If Arica is a beach town outpost in the far north, Iquique (pronounced Eekeekae) is a commercial hub with a big port serving northern Chile and Bolivia. Its duty-free zone attracts hordes of traders searching for the latest gadgets and cheap clothes from the Far East (well, from here it is to the west). While traveling in the central west areas of South America, Iquique is the place to refill your backpack. Arriving there from Arica is very easy, as several companies do the 301km way between the bus terminals. The trip costs 3500CHP, plus 100CHP terminal fee, and takes a little more than 4 hours. The terminal fee is a bad practice adopted in most of South America and is the reason why most buses leave half-empty the stations and collect people waiting at their doors. I witnessed cities without a terminal charging it at improvised ticket offices and fees reaching 15 percent of the ticket’s price. Highway Number One, which crosses most of the Chilean coast, reaches up only to Iquique. Thus you travel between there two cities through Road 5. Road 5 is an inland road away from the ocean that passes through a total desert, and not even succulents grow there.
Once in Iquique, the main sights in the town are concentrated around Plaza Prat, not far away from the port, including the Torre Reloj (a stylish clocktower), the Teatro Municipal, the Croatian Club, and the Centro Español, which looks more like a Moroccan structure. The port area, especially the zone next to the bus terminal, north from the center, hosts many seafood restaurants, although few of their owners were inspired enough to place them in clear sight of the amazing ocean nearby. The southern coast offers some beautiful beaches, especially the Playa Cavancha; luckily, Chileans approach their beaches only at given times of the year. On a fine day, you may find an astounding beach with a tempered, pleasant ocean completely empty! The Zona Franca is where the duty-free shops are, and any city-bus traveling north will take you there, but the shopping centers had spread out of it. Well worth a note is the Ripley (it has nothing to do with the museums one) at Vivar 550. If you dined on a late lobster by the port, you may pass through the bus terminal around 10pm. At this hour, the buses leave to La Paz, Oruro and Cochabamba, and you will see the Bolivian traders packing the buses until their roofs bend in.