Friday, October 18, 2013

The South American Altiplano March 2013 - Exploring Arica

***This post is part 14 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Hostal Jardín del Sol is located in a quiet neighborhood a few blocks away from central Arica. While they had shared dorm rooms just like typical hostels, I was also happy to see that they had private rooms available for an extremely reasonable price. After reading through the stellar reviews on TripAdvisor, I reserved my one-night stay using for only 12,500 CLP, which was an absolute steal.

When I arrived at the hostel, I noticed the front door was locked. After ringing the bell, there was a buzz and the door automatically opened. I walked through two lounge areas before finally locating the reception off to one side of a narrow outdoor hallway. 

The owners were there to greet me and give me a very descriptive rundown of the hostel and the town of Arica. I really appreciated all the information they provided on what to see during my short stay. In fact, they were probably some of the friendliest and most helpful people I came across during this entire trip. I would highly recommend Hostal Jardín del Sol based on that fact alone.

Hostal Jardín del Sol

Lounge #1

Lounge #2

One thing I immediately noticed was how clean and tidy everything was at the hostel. Even though my room wasn't terribly modern and obviously the furniture and fixtures weren't new, I appreciated their effort in keeping things spotless and in good working order.

On the downside, the room was definitely cramped, with a full bed taking up much of the space and the bathroom being a tight squeeze (the sink was actually inside the bedroom). But frankly, for what I was paying, this was a whole lot more than I was expecting. Heck, there was even a small flat-screen TV on the wall with a dozen or so channels for my viewing pleasure.

Private room

Bathroom and TV


Like most lodges and hostels in South America, breakfast was included. The portions were small, however, and the variety rather limited. I was served a breakfast sandwich of sorts with ham and cheese, along with a small bowl of cereal, yogurt, juice, and tea. While definitely not filling, it was at least enough to get me through the morning. Next to the dining area was a small room with three computers and complimentary internet for guest use. There was also free WiFi throughout the property.

Dining area


Computers and free internet

I didn't spend too much time at the hostel though, since I only had a couple of hours before sunset to explore the area. Walking the few blocks towards the center of town, I instantly got a very pleasant vibe. Maybe it was the beautiful mild weather or perhaps the relaxed demeanor of the locals. After some thought, I decided that Arica felt like a strange mix between a rugged industrial city and a laid-back hippie beach town. I know it makes absolutely no sense, but that's exactly how I would describe it.

The first thing that everyone said I had to do was climb El Morro, a huge hill at the southern end of town that affords some spectacular views of the entire region. Walking up Calle Colón towards the entrance of the footpath, I noticed some splendid colonial-style buildings painted in a multitude of bright colors.

Welcome to Arica

21 de Mayo pedestrian street

Calle Colón

Just before the start of the climb, there is a quaint little shrine to the Virgin Mary. Perhaps a good place to pray for some stronger legs. While the path leading up to the summit is short, it is still rather steep, and I was out of breath after reaching the top. The views were indeed breathtaking though, with the Pacific Ocean stretching out as far as the eye could see, and the entirety of Arica laid out like a map below. 

Apparently, this is also a popular spot for young couples to stare into each other's eyes, have long and deep conversations, and make out with one another. Not wanting to be mistaken for a creepy pervert, I tried my best to avoid including any of these amorous displays in my pictures. 

Shrine to the Virgin Mary

Footpath up El Morro


Pacific Ocean

View of Arica

Ginormous Chilean flag

Throughout the 19th and 20th century, El Morro served as an important defense position for both the Peruvian and Chilean armies, and as such, there are multiple reminders of its historical significance, including a war memorial, a military museum, and a dozen or so cannons placed along the edge of the cliff. There is also a large statue of Jesus facing the ocean, modeled after Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

War memorial

Statue of Jesus

View towards the south

Afterwards, I made my way back down Calle Colón and took a left towards Plaza Colón near the water. There, I visited the famous Catedral de San Marcos de Arica, a beautiful cathedral designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1876. Unfortunately, the front entrance was blocked by a large group of protesters, so I didn't have a chance to explore the interior.

Walking to the edge of the plaza at the north end and turning right onto Calle Bolognesi, I noticed a historic steam locomotive on display, perhaps a monument to the important role trains played in connecting Arica to its neighboring countries. Further up the street was a lively seafood market, with proprietors hawking their freshest catches from the ocean.

Back down Calle Colón

Catedral de San Marcos de Arica

Steam locomotive monument

As the sun slowly set, I made my way back onto the 21 de Mayo pedestrian street, where there were plenty of options for a quick bite to eat or a fancier sit-down restaurant. There were also tons of shops and stalls here selling snacks, souvenirs, and clothing. Many of the alleyways branching off the main street led to smaller markets featuring all types of handicrafts and local goods.

While I only had one afternoon in Arica, I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and wouldn't hesitate to visit again in the future. If I do get to come back, I would love to experience the beaches and fantastic surf, for which Arica is well-known around the world. 

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