Best things to do in Antofagasta
Find out more about those top places in Antofagasta
Part of Bolivia until the late-19th century War of the Pacific, Antofagasta is today Chile’s second largest and fastest growing metropolis. While the city is often bypassed by travelers altogether, Antofagasta has a gritty charm that sets it apart from Chile’s other cities. Centered on a compact historic downtown, the faded grandeur of the city’s streets recall Antofagasta’s 19th century glory days as a center for British immigration to South America. Testament to this unusual cultural influence is the Victorian and Georgian style department stores, railway stations and townhouses that pepper the city center. What is more, Antofagasta has a laid back if slightly seedy bar scene that serves the city’s vast port. Besides the city itself, Antofagasta is a perfect base for exploring the natural wonders of the surrounding Pacific Coast, such as the sandstone arches and coves of La Portada.
Looking like the ruins of some long forgotten civilisation, Huanchaca is in fact the derelict remains of a 19th century silver foundry built by the Bolivian company of the same name, which was once one of the world’s richest. Today, the ruins are open to the public while a small museum has fascinating exhibits on the role played by the Huanchaca Company in shaping modern Antofagasta.
The coastline stretching north of Antofagasta is one of Chile’s most spectacular, with an impressive array of sandstone sea-stacks, arches and rocky coves to be explored. Most famous is the Portada National Monument, which sits offshore as a potent reminder of the erosive power of the Pacific Ocean.
Antofagasta sits sandwiched between the world’s largest ocean and the world’s driest desert, the Atacama. Some of the best tours available in the city take you deep into the heart of the latter towards the hi-tech Cerro Paranal Observatory, the lunar landscape of Valle de la Luna and Los Flamencos National Reserve with it's seemingly endless salt flats that are home to a dazzling array of wildlife.
Visitors often experience a sense of culture shock when strolling the atmospheric streets of Barrio Histórico. Unlike the Spanish colonial buildings of other Chilean cities, the old quarter of Antofagasta has a distinctly British flair owing to their 19th century influence. Stretching from Plaza Colón with its miniature Big Ben to the old port, the city is packed with a profusion of Victorian and Georgian architecture.
The former Victorian customs house has been converted into the fascinating Museo Regional, which details the rise of Antofagasta from remote colonial settlement into 19th century industrial powerhouse. Artifacts include rare early colonial pieces and industrial machinery used to mine precious nitrate.
For a real taste of Chilean cuisine, head to the rough around the edges but eminently lovable Terminal Pesquero where you can sample fresh ceviche, fried fish and seafood soups and watch hungry sea lions circle below.
To many Chileans Antofagasta is something of a cultural backwater lacking the museums and art galleries that are concentrated in Santiago. However, things are changing thanks to the Centro Cultural Estación Antofagasta, which houses rotating exhibitions on topical issues such as immigration, the legacy of Pinochet’s dictatorship and climate breakdown. With such a diverse program, a visit to this museum-cum-gallery-cum-community space will undoubtedly be eye-opening.