Iquique and Arica are with approximately 150,000 inhabitants each, the two biggest cities in the far North of Chile. Both are located beautifully on the Pacific Ocean surrounded by the pristine Atacama Desert in the back. This part of the desert is famous for its nitrate cities and geoglyphs, which were built between 1000 and 1400 BC by the local tribes. Most of the nitrate cities were established during the nitrate boom, which started mid of the 19th century. Most of them are abundant now, because the development of the artificial fabrication of nitrate mid of the 20th centuries stopped the boom.
When we came back to Mendoza on May 24th 2012 from our second return to Germany, we wanted to head as fast as possible in the North of Chile because the climate there is much more reasonable in late fall. But first we had to cross the Andes. The only possibility in this season is the tunnel Cristo Redentor, the direct connection between Mendoza and Santiago de Chile.
But there was some snowfall and heavy storm, when we came to Uspallata the last bigger settlement on the Argentine side. Consequently we had to wait three days till the road was reopened.
On the next days we headed North, mainly on the Panamericana (Ruta 5 in Chile) which is in excellent road conditions. There are several Geocaches close to the Panamericana which were nice interruptions of the long drive, more or less 2000 km to Iquique.
The best part of Iquique are its marvelous beaches. Unbelievable, some of them have fresh water showers (in one of the most dry environment on earth)! Swimming in the Pacific Ocean was a realpleasure in the ever shining sun at 25°C air and 19°C water temperatures.
There was an exhibition about the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Communist Party of Chile on the main square of Iquique, which showed the cruelties of the Pinochet area and the glorious time of Salvador Allende, the hero of the younger Chilean time not limited to the communist people. We were touched deeply.
Another interesting issue was a replica of an nitrate mine and city.
Close to Iquique is the nitrate town Santa Laura, which is today a museum (free of charge) with stunning ancient machinery.
The lagoon Salar de Huasco and the village Mamiña in the Andes are other attractive destinations in the environment of Iquique. The first one is more than 3900 meters high, we had to wheeze a lot and we did not dare to stay the night there due to lack of acclimatization.
The most famous geoglyph is the Giant of the Atacama - El Gigante de Atacama. It is supposed to be with 86 meters height the largest human figure on earth. It is located in the middle of the desert on the small hill Cerro Unita. We found a perfect campground for the night and a Geocache there.
On the way to Arica are several other geoglyphs along the Panamericana.
We came in the late afternoon of June 10th 2012 to Arica. Fortunately we found the reasonable campsite El Indio few kilometers North of Arica (GPS coordinates: S18° 25.096' W70° 18.744') and we explored the town at Saturday night.
On the next morning we headed East, deep into the Andes. The higher we came the more flora with gorgeous flowers came. And there were marvelous villages on the way.
On the border to Bolivia is the superb park Parque Nacional Lauca. Our idea was to climb up some mountains there, but we could not start our motor-home in the morning close to Putre due to lack of oxygen and coldness in this altitude. But we had some luck because the slope of the street was falling; thus we were able to start our car with a severe push to the road.
Consequently we decided to drive to La Paz as fast as possible to visit Bosch Diesel Service La Paz in El Alto to fix this problem. We had visit them the one year ago; and they did a great job, see article From La Paz to Santa Cruz. Fortunately we had taken with us a new starting engine and heater plugs from Germany.