Arica (photos) is the first city you encounter as you enter Chile from Peru to the north. It is defined by surfing, seafood, shipping and…well, some other stuff that doesn’t start with an “s”.
For example, you can’t avoid El Morro de Arica that towers over the city and played a pivotal role in the War of the Pacific when the Chilean army assaulted and took El Morro from the Peruvians in under an hour. It’s worth the effort to make the climb to take in the views of Arica and the coastline to the north and south.
As for the “s” features of Arica, it functions as a major port for shipping given it’s location within reasonably easy reach of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. If you recall our story of the steamboat Yavari on Lake Titicaca, the parts to assemble it were shipped from Birmingham, England, to this port before being hauled across the Andes. As for surfing, there are a number of beaches to the north and south of Arica, many of which appeal to the surfer crowd. Then there’s the seafood that is an obvious, I suppose. Based upon our tour of the fish market and daily menus of the local restaurants, Albacore tuna is a local favorite and we can attest to the tasty fresh ceviche.
An interesting architectural story is the Ex-Customs building. This building was designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, that guy) and was pre-assembled in Paris prior to being shipped to Arica, then assembled on site in 1874.
Then there is the history of the Chinchorro people who inhabited this coastal area thousands of years ago. Some of the world’s oldest mummies have been found here in the Azapa Valley just east of Arica. These mummies pre-date the Egyptian mummies by 2,000 years. Their process for mummification was quite complex and essentially involved disassembling the body, removing all of the stuff inside and then reassembling it. The Museo Arqueologica San Miguel de Azapa, located 10 miles outside of Arica, has a fascinating display of some of the recovered mummies.
On the day we went to view the mummies, we made the additional effort to visit Colibri de Arica, a hummingbird preserve located about one and one-half miles past the museum. Turns out that the Azapa Valley is a major area for growing olives. The hummingbird preserve is on the grounds of a large olive grove. The family seems to have produced an appealing environment for the hummingbirds so they have created Colibri de Arica. The preserve is located about 1/3 mile off of the main highway. We were on foot and walking along this road when a car came along and stopped, inviting us to join them for the rest of the trip. They were the owners and when we arrived they gave us a brief tour of the property and left us to wander on our own. In one section they have created a funky series of sitting areas where you can pass the time to just wait for the hummingbirds to come along or watch the geese waddle past. After spending about an hour there, we offered some money but they declined.
All things considered, Arica proved to be a worthy stop as our introduction to Chile.