Day 15 |
Oct 27, 2010

Antofagasta, Chile

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: S 23º 38’ 40”, W 070º 24’ 09”
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 23ºC
Pressure: 1011 hPa

Antofagasta in northern Chile is a city framed in an almost surreal setting of high coastal barren mountains in the midst of the world’s most arid dessert. Some 700 miles (1,130 km) north of Santiago, and a world away, Antofagasta is a refined blend of traditional Chilean town and British colonial city. Antofagasta remains a lesser-known travel gem since to many travelers it is simply a gateway to the Atacama Desert.

After a nice leisurely breakfast taking in these majestic views, the tour started at 9 am aboard two comfortable coaches. Today’s tour started with a guided walk around Plaza Colon, the city’s main square surrounded by monuments that have been donated by foreign communities residing in Antofagasta. The city reflects its history in its architecture.

The tour took our guests to the Clock Tower - a small replica of London’s Big Ben - (so it’s more like a Small Ben), the Slavic Bandstand, the Old Customs House, a Spanish monument to Ferdinand and Isabella and the former Railway Station. The old nitrate dock, the fishing port, and the pedestrian zone completed the downtown picture. A short visit of the Regional Museum - which was greatly improved from last year with new exhibits - provided information about the history of this part of the Chilean desert.

After a stroll through the market and some shopping therapy at the square, the tour then left the city heading south past the university campus to the striking remains of a Bolivian silver refinery built in 1868 and closed in 1903. From below, the ruins resemble a fortress rather than a factory. The Huanchaca complex (as of this year) is complemented with a small but informative museum that depicts the life of the miners, and also the importance of this region for star gazing, as it has some of the clearest skies in the world. A “deadly” mango sour cocktail was served at the cafeteria of the museum together with some very much needed empanadas to prevent the mango sours from affecting us too much and from getting the guests dancing on the tables.

Back on board for a Mexican themed lunch and a free afternoon for all to enjoy at their own pace. Some stayed on board and some went back to town for some more sightseeing and shopping. By 6 pm we sailed away leaving this wonderful port behind.

At 6:45 the Expedition Team hosted the last Recap & Briefing for this voyage, which was followed by dinner. Tomorrow we are doing a Zodiac cruise of Isla Pan de Azucar. I am looking forward to it, as it is truly a beautiful place, and, in my opinion, one of the highlights of this entire trip.