Arica Day Tour Part II

I’m not a huge fan of day tours, because it usually involves cramming as many things to see in as little time as possible with not much thought given tho how enjoyable it is. You spend the day piling into and spilling out of a van, while someone explains things to you that (for me at least) don’t have enough context rooted in the area for you to remember it. This isn’t a criticism of day tours from Arica specifically, but my view of day tours in general.

BUT these tours do make for some gorgeous picture opportunities. So here is the second half of our photos from our Arica day tour:

Chile’s “rainbow mountains” in Reserva Nacional Las Vicunas
Wild burros graze in Reserva Nacional Las Vicunas
A view of the many lakes in the region
A viscacha hides from the midday sun
A llama grazes beside an algae-covered pond
A flamingo grazes at Lake Chungara
The volcanoes at Lake Chungara are still active, and occasionally release puffs of smoke
We stop for a rest on the side of the road
A UV radiation index in Putre. Yes, it is “extremo”.
Ridges in the Atacama desert resemble Martian terrain.
We get caught in traffic on the way back to Arica. Freight trucks are the majority of users on this highway, traveling between Arica’s port and Bolivia.
A fertile valley at the foot of a steep, sandy mountain in the Atacama desert.

Arica Day Tour Part I

I’m not a huge fan of day tours, because it usually involves cramming as many things to see in as little time as possible with not much thought given tho how enjoyable it is. You spend the day piling into and spilling out of a van, while someone explains things to you that (for me at least) don’t have enough context rooted in the area for you to remember it. This isn’t a criticism of day tours from Arica specifically, but my view of day tours in general.

BUT these tours do make for some gorgeous picture opportunities. So here’s the first half of our photos from our Arica day tour:

Waiting on the road for our tour van to pick us up.
A church in the Atacama desert
Graves at a church in the Atacama desert
A memorial wreath at a grave in the Atacama desert.
A tourist approaches a candalabra cactus (Browningia candelaris) in the Atacama desert
Stoytcho befriends a candalabra cactus in the Atacama desert.
Stoytcho measure the length of a cactus spine on a candalabra cactus
Candalabra cactus: a view from below
Ridges in the Atacama desert as seen from our tour van
The road to Reservan Nacional Las Vicunas, which lies on the Chilean-Bolivian border
Brightly-colored lichens grow on rocks in the Atacama desert
We pose for a photo outside of Putre

Arica Stargazing

1-IMG_6581 It was in insane plan. When we visited Arica’s tourism office on our first day, we noticed a flyer for an astronomy workshop going on just outside the city while we were here. Attached was a phone number to call for reservation. If we attended, it would mean a night of camping out in the Atacama, and it would overlap with a tour we were taking the day after. Scheduling it alone would be hard, let alone explaining that to both the workshop organizers and our tour agency in Spanish. But we called everyone and got it worked out: we would attend the workshop, camp out, and then get picked up on the side of the road the next morning. That’s how far our Spanish language skills have come.

Getting out to the workshop wasn’t easy. Although it was only about 10 miles from town and there were supposedly taxis that would drive us to the Lluta Valley, most said they couldn’t. One finally agreed to, although he technically wasn’t allowed to drive out there. If the cops caught him, he would get in trouble. The rate he quoted us was in line with what we’d heard at the tourism office, so we accepted anyway. It would turn out later that this was some weird false backstory, but nothing terrible happened to us and I have no idea why the guy made the story up. For those of you going out to Lluta in the future via taxi, any taxi can take you. 11-IMG_6577

We arrived at the workshop site, a mini petting zoo and farm with plenty of space for tents and telescopes. We got registered with the workshop folks, generously let us pay a reduced rate since we’d missed all of the workshop seminars (they had happened earlier in the day). We pitched our tent among the more than thirty other tents. Although this is their first ever astronomy camp, it’s insanely popular. Kids of all ages are running around and playing, while teenagers are chatting in groups and adults are fiddling with telescopes and equipment. In all, it looks like more than sixty people signed up.

