A paved road branches east from the Panamericana at Pozo Almonte and climbs gently through the desert to MAMIÑA, 125km – a two-and-a-half-hour drive – northeast of Iquique. First impressions are not encouraging; huddled on a hillside overlooking a valley, its narrow streets and crumbling stone houses seem to belong to a forgotten town, left to the mercy of the heat and dust. Continue down the valley, however, and its charms become more apparent as you come upon the fertile terraces emerald with alfalfa, and the little stream running through the gorge (quebrada).
The real lure of Mamiña, though, is the hot springs for which the town is famous throughout Chile; the delicious bottled mineral water from here is on sale in the region only, as production is small. Unlike Pica, Mamiña doesn’t have just one hot spring, but many, and their waters are piped to every house in the village.
Furthermore, these waters are not merely hot, but are reputed to cure all manner of afflictions, from eczema and psoriasis to respiratory problems and anxiety. Indeed, the town is named in honour of an Incan princess whose blindness was reputedly cured here. Whatever their medicinal value, there’s no doubt that the waters are supremely relaxing to bathe in. This you can do in any of the village’s hotels or residenciales, usually in your own private tina, or bathtub.