmarks like Gustav Eiffel’s first building and how a military battle reshaped the borders of Peru and Bolivia.

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1 Northernmost Chilean City is Arica, Chile

Chile’s northernmost city is Arica about 30 miles from the southern border of Peru. Nicknamed the “City of the Eternal Springs” this capital of the Arica y Parinacota Region has a population of over 200,000 people. It was founded in 1541 by the Spaniards and later controlled by the Peruvian Republic from 1821 until it fell to Chilean forces in 1880. However, it would be another 49 years before it officially became part of Chile after the signing of the Treat of Lima. Its seaport, the country’s fourth largest, is a major outlet for the oil and freight transport of landlocked Bolivia.

Camino Al Morro Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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2 Water Fountain at Plaza Colón in Arica, Chile

Plaza Colón is the central square in the old town of Arica. Surrounded by massive palm trees is an ornate water fountain. When not the venue for a public celebration or event, this is a great place to escape the sunny days of November through May when the average temperature is in the 70°s Fahrenheit. The air is arid in Arica. It claims to be the world’s driest city. Average annual rainfall is only about .03 inches annually.

7 de Junio 180, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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3 Cathedral of San Marcos by Gustav Eiffel in Arica, Chile

In 1866, a 34 year old Frenchman borrowed money to establish an engineering company. One of his first engineering assignments was to build an all metal, prefabricated building for a Chilean resort. But after the 1868 earthquake destroyed the First Church of Arica, the work of Gustav Eiffel became the Cathedral of San Marcos de Arica. Eiffel went on to become one of the most famous 19th century architects. His iconic work includes the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

Bolognesi 199 Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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4 Nave of Cathedral of San Marcos in Arica, Chile

This congregation is attending mass inside La Catedral de San Marcos. The Roman Catholic church was built by Eiffel Gustav and inaugurated in 1876. Above the altar is a 12th century image of Christ. This historic landmark is dedicated to Mark the Evangelist. The feast day for the author of the Gospel of Mark is on April 25, the same day when Spaniards founded the city in 1541. Then in 1570 they named it San Marcos de Arica.

Bolognesi 199 Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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5 Ex-Aduana Old Custom House by Gustav Eiffel in Arica, Chile

After successfully building Arica’s Cathedral of San Marcos, Gustav Eiffel’s French company Eiffel & Cie was commissioned to design the Custom House. Those red and white striped bricks where prefabricated and then sent from Paris where they were assembled in 1874. It is now the House of Culture. This museum displays art and photographs. The Casa de la Cultura was dedicated to a scholar, writer and historian of Arica named Alfredo Raiteri Cortés after he died in 1974.

Av. Comandante San Martín 340, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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6 Andean Dancer Wearing Carnival Costume in Arica, Chile

The music and dance in northern Chilean towns such as Arica are influenced by Peru, the Andean region of Bolivia and the Incas. One delightful result is the Andean dance called Baile Andino. Wearing colorful carnival costumes, two rows of young men and women play simple musical instruments while performing erratic moves in a strict cadence. The result is an upbeat, toe-tapping and engaging kaleidoscope of color and activity.

Av. Comandante San Martín 300-398, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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7 Vicuña Mackenna Square in Arica, Chile

Vicuña Mackenna Square has a tree-lined walkway, benches beneath shelters and is the closest park to the shoreline. Its namesake is Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna who was a 19th century writer, newspaperman and politician. He was imprisoned in 1851 and exiled in 1858 for his views against the government. After he returned to Chile, he went on to become a national senator and then Santiago’s major.

Av. Comandante San Martín 300-398, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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8 El Morro de Arica in Arica, Chile

Arica’s most prominent landmark is this rocky cliff called El Morro. The 427 foot “Nose of Arica” faces the Pacific Ocean shoreline. Its summit is reached by a pedestrian walkway starting at Colón Street. El Morro was declared a national monument in 1971 because it was the last Peruvian stronghold against the Chilean army during the Battle of Morro de Arica in 1880. Learn more about this historic event at the Museo Históricode Armas, a military museum on top of the cliff. You will also see a giant Chilean flag, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Cristo de la Paz statue, the harbor in the Pacific Ocean and a panoramic view of the city.

Carlos Condell 98 Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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9 Cristo de la Paz Statue in Arica, Chile

Long after the War of the Pacific ended in 1883, the lingering territorial disputes between Peru and Chile were finally settled by the Treaty of Lima in 1929. In this Tacna-Arica compromise, the city of Arica officially became the northernmost point of Chile. As part of this sign of peace, the Cristo de la Paz statue was designed by Raul Valdivieso in 1987 and then erected in 1999 on Morro de Arica, the scene of the crushing Peruvian defeat in 1880. Also called the Cristo de la Concordia, this steel and bronze statue stands 36 feet on a concrete pedestal. The outstretched hands of Christ measure 33 feet across.

