With over 16,000 kilometers of paved highways, Chile has one of Latin America’s best road infrastructures. However, due to the country’s complicated geography, some places continue to be isolated. One of the last roads to be built connects the town of Taltal with the city of Antofagasta in the northern part of the country, an initiative that has opened up countless new tourist destinations that used to be unknown to the majority of visitors.
The cost of the new road, to be inaugurated next March, amounted to approximately US$ 40 million and will officially become an alternative to Highway 5 north, which crosses the country from Santiago to Arica. Thus, the 225 kilometer long project will also allow you to save at least an hour along one of the most inhospitable stretches of the old Pan-American Highway that traverses the Atacama Desert.
“This project will help to improve people’s standard of living, as this new access road increases their safety and makes their trip significantly shorter, with 70 kilometers less distance to travel,” said Public Works Minister Sergio Bitar when construction began in February 2008.
The new Taltal-Antofagasta highway will facilitate access to the landing strip and observatory in Cerro Paranal, which boasts the largest telescope in the world. Part of the latest film in the James Bond saga, “Quantum of Solace,” which was released in 2008, was filmed here and also included spectacular action scenes in the Atacama Desert and in ruins in Cobija, between Antofagasta and Tocopilla.
The reason why this stretch was not built before was the difficult terrain, including cliffs and mountain chains over 500 meters high, which lends the area a unique beauty. The route is therefore coastal along some stretches, while in others it penetrates the Coastal Mountain Range.
The new tourist destinations that the new road opens up include the El Médano ravine, with archeological sites from the Chango culture, an ancient pre-Columbian people who dedicated themselves to fishing in northern Chile and created rock paintings, many of which survive to this day.
It is also possible to see different mining projects that are characteristic of the area, including the facilities of the old village of Taltal, though to reach it you have to drive several kilometers away from the highway. Founded in 1858, this port stood out as one of the nitrate era’s most prosperous one between the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, the ruins of the main saltpeter office in the area, called Oficina Alemania, are one of its main tourist destinations.
Another one of the area’s attractions is the small fishing cove of Paposo, where there is a landmark that indicates the old border between Chile and Bolivia. You can also visit the ruins of the house that belonged to Admiral Juan José Latorre, an important Chilean sailor who participated in the War of the Pacific (or the Saltpeter War) in command of the “Cochrane” ironsides.
But without doubt the highlight of the new Taltal-Antofagasta highway is the stunning geography, which includes long virgin beaches that stretch over two kilometers long, like Matancillas,
Tierra del Moro and Muelle de Piedra, in addition to tasty and fresh local fish, among which conger eel and sole stand out.