After a tranquil weekend in the Valle del Elqui, we were northbound towards San Pedro de Atacama. We followed route 5 and, further along, the northern coast, Route 1, up the coastline. Here, Chile’s vast northern deserts meet the Pacific ocean in a dramatic collision of earth and sea. There are no swaying palm trees or tiki huts lining the beach here, just rocks and sand crashing into the ocean waves.
Before we turned inland toward the famous San Pedro de Atacama and the Atacama Desert we decided to explore Chile’s northern Coastline and the port city of Antofagasta. On the way, we checked off some of the best things to do in Antofagasta and Chile’s Northern Coast.
What to Do in Antofagasta
Suddenly rising out of the desolate northern desert, Antofagasta is a port city that rose to prominence during the saltpeter mining era. Once part of Bolivia it, along with the rest of the former Bolivian coastline, was surrendered to Chile in the War of the Pacific.
Now Antofagasta remains an important city for the region’s mining exports. Its tourism industry continues to develop thanks to its position as a gateway to the Atacama Desert and Chile’s north. Here are some of the best things to do in Antofagasta.
1. Enjoy Fresh Mariscos at the Terminal Pesquero
As a port city, it makes sense that there would be great seafood here. One of the best things to do in Antofagasta is to enjoy the phenomenal fresh seafood on offer. The small seafood market Terminal Pesquero, right on the sea wall is one of the best places in town for fresh seafood. Choose any of the eateries vying for your business. Hot seafood soups and cold seafood salads are popular here. Both are delicious.
- Address: La Cañada 15, Antofagasta, Chileundo Pérez Zujovic, Antofagasta, Chile
- Opening Hours: Monday – Wednesday 7 am – 5 pm and Thursday – Sunday 7.30 am – 6 pm
2. Discover the Street Art in Antofagasta
Discovering the street art around Antofagasta is one of the best free things to do in Antofagasta.
Commissioned mosaics and wall murals can be found around the town center telling the history of this mining town.
Scattered throughout the city, colorful street art, less official, but no less impressive can be found adorning buildings and walls showing the raw talent and spirit of Chile’s prolific urban artists.
Checkout the incredible street art that makes this city so vibrant as you wander through the centro or along the esplanade.
Looking for more street art in Chile? Check out Valparaiso, another port city in the south, known for it’s colorful street art.
3. Grab a Menu del Dia at the Mercardo Central
Head to Antofagasta’s historic el Mercado Central on the weekend for one of for a menu del día (menu of the day). The bustling restaurants of the el Mercado Central are a fun place to grab lunch and soak up the busy atmosphere of the market. Head to the food court where restaurants wave you eagerly in. Menu del Días come with a soup, a main plate, and sometimes a little dessert for just $5 USD. The market is also a great place to pick up your fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Address: José Santos Ossa 2445, Antofagasta, Chile
- Opening Hours: Saturday – Sunday 8:00 am – 11:30 pm
4. Walk Antofagasta’s Esplanade, the Paseo del Mar
Walking along the Paseo del Mar that runs Antofagasta’s esplanade is one of the best things to do in Antofagasta with kilometers of parks, paths, playgrounds, restaurants, and beaches. It’s a great place to wander early in the morning before the day gets too hot. Alternatively, visit in the evening when you can watch the sunset over the sea. Grab some supplies for a picnic and find a spot along the esplanade. The beachfront promenade offers magnificent views of the setting sun and is the perfect way to end a day in Antofagasta
At any given time along the Paseo del Mar you might also see markets, dance practices, or even a game of rugby happening down on the foreshore.
5. Check out the Historic Centre of Antofagasta
Spreading out from Antofagasta’s Plaza Colon, with its clock tower, fountains, and gardens, are a number of historic buildings. Spot the Catedral de Antofagasta, the Museo Regional de Antofagasta, and other buildings within the central Barrio Historico that tell of the story of Antofagasta’s rapid rise to prominence.
Things to Do Around Antofagasta and on Chile’s Northern Coast
1. La Portada
This natural arch sits just off the coast and can be found 18km north of Antofagasta. This wild scene is an iconic natural spectacle of Chile’s north and one of the best things to see near Antofagasta. Sea lions and sea birds patrol these waters adding to the natural display.
2. Head into the Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert and the desert city of San Pedro are one of the most incredible things to see in Chile and one of the best things to do near Antofagasta. Lunar landscapes, lagoons, salt lakes, and ghost towns are just some of the attractions that await in this unique destination. If you are headed to the Atacama, Antofagasta is the place to stock up on groceries, alcohol, and tap water as prices rise in the desert and the water in the desert has a strong mineral taste.
3. Discover Pan de Azucar National Park
This stunning national park looks like a scene from another planet. The extraterrestrial landscapes here may seem inhospitable but various cacti, fox and vicuña have made this sparse environment and National Park their home. Keep your eyes peeled by the sea, you might spot a sea lion or even a penguin.
4. Explore the Coastal Villages of Chile’s Northern Coast
The vast desert comes to an abrupt end when it meets the Pacific on Chiles’s northern coast. Small towns and tiny colorful fishing villages dot the coast. Take your time exploring these coastal communities. Paposo, Cifuncho, and Taltal are good places to start.
Pro-tip: Many villages don’t have sealed roads. Be careful where you drive and don’t end up bogged in the soft sand life us.
5. Grab a Picture of the Hand of the Desert, Mano del Desierto
The hand of the dessert is a famous sculpture and tourist stop on the road to Antofagasta. Just an hour shy of Antofagasta the giant Hand of the Desert rises from (or sinks into) the sand. We missed this photo opportunity on our trip up as we clung to the coast but we would have loved a photo of the van with the hand of the desert.
6. Camp on the Wild and Lonely Beaches
Pack your tent or camper van. Between the towns and fishing villages, vast stretches of windswept grey granite beach go on and on. Exposed to the wild Pacific in front and the harsh desert behind it, the scenery is like nothing else. Camp here in the howling wind, falling asleep to the crashing waves under a blanket of infinite stars.
Where to Stay in Antofagasta
Camp in your self-contained car at Parque Croacia. Police patrol the area and driving classes begin early in the mornings, but other than that you will not be bothered. There is also a great outdoor equipment area in the park for your fitness needs.
hUb offers clean modern rooms with everything you need for your stay in a convenient location. Upper floor rooms have great views of the ocean. Suites start from $90 USD, studios from $60 USD
Services in Antofagasta
- Shopping: Lider is the equivalent of Walmart in the US, a huge grocery and discount department store. Be sure to stock up here before heading into the far more expensive Atacama Desert. Alcohol in particular is the cheapest we’ve seen yet, with a bottle of Chilean wine starting from $1.50 USD.
- Water: The water in Chile is safe to drink. Fill up here if you are headed to the Atacama Desert as the water tastes better.
- Connectivity: Entel 4G is available.
Where to Next?
Looking for more to do in Chile’s north? Check out the ghost town of Chacabuco or the incredible San Pedro de Atacama.
Planning a trip to Antofagasta or Chile? Have you visited Antofagasta or Chile’s north? Drop us a question or comment below!
Want to save this article for later? Pin it!