Camino Al Morro Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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10 Tomb of Unknown Soldier in Arica, Chile

During the Battle of Morro de Arica on June 7, 1880, there were thousands of casualties among the Chilean and Peruvian armies, all of whom died in less than one hour of conflict. About 100 years later the skeletal remains of a soldier was uncovered. The Rock of Arica Crypt on top of El Morro honors him and the others who sacrificed their lives. Interestingly, a Peruvian soldier who was spared that day and taken prisoner was Roque Sáenz Peña. He went on to become the President of Argentina from 1910 until 1914.

Camino Al Morro Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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11 Painted Chilean Flag at El Morro in Arica, Chile

The National Flag of Chile consists of two horizontal stripes of red and white. In the corner on blue background is a white, five-pointed star. Called La Estrella Solitaria or The Lone Star, the Chilean Flag was adopted in 1817. This painted version is at the base of a platform near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on top of El Morro.

Camino Al Morro Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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12 Battle of Arica War Heroes Monument in Arica, Chile

This monument called A Los Bravos de Arica Cantemos is a tribute to four Chilean heroes during the War of the Pacific and specifically the Battle of Morro de Arica in June of 1880. On the left is Pedro Largo Merchant, a brigadier general whose forces captured Arica from the Peruvian army. Next is Lieutenant Colonel Juan J. San Martin who was killed while leading his 4th Line Regiment towards the enemy. Lieutenant Ricardo Silva Arriagada raised the Chilean flag atop El Morrow as the battle concluded. Finally on the right is Luis Solo de Zaldivar. He was a Sargent Major of the 4th Line during the Battle of Arica.

Carlos Condell 98 Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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13 Protective, Privileged and Proud in Arica, Chile

This photo captures some of my impressions of Arica, Chile. Protective: Most of the homes and buildings have barred windows and in some cases are surrounded by huge albeit crumbling walls. Privileged: This unidentified property is presumably the home of social elite in the center of a population of 200,000 where 95.7% live in a confined urban area. Proud: In the background flies the Chilean flag on top of El Morro where troops died to make it part of Chile. Then politicians continued the battle through negotiations to secure their military victory. Yet Arica’s culture is still rooted in Peruvian and Bolivian cultures, traditions and trade.

Yungay 201 Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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14 Breakwater along Península Alacrán in Arica, Chile

At the end of this breakwater along Península Alacrán is a 75 foot lighthouse. The navigation station has been operational since 1913. If you notice the pounding Pacific surf, you are not alone. The city hosts the Arica Chilean Challenge sponsored by the World Bodyboarding Tour. The six to ten foot waves attract the world’s best bodyboarding riders to compete in this annual two-day event.

Restaurant Maracuyá San Martín 321, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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15 History of Península Alacrán in Arica, Chile

Scorpion Island has an interesting history. Archeologists have found fishing artifacts dating back two millenniums. This islet was also used as the site of an 18th century prison and a 19th century fortress. After being connected by a roadway in 1965, it became known as the Península Alacrán. It is a protective barrier that forms a small boat harbor.

Camino Al Morro Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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16 Armada de Chile Headquarters in Arica, Chile

This distinguished white building with the Chilean flag above its cupola is the naval headquarters for the Arica and Parinacota Region XV. With a coastline of over 2,500 miles, you can imagine the Amada de Chile is very active. In 2001, the Chilean Navy named a 108 foot ship “Arica” in honor of this port city. It is part of a fleet monitoring the Pacific while enforcing fishing regulations and conducting search and rescue operations.

Máximo Lira 315, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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17 La Paz Railway Station in Arica, Chile

In 1913, a railroad opened as a transportation link for minerals and farm products from La Paz, Bolivia, to the shipping port of Arica in northern Chile. This engineering feat took seven years to accomplish and it includes seven tunnels along its 273 miles of tracks. The Ferrocarril de Arica-La Paz railway ceased operations in 2005. Inside of this station, which has been declared a historical monument, is a small museum tracing the railway’s history.

Pedro Montt 072 Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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18 Locomotive at La Paz Railway Station in Arica, Chile

This steam locomotive is proudly displayed at the La Paz Railway Station in Arica. Number 607 retired after the commercial and passenger railroad between Bolivia and northern Chile closed in 2005. It is hard to imagine how powerful this engine was in order to pull a full payload of freight cars up a peak elevation of almost 14,000 feet along the Andes.

Plaza del Tren Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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19 Merchant Fileting Fish at Fish Market in Arica, Chile

A few steps away from the coastline of the Pacific Ocean and the center of town is the Arica Fish Market. Smells, sights and sounds swirl together to create an electric environment. This is the place to go if you want to sample the fresh catch of the day… whether it is on ice or served by a food stall. Some of its best customers are the pelicans.

Calle Maximo Lira, Arica, Chile
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20 Caffellatte Colorful Marque in Arica, Chile

This colorful marque for Caffellatte, which is perfect for a sandwich or pizza with a milkshake, is one of several restaurants in Arica competing for your taste buds. Perhaps the best place in town is Los Aleros de 21. But you can also select the El Arriero for steak, Mata-Rangi or Maracuyá for seafood, and for true Chilean cuisine consider La Bomba. There are also several cafes available for a lighter meal. Most restaurants are centered on or around Avenida 21 de Mayo.

