The not-so-hidden gems of Antofagasta
If you’re a slow traveler, you might want to check this place out. Antofagasta, a city in northern Chile, is where the desert meets the sea. It almost never rains, the temperature is pleasant year-round, and the views are oh so pretty. However, this is not by any means a touristic hotspot. My only reasoning to end up here for a month was to run away from Santiago’s cold weather, and to get some work done before heading to San Pedro de Atacama. I did love the place, though.
Why visit: If you’re crazy like me and you’re traveling the 1.670 kilometers from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama by bus or car, you might want to get some rest before starting touring around Atacama. Being the second biggest Chilean city, Antofagasta has got you covered. And you can still buy some gear before the Uyuni tours, for example. I bought a DSLR on the cheap at one of the many giant stores they have.
What to do: bike all the way up to La Portada, the city’s natural monument that’s part of every postcard you’ll see for the region; try some shrimp empanadas at a fisherman’s village called Caleta Coloso; catch the sunset over the Huanchaca ruins; drink some mote con huesillos (beverage made from wheat and peaches) at the Terminal Pesquero; if you’re into stargazing, consider visiting La Mano del Desierto, a large-scale sculpture of a hand located in the middle of the Atacama Desert, on the Panamerican Highway. You can do the whole thing in two days, tops.
Safety: I felt super safe here, except for when I decided to be a freaking weirdo and walk 18k on my way back from Caleta Coloso. It was not dangerous per se, but the feeling of being alone in the desert with the ocasional honks from truck drivers was not at all pleasant.
For digital nomads: if you need to get some work done before going to Atacama, you’re better off here. However, you won’t find co-working spaces or that many cafeterias. The public library is your best bet, as they have fast internet, and nice installations. There’s also a shopping mall with fast wifi, your ocasional fast food and a beautiful view of the city.
All in all, I would recommend Antofagasta for everyone who’s not in a rush to get to Chile’s main attractions. If you let yourself wonder, you’ll find the city has something special to offer to everyone.