Our journey to Antofagasta was via a two hour flight on Chile’s newest airline, Jetsmart. We paid only 20,000 Chilean Pesos each for these which was instead of a 14,000 pesos, 18 hour bus ride – I think we chose the right option.
As our plane landed, we were unsure as to whether we arrived in the correct place. It was COMPLETELY dry and barren with no civilisation to see at all. We collected our bags and hopped in a taxi and slowly things became clearer that we were on our way towards Chile’s second largest city.
The drive in was quite remarkable, at first we passed some incredible cliff faces that drop down into the ocean and are home to La Portada. From there, it was a very third-world scene with gypsies living illegally in tents and also Columbian and Peruvian migrants living in their favelas up on the hill tops. All of this whilst there was a huge city becoming more and more apparent in the distance.
After 40 mins we arrived in our home for the night, Hotel Atalaia. This place was awesome. It is an old family home that has been done up to perfection whilst still retaining it’s homely feel – with a communal dining area and the staff being super friendly and helpful. The best part is that it’s only 1 block from the beach. All of the beaches in Antofagasta are man made as the coast is naturally rocky.
We hired bikes from the hotel (5 mil each) and made our way south along the board walk which follows down the beautiful coast line. We arrived at the Huanchaca Ruins Museum where we did an English audio tour of the history of mining in Antofagasta. The ruins are the remains of an old mineral refinery, built in 1888 to process a lot of the minerals coming in from around the region – mainly the silver mines in Bolivia. There were no English translations for the collections within the museum and the audio tour did not directly translate, however, it was definitely worth the time!
We spent the night at an Antofagasta Los Pumas vs Santiago Wanders football match at the nearby stadium, Estadio Regional de Antofagasta. This was truly an awesome experience to see just how passionate people on this side of the world are about their football. We also met a Chilean family who were wearing All Blacks jerseys – it’s amazing to see just how far around the world the All Blacks are idolised.
By the end of the game we were exhausted and bright red (the sun here is VERY strong). So it was off to have a quick bite to eat before settling in for a long and comfy sleep.
We awoke to an incredible breakfast layout downstairs with Hotel Atalaia’s owner, Joaco, making us scrambled eggs to go with our toast, cheese, ham and homemade passionfruit juice. We felt right at home here, and loved our stay!
We hopped on the bikes again and went north this time into the centre city. Here we parked up in the plaza and wondered around for a few hours. We looked through all the market stands at the plaza and walked through the streets checking out a few shops and listening to some awesome buskers.
Sam’s high school friend, Javi, now lives in Antofagasta so we were lucky enough to have a personal tour guide for the rest of our time in the city. It just so happened that her partner was celebrating his birthday so we spent the afternoon picking up party supplies for the surprise gathering at the Hotel that evening. Many, many bottles of wine and pisco were drunk that night and we met some amazing people! We all got a wee bit carried away and were visited by the police at a friendly hour of 2.30am reminding us that it was the early hours of Tuesday morning. We decided to knock off for the night so we made our way back to Javi and JP’s house which was to be home for the next 3 nights.
Our day began with an excited Matt being let loose in the kitchen (one thing we both miss while travelling is cooking) to make us eggs on toast for breakfast. We were all feeling a bit hazy so spent most of the day at the beach swimming and sun bathing before heading to the Caleta (fish market) for some insane seafood empanadas and ceviche.
A trip to the local vegetable market, just up the road from the stadium, opened us up to a world of cheap and fresh vegetables that we hadn’t yet seen in Chile. Our highlight was these salad bags with freshly chopped vegetables which cost less than 500 pesos ($1NZD) and were enough for 4 servings. This salad was used to compliment our homemade fish tacos we had planned for lunch. If you have the facilities to do so, cooking in Chile is a lot cheaper and healthier as a general rule of thumb.
One of the guys we met at the party the night before, invited us out for a surf that afternoon which we were incredibly excited about. They let us borrow all their gear (everyone is Chile is very kind and hospitable) and we went out for a surf. The conditions weren’t amazing but we still had so much fun just being out in the ocean with the incredible view of Antofagasta as the backdrop.
After some delicious meatloaf made by JP’s dad and a few more wines we were off to sleep preparing for a hot yoga session in the morning with Javi. This would be Matt’s first ever hot yoga session and Sam was very excited to witness this considering his lack of flexibility!
Hot yoga at Rashmi Yoga Studio was a fantastic experience, whether you have done yoga before or not. It especially felt good to sweat out all the Pisco sours from a couple of nights before. We highly recommend one of their homemade juices on your way out too.
La Portada is a famous natural arch in Antofagasta which is about a 30 minute drive north of the city. Here you have amazing views both north and south along cliffs that were formed over time from marine erosion. The cliffs cover a vast area over 77 hectares and make for some beautiful photos.
The night began at a local waterfront favourite called Macao (apparently the location of JP and Javi’s first date!). Here we feasted on a luxurious chorrillana (the “fries topped with meat” meal we had first experienced in Santiago) topped with Thai curry sauce, prawns and vegetables. We made the most of happy hour here and had many pisco sours, Cuban mojitos and craft beers. One strange thing to note here was that ‘2 for 1’ meant that you had to drink both drinks yourself as opposed to sharing between two people. Luckily our naivety paid off and the owners were happy to still allow them as 2 for 1 (probably due to the volume we drunk).
Our night finished at Enjoy Casino which is a monstrosity of a building located slightly south of the city, directly opposite the ruins. It looks completely out of place in this barren desert but was home to a great night for us. The two of us played blackjack and poker before a good run on the roulette table. We finished off with some slot machines and ended the night, as usual, at a loss. We didn’t spend too much and we had an amazing night here so it was well worth the entertainment for us!
Our last day involved a nice sleep in and organisation for our trip to San Pedro de Atacama. JP dropped us at the fish markets for our last amazing seafood empanada to help cure the hangover. From there we walked along the foreshore to the supermarket to pick up as many groceries as possible for our week in the desert, because everyone had told us how expensive everything was there.
We departed on our Turbus at 2.40pm headed for San Pedro de Atacama. We paid $10,000 pesos each for semi-cama (half reclining bed) seat. The 5 hour trip was very comfortable and we would both happily recommend Turbus for travelling through Chile (although their ticket offices are NEVER open when you need them to be!)
San Pedro de Atacama is our next destination, and one that we have definitely been looking forward to!