Sea Lions But No Camels in the Beach Desert at Iquique

Isn’t it weird to sit at home and read about a place while wondering what it would be like to really be there?

This happened to me last week when I did a bit of research on Iquique in Chile. I don’t like to know much about a place before I travel but since I was going with my little girl I decided that finding out a bit of information before heading off might not be a bad idea. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve stumbled around a place for a couple of hours trying to work out where all the hotels are and why the only people I can see live in cardboard boxes.

So there I was looking at the screen and trying to imagine what a “warm beach town” beside the sea with a “cold desert climate” would be like. Would it be like a scene from Ice Cold in Alex? Would there be camels on the beach next to the sun loungers?

Great First Impressions Once I Finally Got Over the Border

iquiMy first impressions of Iquique were excellent. I had been living at altitude far from the ocean for a long time and it was a great feeling to see the ocean in front of me as the bus came winding down the road into town. A word of warning if you are making the trip overland from Oruro in Bolivia at any point. The border at Pisaga / Colchane closes at 7.30pm Chilean time. The bus arrived at the border at 6pm and since this is holiday season the offices were packed. We got through by the skin of our teeth or we faced a night sleeping in the bus in a high altitude border crossing in the middle of nowhere with a 3 year old girl. Not a pleasant thought.

The first problem in Chile is with the accent. They speak Spanish really quickly here and miss out a fair amount of the letters in each word. In the end I got fed up asking to repeat what they said and just went with the flow by nodding and agreeing with everyone, like the hopeless tourist I am. This approach worked well, apart from it ending with a few mystery food items appearing on my table from time to time.

Speaking of the food, this was my first time in Chile and I was really impressed by the food. They offer set meals with a starter, a main meal and a dessert for a decent price. I struggled to work out the price of things as the exchange is something like 545 pesos to 1 US dollar, which is kind of a hard conversion to do in your head. The meals generally cost between 3,500 to 5,000 pesos in a good quality restaurant, while a fantastic big glass of fruit juice will set you back about half that price but is well worth it.

In terms of things to do, Iquique offers some nice, long beaches. The waves are powerful and -let’s be honest here – a little frightening here.  This means that it is a good place to lie on the sand or to splash about in the water but not for swimming. I opted for the splashing about and it turned out to be a good idea, as I had great fun. It never seems to get all that hot here but I ended up pretty well burned after a couple of hours, so slapping on a good sun cream is smart move.  As for the desert issues, it didn’t rain while I was there and apparently it hardly ever does. Having said that, there didn’t seem to be any shortage of water. It’s not cold either, with the temperature hovering at a very nice level all day and night long.

There are also some sea lions who live next to the port. It is only a couple of minutes of walk there from the main plaza so it’s well worth taking a look. Iquique is also a good place to get some shopping done, as there is a massive duty free shopping complex called Zofri. A shared taxi there from the centre will cost you 600 pesos and you will find good deals on electronic equipment, clothes and all sorts of other stuff you didn’t know you needed.

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