Arica was the first town we arrived to in Chile entering from Peru in the north. After researching our Lonely Planet Guide, it was a last minute decision that had us headed to Arica. The description of what we could find in Chile’s Altiplano was enticing: town of Putre, Lauca National Park, Salar de Surire or Surire Saltbeds, pink flamingos, wild vicuñas and snow capped volcanoes. Arica is a desert coastal town with beaches, cliffs and sand dune mountains. It’s also a busy beach town with a small seaport, many tourism offices, shopping and surfing.
Surfing and Bike Rides
Surfing lessons can be found all over Arica Chile or you can stay in Surf House Hostel where you can have both a great hostel environment owned by a surf instructor. If surfing is not your thing, rent a bike and ride north to clearer less crowded beaches. The beaches in Arica are not beautiful natural beaches but worth a dip in the ocean to cool off from the desert sun. Just be aware it’s also a large port city, which inevitably leads to pollution.
For a more adventurous activity visit the Northern Chile Altiplano region. You can book a tour through an agency in Arica, however we recommend arriving to Putre first and booking tours there. Putre is a very small town past the coastal mountains, before reaching the Atiplano. Putre has many agencies to choose from. For the greatest experience, rent a 4×4 truck in Arica and spend 3-days driving through the Altiplano on your own. Be sure to fill all your extra fuel containers, because stations aren’t available in the Altiplano.
For Budget Travelers
If you are on a budget we recommend Hostal Cali in Putre. The tour package prices vary depending on how far you venture into the Altiplano, with the Surire Salt Fats being the furthest. If you plan to visit Uyuni in Bolivia, skip the Surire Slat Flats here. You still have a chance to see flamingo families at Lago Chungara but chances are very slim. Flamingos in this area are shy and unless you have a telephoto lens you won’t capture decent photos. If you don’t have a budget rent 4×4 and go explore!