A Bolivian town until 1879, when it was annexed by Chile in the War of the Pacific, Antofagasta is Chile’s fifth largest and most rapidly growing city. Many tourists bypass this decidedly lacklustre desert city altogether, and with good reason. Overpriced and unattractive, the regional capital holds little of cultural or aesthetic interest, but is a major transport hub and one of Chile’s most prosperous cities, serving as an export centre for the region’s great mines, most notably Chuquicamata. Sitting on a flat shelf between the ocean and the hills, Antofagasta has a compact downtown core, made up of dingy, traffic-choked streets that sport a few handsome but run-down old public buildings, and a modern stretch along the coastal avenue. The area around Latorre and Condell, between Bolivar and Riquelme streets, is best avoided after 9.30pm – Antofagasta has a prostitution problem.

A couple of blocks northeast of the central square, along Bolívar, you’ll find the magnificently restored nineteenth-century offices and railway terminus of the former Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Company, complete with polished wooden verandas and dark-green stucco walls (albeit with no public access). Further north still, and an easy stop-off if you’re heading out to the airport, is La Portada, an iconic natural arch of rock looming out of the sea.

South of the city centre the busy coastal avenue runs past a couple of tiny, coarse-sand beaches, first at the Balneario Municipal, then, much further south, at the Playa Huascar, the latter only suitable for sunbathing – take micro #103 from Washington, near the square. In this direction lies one of the city’s most curious sights, the Ruinas de Huanchaca, vestiges of a disused silver refinery.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Chile features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A journey along Chile's Route of Parks

A journey along Chile's Route of Parks

Chile has long lured the intrepid traveller but in 2018 things have stepped up a level. The newly created Route of Parks – a string of Patagonian national par…

12 Feb 2018 • Steph Dyson local_activity Special feature
Why you should visit Chile in 2018

Why you should visit Chile in 2018

A sliver of a country that somehow manages to encompass barren desert, knife-edge mountains and fertile river valleys, Chile has long attracted intrepid travell…

08 Jan 2018 • Steph Dyson insert_drive_file Article
Video: the 1 minute guide to Chile

Video: the 1 minute guide to Chile

Chile is an outdoor adventurer's paradise. From the parched peaks of the north's Atacama Desert to the storied wilderness of Patagonia in the south, the nature…

30 Nov 2017 • Colt St. George videocam Video
View more featureschevron_right