2-IMG_6582 While we waited for night to arrive, we explored the petting zoo and talk with the other attendees. There were alpacas and llamas, which suddenly appeared in Peru and we have not been able to escape since (we’ve seen a live or artistic rendering of one in every country since Peru, including New Zealand, Indonesia, Vietnam?!, Japan, and Russia). We also befriended one kid who was obsessed with our tent, an ‘ultra-light’ two person Big Agnes from last year. It stood out from the other tents, which look like models from a decade ago. He followed us around, asking us questions about it, and then asked if we would “make a gift for him of the tent.” We laughed and told him we couldn’t, because we wouldn’t have anywhere to sleep. Still, it’s worth thinking about. Chile may have the highest GDP in all of South America, but the range of what’s buyable and available here in Arica isn’t the same as in the U.S. or Canada. 4-IMG_20170129_073356

As the sun sinks lower, the workshop organizers brought out goggles covered in thick black film that let us look directly at the sun. We gazed at the tangerine-colored sphere that is our planet’s primary star. One of the organizers directed us to look at the upper left corner of the sun and a little black spot appeared in our vision. A sunspot! This is a region of cooler temperature on the sun, where the magnetic field has reduced convection and creates a little black freckle. I felt a bit of a karmic satisfaction that the sun gives everyone freckles, including itself.

The dusk after sunset stretched like shadows slow and long, and after a dinner meal I found myself sleepy. We retreated to the tent to nap for a few hours, and when we woke it was midnight and there was full darkness outside. Though the camp is mostly quiet, there are several groups of adults and teenagers huddled around telescopes, talking in whispers and adjusting the equipment. We joined one group around a massive, bucketlike telescope with a wide, shimmering lens on the end. They were hunting for the Pleiades, the cluster of seven stars that appear near Orion. While we waited, someone pointed out the Southern Cross. As inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere, it’s one of those constellations that’s entirely foreign to us.

After seeing the Pleiades through the telescope, we wander to other telescopes pointed at different things. We saw several other stars, a nebula, and what may have been the Andromeda galaxy, our neighbor in the vast universe. We spent a lot of time mis-aligning and re-aligning the telescopes with the volunteers, hunting around the emptiness of space for a celestial body. Around 2 am, someone excitedly called us over to his telescope. As we gazed through the lens, a huge marble with a swirl of colors appeared before us: Jupiter.

We return to sleep around 3 am and we’re up again at 7, decamping so we can meet our tour along the side of the road. Everyone else is asleep, so we have no way to thank the fine folks who organized this event. But if you’re in Arica and looking to learn more Spanish and Astronomy, visit their website and see what events they have. Maybe you’ll get your own astronomy camp experience.


Heroes around the World: Playa Inclusiva

Have we mentioned that Arica is in the desert, yet? Yeah, it gets pretty hot here, so we head to the beach, walking the half-mile south along the coast to what we’ve been told is the closest accessible shore. When we get there, it’s already packed with beachgoers, even though it’s only 10:00 am.


We’ve brought a backpack and we’re worried about theft, so we look around for lockers and don’t find any. A group of neon-orange clad people notice our plight and one of them approaches us. “You can leave your stuff with us,” she says cheerfully, “we’ll watch it.” We follow her over to a canopy where the orange-clad people are standing and drop the bags off. Then we notice that they have some odd vehicles with them.


We ask them what they’re here for, and they explain the amazingly cool work they do. Everybody loves playing in the ocean (especially in Arica’s heat), but it isn’t accessible to everyone. People who can’t swim because they are wheelchair-bound or differently-abled have a hard time swimming in the water. To ensure that these people also get a chance to enjoy the ocean, their organization Playa Inclusiva provides these giant bikes that can be pushed through the water. The differently-abled person sits on the seat with a life jacket and one of the volunteers pushes them through the surf, meaning they get to enjoy the cool ocean waters alongside everyone else.


The issue of accessibility at the beach was one I had never thought about, so it was amazing to see that the people at Playa Inclusiva had not only thought about it, but also created a solution that relies only on a volunteer, a life jacket, and one of these bikes. Thanks to them, everyone at Arica can enjoy the beach. And that is badass.


A Photoessay for Arica

13-IMG_6853 Sandwiched between the sands of the Atacama Desert and the Pacific Ocean, Arica can best be described as a desert city with a beach. Though it sits at the nexus of two fertile valleys fed by the Lluta and summer-running Azapa rivers, they do little to quell the sweltering desert heat. For most people, Arica is a stopover while travelling from Peru to Chile, especially to Iquique in the south or the Atacama Desert in the east. But the town has its own beauty.

A view of the city from the south looking northward


People walk back from the beach in the midday heat

Five nearby rivers act as water sources for Arica, enabling plants to flourish in spite of the heat. Palm trees and grassy parks line the city’s main streets, giving it an oasis-in-the-desert feeling.

People meet in a plaza in the afternoon


A grave on the side of the road just outside of Arica

Shipping and transport are major activities in the city, with the city acting as both a maritime port and a stop for freight trucks from Bolivia and Peru.

Shipping containers in Arica’s port


Ships moored in Arica’s port


A stray cat eats scraps at a nearby fish market

When we visited the main thoroughfare, we noticed a group with speakers and microphones outside of the grocery store. They were calling for donations of food and water for the region of Maule, which had recently been devastated by forest fires.


