There are dozens of cities in Chile that can call themselves gateways to the sea, but only Antofagasta is a real gateway to the stars. Known for its incredibly clear skies and temperate weather, Antofagasta is home to a number of renowned observatories and large telescopes. All visitors, even those not interested in celestial studies, will find Antofagasta to be an interesting and beautiful tourist destination.
Antofagasta was a settlement of the Incan empire and home to the Changos people, who ate shellfish and hunted sea lions. Being rich in saltpeter, or nitrates, the town of Antofagasta was officially settled in 1868 by then-Bolivian President to create a port for saltpeter exports. The town’s occupation by Chilean troops in 1879 began the War of the Pacific. To this day, the land is disputed territory. If you are interested in more history, check out the Museo Arqueologico Padre Gustavo Le Paige while you are in town.
The economy of Antofagasta is based on the mining of raw minerals, now including copper. Because the city is not over-developed for tourism, it is a great destination for those who like to plan their own adventures and explore the natural beauty of the great country of Chile. It is an easy location to reach, however, thanks to the ports and railroad infrastructure built for the purpose of transporting minerals for export.
Because of the city’s deep history, the architecture has a classic European feel. The Barrio HistÚrico features several Victorian buildings, and the main clock tower is a replica of London’s Big Ben. The Plaza Colon has a gothic style cathedral, as well as a more recent municipal theater. Modern development in the area has led to a unique Japanese park and several shopping districts. If you are more interested in natural architectural beauty, do not miss the Portada, a natural rock formation on the stunning coastline that forms a giant arch.
Antofagasta is also a great city from which to base day trips. From the port you can catch cruises or travel to undisturbed beaches. About 75 kilometers south of the city, you can find a stunningly artistic rock sculpture by Mario Irarrazabal called Mano del Desierto. Several companies offer tours of local wineries. Just outside the city, you can tour the world’s largest open pit copper mine.
The exciting shops and restaurants of the city of Antofagasta provide entertainment for visitors of all ages. But at the end of the day, be sure to take the time to get away and view the sunset and night sky from the Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon. The clear skies of Antofagasta are a natural site of unmatched beauty in South America.
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