Iquique: Desert oasis
A bustling coastal city, poised at the feet of the desert highlands. Iquique is known for its beaches and palm trees, the casino and its animated night life.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Iquique is synonymous with surfing and pretty women, haute cuisine, luxurious hotels, history and entertainment by the sea. This is why people always want to return to Iquique.
Ten years ago, Iquique became the star of a surprising economic boom. Since then the city has filled up with high-rise buildings and modern shops stocked with the products of modern living, and at much lower prices than in Santiago, the capital. From that time on, the city began to be known as the Chilean Miami.
Iquique is known for its exciting night life. No one should miss visiting parts of the city, such as Baquedano, a street lined with imposing Victorian era houses, among them the Astoreca Palace, practically unchanged from the days when Iquique was the nitrate-exporting capital of the world.
Other attractions are the Naval Museum, the Regional Museum, the Municipal Theater, and a free-trade zone called Zofri, Iquique’s tax free shopping district. Besides, of course, pleasant beaches like Brava and Cavancha. The latter has good waves for surfing, thanks to its rock bottom.
Around the city there are numerous ghost towns, the abandoned nitrate mines, which can be visited on special tours.
Twenty kilometers from Pozo Almonte is La Tirana, a town that becomes the center of Chile’s most extravagant festival between June 12 and June 18 to venerate the Blessed Lady, the Virgin del Carmen. The town fills up with pilgrims, and day and night the air is filled with the sounds of whistles and trumpets, as thousands of dancers fall into religious ecstasy, some wearing Lucifer masks. To one side of the church is the Museum of the Virgin of La Tirana, where visitors can didactically understand this extraordinary festival’s history.
This is an oasis 114 km (70 mi) southeast of Iquique and 20 km (12.4 mi) from La Tirana. In Pica there are orchards of lemons, oranges, pomelos and mangoes, though it is most famous for its refreshing wells of mineral water. The most popular of these is called “Cocha de Pica".
Pica was founded in pre-Hispanic times and was part of the Camino de Inca (Inca Route) that was traveled by Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro. Most of the houses date back to that era, besides, of course, the old church of San Andrés.