The capital of Chile’s northernmost region, Region I, comprising the provinces of Arica, Parinacota and Iquique, the city of Iquique is one of the country’s most visited cities. The attractions are a mild climate, commerce, the Atacama desert, natural and archaeological treasures, access to Peru and Bolivia and a great many recreational and sporting activities. Orient yourself with this interactive map from Expedia.
Iquique’s history dates back to pre-Columbian times when the native tribes lived by the sea and collected guano or settled in the interior regions where hot springs and Andean snow runoff provided water for agriculture. They left behind their ruins and their petroglyphs for modern study, but not much is known of their way of life.
The Spanish explorers came through on their way south, and for many years, this was territory belonging to Bolivia. This was the way to the sea to export the silver mined in Bolivia to the world, primarily to Spain.
Nitrate and Money
Nitrate, a natural fertilizer although it is mined in barren desert, changed the region. From the 1830’s foreign investors thronged to the area, and Iquique bloomed into a cultural and financial center. The city installed electric service to homes and businesses. The Municipal Theater showcased the best in music and plays. The English “King of Nitrate”, John Thomas North, oversaw the building of the railway station and other civic and commercial buildings.
Earthquakes almost leveled the town in the latter part of the 1800’s, but the city rebuilt itself. Great wealth brought amenities, lavish mansions, water, and the port became active and famous. When Bolivia began to clamp down on the mining and fabulous wealth of the nitrate mines, called salitreras, demanding a rise in taxes, these investors and the government of Chile protested.
Thus began the difficulties leading to the War of the Pacific, in which Peru sided with Bolivia against Chile, culminating in the Battle of Iquique on May 21, 1879, which is commemorated in the Glorias Navales. With Chile winning the war, Peru and Bolivia lost and ceded to Chile what is now the provinces of Tarapacá, Tacna, Arica, and Antofagasta. Bolivia is still seeking redress and access to the sea in an ongoing political discussion with Chile, who is disinclined to return any territory.
The days of great wealth from nitrate lasted until Germany developed a synthetic nitrate to free itself from Chile’s monopoly of natural nitrate. The history of Oficina Santa Laura is typical of the rise and decline of the salitreras, called Oficinas. Oficina Humberstone is easily visited from Iquique and is on many of the desert tours.
With the fading of Region I’s source of wealth, Iquique and other communities turned to the sea and built up the port facilities to export copper. Today Iquique is one of Chile’s largest ports and has the largest duty-free zone in South America, called ZOFRI of Zona Franca de Iquique, where a shopping mall has hundreds of shops selling duty-free goods.
Things to Do and See in Iquique Chile
Iquique has re-invented itself as a commercial center and a tourist base for explorations into the desert, sports and recreation, deep sea fishing, beaches, and archaeological tours.
The hot springs and thermal baths attract visitors for the mud baths and healing properties to these oases.
The great Andes and the national parks bring climbers, trekkers, and photographers. The inland orchards and farms provide produce to complement the seafood found offshore.
In the city, the small historic center is surrounded by modern growth, including new housing sectors, development of the beaches and hotels, including the Casino Iquique, all to accommodate the visitors who make Iquique the most visited city in Chile. Where to go in Iquique describes some of the city’s attractions. The city grows as visitors come for vacations, for shopping and to tour the desert, fall in love with the region and make Iquique there home. Browse views of Iquique for a better idea of the aesthetics.
Getting There and When to Go
By land, access by the Pan American highway going north or south.
Arica, on the border with Peru, is 307 km north. Calama is 389 km southeast and Santiago is 1843 km south. By air, to Diego Aracena International Airport. Compare and select flights from your area. You can also browse for hotels and car rentals. By sea, Iquique is a port of call for a number of cruise lines, whose passengers enjoy the duty-free shopping, local restaurants, and short tours.
Iquique's annual climate is mild, ranging from an average winter low of 12.5º C to an average summer high of 24.4º C. Check today's weather and forecast. The climate makes Iquique an all-season destination.
Enjoy your trip...Buen viaje!
This article was updated by Ayngelina Brogan.