Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Just a couple of hours drive from Paranal is the city of Antofagasta. We now in an area known as Norte Grande and Antofagasta is the largest city of this region and the second largest city in Chile after Santiago. Throughout Chile, the town is called “La Perla del Norte” (The Pearl of the North), for both its historical and economic importance and as such has the highest GDP per capita of Chile at 37.000 US dollars. Since mining hit the region in the 19th century, profitable nitrate mines of the last century and the recent silver and copper mining from the nearby mountains brought many foreign settlers to the city. Today, Antofagasta is the distribution point for copper mined at La Escondida and Chuquicamata--the latter of which holds the distinction of being the largest open-pit mine in the world. After a visit to the tourist office,located on Plaza Colón (the main square in town), we are told that there is currently only one campground open during winter and it is on the south side of town. As we leave the tourist office we are struck by the unique architecture of the buildings around us. Due to the influx of foreigners over the decades, there is a markedly European feel in the city’s architecture and ambiance. The clock tower in the plaza is an exact replica of Big Ben and as we drive through the Barrio Històrico we see many historic Victorian buildings. Just as interesting to us is the fact that with more than 20 km (12 miles) of beachfront, Antofagasta has been developed as a year-round beach resort. Unfortunately the information the tourist office is not up to date and even the campground they sent us to is closed for the season which was actually okay because it looked run-down and a bit seedy. Our spirits were buoyed by the fact there was large coves with long stretches of sandy beaches so we are confident we will find a place to park for our stay. Enter Playa Llanalcan, a popular surf spot with fabulous curling waves a couple of mile south of town. In addition, it was clean and there were plenty of level areas to choose from and of course, plenty of space for Winston to run. Our plan is to stay here for a few days and explore the town and immediate vicinity as there are quite a few monuments to visit just outside the city. As evening approached quite a few surfers from town came to enjoy the waves and the majority of them were very good. A lady who was with them and who seemed to be the “unofficial” photographer and videographer introduced herself to us, speaking very good English. For the rest of the evening, we chatted with her as she told us of places that we must see, all the while watching the surfers who put on quite an exhibition and Winston who seemed content to run in large circles, smelling everything in sight. After the sun set, the surfers left and we had the beach mostly to ourselves for the rest of the night. Very quiet with very little street noise, just the way we like it.