As you cross the vast, desert pampa, the neighbouring oases of Pica and Matilla first appear as an improbable green smudge on the hazy horizon. As you get nearer, it becomes apparent that this is not a mirage and you are, indeed, approaching cultivated fields and trees. It’s a remarkable sight, and anyone who has not seen a desert oasis should make a special effort to visit. By far the larger of the two oases, PICA is a sleepy little town overflowing with lemon and lime trees, bougainvilleas and jasmine.
It’s the largest supplier of fruits to Iquique – limas de Pica are famous throughout the country – and one of the treats of visiting is drinking the delicious jugos naturales – orange, mango, pear, guava and grapefruit juices – freshly squeezed in front of you in the little streetside kiosks. The tidy plaza, by the entrance to town, is overlooked by a beautiful, pale-coloured church dedicated to St Andrew. It has a grand Neoclassical facade and was built in 1880.
Pica’s real selling point is the Cocha Resbaladero, a gorgeous hot-springs pool carved into a rocky hollow with two caves at one end. It’s quite a walk from the main part of town, but there are several places to stay up here if you want to be close to the waters. To enjoy the waters in peace, arrive early before the buses of day-trippers start arriving at midday.