Thursday, August 1, 2013
La Portada ("The Gateway")
Located just off-shore, 18 km (11 mi) north of Antofagasta, La Portada is a natural arch and is considered to be one of the highlights of this dramatic coastline. Declared a national Monument in 1990, it is one of fifteen natural monuments included among the protected areas of Chile and covers an area of around 77 acres. It has since become an icon of the region and one of the most recognizable and photographed landmarks in Chile. Following a strong earthquake a couple of years ago, the whole area was redesigned and built with a new access road, several viewing platforms designed to optimize views of the arch from different angles and a restaurant. The arch itself is 43 m (140 ft) high, 23 m (75 ft) wide, and 70 m (230 ft) long and is clearly visible as we drive down the access road. Comprising of sedimentary rocks, yellow sandstone and layers of fossils that date back 35 to 2 million years ago, the sea has steadily eroded the cliffs to form this amazing natural structure. Unfortunately, it is surrounded by cliffs that are themselves the victim of erosion and after the earthquake left the cliffs more unstable, the beach and pathways at the base of the cliffs are now closed to the public. This monument is outstanding and despite the fairly strong breeze blowing from the ocean, we walked to all the viewing platforms to get photographs from different angles. The highest one and which also happens to be the closest to the restaurant is built out over the rocks and ocean, giving the sensation of being suspended but the views were incredible. After taking numerous photos, we headed into the restaurant which is actually a step above the regular café style places that is found at most park services. We found a window table and our waiter obliged us by taking our photo with the arch in the background. The beef empanadas we ordered were good and the pisco sours were excellent. We both agreed that this was a wonderful place to relax and enjoy this unique monument. As we were eating, a tour bus arrived and disgorged a couple of dozen people who proceeded to crowd the platforms and take photos so it seems as though we arrived at just the right time since it was around the time we were paying and leaving that they noisily descended on the restaurant. We left to check out the small ranger station and collected a couple of park stickers to go on our ever-growing collection of stickers on the rear window. We also visited the small museum just a short walk along the cliff, which highlights the erosion process that created the arch and the local sea life that inhabit the waters. Although we had been told that the visit to La Portada would only be a couple of hours at most, we enjoyed the site so much that the almost four hours we spent there went quickly and still as we drove along the access road, we pulled over for one more look at this unique natural monument.