ARICA likes to call itself “la ciudad de la eterna primavera” – “city of everlasting spring”. Chile’s northernmost city, only 19km south of the Peruvian border, is certainly blessed with a mild climate, which, along with its sandy beaches, makes it a popular holiday resort for Chileans and Bolivians. Although a lingering sea fog can dampen spirits, in the winter especially, just head a few kilometres inland and you’ll usually find blue skies.
The city’s compact, tidy centre sits proudly at the foot of the Morro cliff, the site of a major Chilean victory in the War of the Pacific (and cherished as a symbol of national glory).
It was this war that delivered Arica, formerly Peruvian, into Chilean hands, in 1883, and while the city is emphatically Chilean today, there’s no denying the strong presence of mestizo and Quechua-speaking Peruvians on the streets, trading their fresh produce and artesanía. This, added to its role as Bolivia’s main export centre, makes Arica more colourful, ethnically diverse and vibrant than most northern Chilean cities, even if parts of it look somewhat impoverished.
The liveliest streets are pedestrianized Calles 21 de Mayo and Bolognesi, the latter clogged with artesanía stalls, while by the port you’ll see the smelly but colourful terminal pesquero, where inquisitive pelicans wander around the fish stalls. Though far from beautiful, Arica does boast a couple of fine pieces of nineteenth-century architecture, pretty squares filled with flowers and palm trees, and a young, lively atmosphere. It’s a pleasant enough place to spend a couple of days – or longer, if you feel like kicking back on the beach.