Avenida 21 de Mayo 504, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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Woman’s Red High Heel Boot Mural in Arica, Chile

I always admire how an artist’s talent can convert an ordinary and often drab building’s façade into something exciting. This bright red, high-heel boot with a zipper and shoelaces transformed a door, stucco wall and a locked utility panel into a canvas for vibrant street art.

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21 Calaveras y Diablitos Mural in Arica, Chile

This welcoming skeleton playing a guitar is a mural at the entrance to Calaveras y Diablitos, a bar featuring loud rock. There are several other venues for your evening entertainment including bars, taverns, discos and a modest casino. The best place for good DJs is at Soho. Or try either Barrabás or Kamikaze because both provide great views of the ocean.

Bolognesi 357, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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22 Main Shopping District in Arica, Chile

The main shopping district in Arica is a pedestrian-only promenade called Avenida 21 Mayo. It is lined with stores, restaurants, cafes and taverns. It pales in comparison to retail centers in most major cities. However, a big draw is Arica is a duty-free town. So without having to pay taxes, you might find a bargain or two on specialty items like Andean handicrafts.

21 de Mayo 602, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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23 Johnson’s Department Store in Arica, Chile

The only significant department store I spotted in Arica is Johnson. The merchandise on its several levels appeals primarily to the locals. I suspect most tourists do not venture inside unless they need a practical item while on vacation or to enjoy a few minutes of air conditioning.

Avenida 21 de Mayo 504, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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Woman’s Red Pump Shoe Mural in Arica, Chile

This woman’s red shoe mural was seen on a storefront in Arica, Chile. But I would not suggest wearing these pumps while walking up the Morro de Arica which overlooks the city’s downtown. The steep hill rises 456 feet above the Pacific ocean below.

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24 The Bolognesi House in Arica, Chile

This blue trimmed building with its scalloped balconies has immediate architectural appeal. Its history is more fascinating. Built by a farmer named Don Juan de Mata Fuentes, within a decade it was the headquarters of Francisco Bolognesi. He was the Peruvian Colonel of the fort at Arica during the War of the Pacific. On June 5th, 1880, a Chilean envoy met him here to solicit his surrender. His response was, “Not until the last cartridge is burnt.” Two days later he was killed during Peru’s defeat at Morro de Arica. Notice Peru’s coat of arms within the arched pediment. As part of the Tacna-Arica Compromise in 1929, this property is still owned by the Peruvian government. A replica is located within the Real Felipe Fortress at Callao, Peru, near the capital city of Lima.

Yungay 304, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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25 Carabineros Casino de Oficiales in Arica, Chile

My Spanish is limited. However, the plaque above the door of this red building reads Carabineros Casino de Oficiales which seems to mean “casino for police officers.” I assume my translation is at fault and that this is an officers’ social club or recreational facility.

Yungay 484, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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26 House Yanulaque in Arica, Chile

At the end of the War of the Pacific, the Treaty of Ancon was signed in 1883 between Chile and Peru. Part of the understanding was a referendum would decide which country would own the towns of Tacna (now southern Peru) and Arica (now northern Chile) within ten years. During this period, the Peruvian consulate had their offices, a restaurant and their residence in the House Yanulaque, owned by a wealthy advocate of their views. After the Treaty of Lima resolved the debate, this house became the property of the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

18 de Septiembre 583, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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27 Colorful Old Facades in Arica, Chile

Arica appears to have two faces: one designed to attract tourists and the other a tired seaport. This city at the top of Chile is worth a visit for its history, architectural charm and Pacific Ocean beaches. But a few steps beyond the core of old town exposes wrinkles despite the brightly colored paint.

420 Yungay, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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28 Hardware Store For Locals in Arica, Chile

Despite the bright yellow and blue colors on the lower level of the facade, this building looks worn. Most certainly the colorful product used was Soquina, a Chilean paint company. Inside of Marko Gardilic is a hardware store most certainly aimed at the locals. This is definitely not the big box hardware store you find in the U.S.

21 de Mayo 602, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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29 People Swimming and Sunning at Playa El Laucho in Arica, Chile

A short walking distance from the center of town and at the base of El Morro is one of Arica’s most popular beaches. Playa el Laucho’s Pacific shoreline is protected by a kidney-shaped cove. It is a perfect place to stick your colorful umbrella into the sand and enjoy your day by swimming and sunning. Other nearby beaches to consider are Playa La Lisera, Playa Chinchorro, Playa Brava and Playa Los Corazones. For something a bit different, enjoy the dark sand at Playa Arenillas Negra.

545 Av. Comandante San Martín, El Laucho Beach, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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30 Little Boy Playing with Sand Bucket at Playa El Laucho in Arica, Chile

Give a young boy a pail at the beach and he will be mesmerized for hours. There are so many important things to do. Put the sand into the bucket and then dump the sand out. Build a castle and then knock it down. Whine when you are interrupted for more sunscreen and then go back to work.

545 Av. Comandante San Martín, El Laucho Beach, Arica, Región de Arica y Parinacota, Chile
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