It was early morning when our bus finally stopped at Arica bus terminal. It was not very impressive building, little bit dirty actually, still it was not worst place we’ve been to. We stretched our limbs a little and had a look at the map to figure out where to go. Center of the town was to the south, some hostels too. We decided to walk there, it was not far (only about 1.5km). We also did not know how local public transport works and which busses are going to the center.
First look at the town
Big backpack on the back, small backpack in front and we were on the way. Roads were quite deserted. There were some shops, restaurants and cafes but all of them closed. I was checking prices of hot-dogs, burgers and menus of the day to determine if town was more expensive than San Pedro or not. It was not very promising. Especially close to the bus terminal prices were quite high (and that made me sad).
Half way to the center we saw one fast-food, it looked like old train coach. I hoped it would be cheap (cheaper than fast-foods at bus terminal). We checked the prices, there were some items below 2.000 pesos so we decided to have a breakfast there. We asked about items on the menu, one of them was called Tortuga (turtle in English). It was described like a bread with salchichas (frankfurters) sticking out of bread to resemble turtle’s legs. It was quite good, only coffee was small disappointment, instead of freshly brewed beverage we got cup of hot water and sachet of Nescafe instant coffee. I forgot to mention that owner was older gentleman who did not speak any English. But he was very friendly and was doing his best to explain what Tortuga and other items on the menu were.
During breakfast we looked at iOverlander to see some hostels recommendations and prices. There was one called Hotel Lynch near the center, reviews were good and price tag was 20.000 pesos for two people.
That was our next destination. To get there we had to cross some areas of town which did not look very safe. There were even some shady characters walking around. We made it safely through. Hotel looked ok, nothing posh but clean and with friendly lady at the reception. We asked about accommodation for two people and how much it would cost. It was still 10.000 bolivianos per person for private room with shared bathroom. It did not take us much time to say yes to that offer. Room was nice it even had a small tv and table. Right next to it was bathroom and toilet. We unpacked and went out to explore town a little bit.
What to see and do in Arica
There is a Cathedral de San Marcos which was designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, the one who is responsible for Eiffel tower in Paris). One more building nearby was also designed by him Aduana de Arica (I am not exactly sure what was the purpose of this building). Other places to visit are Moro de Arica (hill) and Cuevas de Anzota (caves).
On the way to the cathedral we discovered multiple interesting places – lot of bakeries, some restaurants which offered menu of the day (usually the cheapest option to eat), one big supermarket and nice high street with some performers. Some buildings were covered in very nice graffiti.
First building on the way was Aduana, sadly there were some repairs being done and it was not accessible (not even for photos as there was a fence around it). Cathedral was nearby, at the top of the main town square, which also features palms and big fountain. Cathedral was very nice building, not very big, it looked different than other christian religious buildings we saw. Somehow more cheerful. Same could be said for the interior which was also airy and bright.
After cathedral visit we went to the sea front, there was a peninsula (really small one) which should have beacon and small recreational area at the end but we did not get there as there was some work being done and half of the peninsula was closed. Even though it was a nice walk next to the sea (ocean) and nice view at the Morro de Arica (hill south of the town).
Best pastry and breakfast in South America
On the way back to the hotel we checked some of the restaurants and bakeries. And I am glad we did that as we discovered real jewel, right round the corner from our hotel (in the Maipu street) was one bakery with lot of cakes and pastries and reasonable prices (somewhere around 700 – 900 pesos). It was really long time since we had a good pastry so we bought three different pieces and almost run back to hotel to eat them. All of them were great, but the best one was some kind of apple cake (I’ve been told the name of the pastry multiple time but I was not able to remember it). We visited that place every day after that.
After a good night sleep, which was much better than in the bus was time for a breakfast. And we were lucky enough to find a street (named Gral Manuel Baquedano) full of small restaurants (fast-foods) where they were serving completos and burgers for really good price. We went to the one with Goofy where we got hot-dog with instant coffee for 900 pesos (we went there almost every day either for breakfast or dinner during our time in Arica). Restaurants were quite unique, small (bar like) desk around the wall or big U shaped table in the middle of the room. Restaurants were almost always full, sometimes we had to wait for out eating turn.
Visiting Morro de Arica
Plan for the day was to explore the town little bit more, go up to the Morro and figure out how to get to Lauca national park. We walked up and down the high street and spent some time at the square near the fountain. Then was finally time to walk up the Morro. It was easy walk, less than 2km and not very steep. It provides nice view at the whole town and the bay. There is also a museum with information about Chile vs Peru + Bolivia war which happened in the end of 19th century. Entry fee was 2.000 pesos for foreigners (1.000 for locals). It was interesting to see, lot of weapons, uniforms and old photographs. All the information was in Spanish. Last stop we made at the hill was big statue of Jesus Christ.
When we explored all the interesting places at the top of the hill it was time to go back to hotel to figure out our visit to Lauca. There were some busses going to the park. Either local ones going to Putre from where you had to hitchhike to the Chungara lake (main attraction of the area), or international busses going to Bolivia, where you had to ask driver to stop near the lake and then hope it will be possible to hitchhike back. We found that information on the internet but did not try it ourselves. Last option was to rent a car. Which was what we decided to do.
How to get to Lauca?
There were two companies near the center (Hertz and Europcar) but prices we found online were quite high – around 80.000 pesos for a day. At the reception was a brochure of a local car renting company which was cheaper, cars starting at 25.000 and 4×4 around 50.000 pesos per day.
I will skip our trip to Lauca (and car renting experience) as it will be described in another article soon. Instead I’ll fast forward two days and write what we were up to after we got back to Arica.
When we returned we went back to hotel Lynch. Sadly the room we used before was booked so we ended up in other room with two separate beds (instead of one double bed) little bit further from showers / bathrooms. Still it was a nice room and price was the same. We spent quite a lot of time inside, planning our next destinations in Chile. It was quite difficult as it looked like you need a car to get to most of the national parks and we did not want to rent one neither buy one (as both options were expensive). So our options were quite limited.
Rest of the time was dedicated to reading, relaxing and walking around the town. Most interesting discovery was related to food (again), there was a Chinese restaurant pretty much across the road from our hotel (Maipu street, leaving hotel turn right at the junction and it is first Chinese restaurant you’ll see). What was special about it is that they were serving Asian menu of the day for only 3.500, no other Chinese restaurant we visited offered Asian menu of the day. It was not only cheap but also very tasty. One of the best foods we had in South America.
Time was running fast and it was New Years eve. We celebrated it at the hotel with a bottle of bubbles (and small bottle of rum we bought in Bolivia). We did not expect it to be so calm, especially in South America where people are very lively. Main firework started at midnight and lasted for roughly ten minutes (it was visible from ours hotel terrace). And that was pretty much it, no individuals detonating fire-crackers all night long (which is quite common in London). We can assume that locals rather invest they hard earned money on alcohol than fire-crackers.
That was pretty much our last adventure in Arica. On 2nd of January we were taking overnight bus south to the Antofagasta.