People fundraise for victims of intense fires in the Maule region

The city’s largest landmark is El Morro, a massive sandstone cliff to the south of the city. The top of the cliff is home to monuments to the Chilean (republic?), a museum, and a massive bronze statue of Jesus. It also offers sweeping views of the ocean and the city, and a chance to see scores of turkey vultures soaring on thermals or resting on steep rocky ledges below.

El Morro rising above the city


The Cristo de la Concordia atop El Morro

A turkey vulture rests on an outcrop at El Morro

The shimmering ocean and desert haze combine to make some of the most stunning ocean sunsets imaginable. Climb to the top of El Moro in the lengthening shadows, after the heat of the day has passed, and enjoy the view from the top.

A view of sunset from El Morro

Sure, Arica isn’t a standard tourist destination. There aren’t any brand name hotels, and no specific must-see attractions. But it’s a place worth visiting if you’re not into running with the tourist hordes and just want to relax.

Sunset over the beaches to the south of Arica

Arica’s empanadas


Okay everyone, I’m here to report that Arica has some of the HUUUUUGEST, AMAZINGEST empanadas ever. We’ve had empanadas throughout the Americas, from Mexico down to Peru. But these one are ridiculously good, and the fact that they’re served up at a quiet, hole-in-the-wall spot makes them all the more amazing.

We found this place by just wandering around, and the menu was all of four things listed on a spray-painted wooden sign out front. We went in and asked for one of each, and have photographed them in all their glory, just for you:

13-IMG_20170128_121755 The Salteña

A hot, rich beef stew with spices and olives wrapped in a toasted crust. Meat, cumin, and chili powder are the main flavors while the olives round it out with some sour-saltiness. Watch out though; the olives still have their pits.

15-IMG_20170128_122325The Empanada

Though less stew-like than the Saltena, the spiced ground meat in the Empanada is rich and juicy. Combine this with the starchy joy of potatoes and the a fried egg (also miraculously baked into the empanada) and you’ve got yourself a meal.

19-IMG_20170128_123222 The Napolitana

We’ve been told that Chile is culinarily one of the “more European-style” countries, and the Napolitana is more of a European-style pastry. With ham and cheese for filling in a flaky crust, this one is like eating a ham pizza without the marinara sauce.

21-IMG_20170128_123818The Queso

Simple is sometimes best, and the queso is a straight cheese filling in toasty empanada crust. The cheese is salty and light, making it the perfect light snack. Or, if you bring your own jam and make an amazing sweet-and-salty dessert.

In Arica and looking to get your mitts on some of these empanadas? Caupolicán is here!


Not in Arica and longing for your own empanada goodness? Make your own using one of the recipes here:

Bolivian Salteñas

Argenitnian Empanadas

Empanadas de Queso

Arica’s seaside street art

Arica’s coastline

The shoreline of Arica is lined with tetrapods, and not the of the dinosaur kind. These massive concrete beasts line the shore, a manmade garrison defending the city’s coast from erosion. And while they make playing on the beach impossible and may seem unsightly, they’ve also found a second purpose: serving as canvas for street artists, both local and visiting. From original to pop-cultural, here are some of their works.









If you’re in Arica and want to see the street art for yourself, walk the coast south of the port below the city’s iconic cliff.

Travel in the time of Trump: Arica, Chile

One of the interesting parts of our trip is finding out how the world reacts to President Donald Trump. We get to see the situation on the ground and hear from normal people, far from the rhetoric of politics. Since this isn’t a point of view you normally hear, these experiences provide insight into how things in the world have changed since the election. These posts won’t have as many pictures, they won’t be as touristy, and they may be uncomfortable.

The cityscape of Arica

After spending the night near the bus terminal, we moved toward the town’s center to get a cheaper room. Stoytcho wasn’t doing so well in the desert heat, so I left him with the bags in the shade of a building while I went off to ask for room prices. In the meantime, he had an interesting encounter with a passing old man:

Old man: Where are you from?

Stoytcho: The United States

Old man: Ah, Trump! Very good. You like Trump?

Stoytcho: No, not really…

The old man looked surprised.

Old man: Oh, why? I think Trump will be good. Trump will be good for the United States!

Stoytcho: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Old man: Well, ok.

The old man then shuffled off awkwardly, and I arrived a few minutes later for Stoytcho to recount the story. We’re not exactly sure what the old man thought about Trump on policy specifics, but know that there’s someone out there (outside the U.S.) who thinks Trump will make America great again.