August 2014

Antofagasta, Chile

By Pierrick Blin and Antoine Dion-Ortega | Photos by Michel Huneault

No need to pack an umbrella for Antofagasta. Stretched along the shore between the Pacific Ocean and the Chilean Coast Range mountains, the 20-kilometre-long capital of the Antofagasta Region enjoys the dry climate of the Atacama Desert, the most arid in the world. With nearly 400,000 inhabitants, this city was founded by Bolivians but conquered by Chile more than a century ago. It is now the country’s top mining port and plays a key role for the dozens of mines in the area, which include BHP Billiton’s Escondida and KGHM’s Sierra Gorda. A busy railroad carrying copper cathodes to port and the global market traverses the city, and marks the boundary between the poor neighbourhoods reaching up the mountain slopes and the wealthy centre that extends down the oceanfront.


Antofagasta_HotelEl Desierto (Ave. Angamos 1455)
Because of its location in the city’s southwest, El Desierto is a perfect fit for those who want to limit their trips through the downtown core. It boasts two restaurants, a gym, a swimming pool, a large parking lot and is next to the city’s casino. The Museum of Mining History is right across the street. (queen or king from $150/night; $360/night for luxury rooms)

Terrado (Ave. Baquedano 15)
Two blocks away from the central Plaza Colón in a modern building that is currently being expanded, the Terrado offers top-quality service and a gorgeous view over the Port of Antofagasta. What is more, it is right next to the central mall. Two presidential suites are available. (queen or king from $150/night; $200/night for luxury rooms with two queen beds)

Radisson (Ave. República de Croacia 1151)
Not far from El Desierto and faithful to the reputation of its brand, the Radisson offers a range of single and double rooms with great views of the ocean. There are five meeting rooms that can accommodate groups from 10 to 40 people. (queen or king from $140/night; two queen beds for $225/night)

Book your room at least one week in advance whatever the season.


Antofagasta_FoodChileans are used to eating late in the evening compared to North Americans. Even if they usually open at 7 or 8 p.m., restaurants will not start filling up before 9 p.m. Do not miss Chile’s national aperitif, the pisco sour, made with local grape brandy. For excellent coffee, go to the pedestrian Prat Street, between Condell and Plaza Colón. Café Del Centro is recommended.

Divinus | Ave. Bernardo O’Higgins 1456, Parque Brasil Antofagasta_Coffee
Divinus is an ideal place for a business dinner, with its diverse bistro-fusion cuisine and its lounge atmosphere. The restaurant also has a comfortable terrace. The food, ranging from appetizers to passion fruit desserts, is excellent. (appetizers $17; main courses $25)

Amares | Ave. Antonino Toro 995
A spotless and modern bistro bar, Amares is a major player in the Antofagasta food scene and is well suited for business dinners, although the decor can look a bit cold. The menu features a very good selection of seafood. (appetizers $16; main courses $20)

El Chico Jaime | Mercado Central, second floor local 115
For an authentic ex­perience, why not pop by Chico Jaime in the market? For more than 40 years, this museum-like restaurant has offered a fairly simple cuisine based on fresh market products, including succulent ceviche. Service, exclusively in Spanish, is both efficient and friendly. (appetizers $16; main courses $20)

Men almost always foot the bill at restaurants and may be embarrassed if a woman tries to pay. Do not bother fighting this battle. Make arrangements in advance if it is important that you pay.


Antofagasta_MuseumMuseo del Desierto de Atacama (Entry $4, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m./2 to 7 p.m.)
The museum covers the history of mining in the Antofagasta Region from pre-Columbian times to the modern era. It is located above the ruins of an impressive smelting plant that once treated silver ore coming from the Potosi Region in Bolivia.

Museo Regional de Antofagasta (Entry $1.50, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m./weekends 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Housed in the old customs house of Antofagasta built in 1867, the museum holds a collection of artefacts from the pre-Columbian era as well as historical and geological records of the region.

Near the national capital
If you have one or two days to spare as you pass through the national capital of Santiago, do not miss the opportunity to visit one of the many wineries in the region. It is also a great opportunity to visit Valparaiso, a chaotic but picturesque port city and a UNESCO world heritage site just a two-hour drive from Santiago on the shore of the Pacific Ocean.


• Although educated Chileans usually have some English basics, the main language is Spanish. Having a background knowledge of Spanish is usually noticed and greatly appreciated.

• Chileans are known to be more formal and a little colder than other Latin Americans. The Chilean business dress code can often seem more formal than the one in Canada. Men should wear jackets regardless of the heat, though for women bare legs are acceptable with dresses.

• Chileans are probably the most “North American” Latino people. Their distant politeness partly explains their reputation as a “serious” people in South America. However, physical contact such as touching arms, hugging and kissing on the cheek is more common than in Canada.

How to get there

Airplane-iconThere are no direct flights to Antofagasta from any city in Canada, but Air Canada offers five direct 12-hour flights per week from Toronto to Santiago. From there you can make a connection to all of the major cities in Chile, including the two-hour flight to Antofagasta. Most major U.S. carriers and the official Chilean carrier LAN offer flights from major Canadian cities through the United States and Santiago to Antofagasta, but those involve clearing U.S. customs. Expect to pay from $1,500 in economy class to $7,000 in first class.


Getting around

Taxi-iconTaxis in Chile are safe and inexpensive. Black cars with yellow roofs can be hailed in the street. Make sure your taxi has a meter, and it is best to have a general sense of the route to your destination. Taxis can also be called from your hotel.

If it is your first trip to Chile, you will be required to pay a reciprocity fee of US$132 at the airport.

Further travel:

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