The Tarapacá Region

The Region of Tarapacá is located in the world’s driest desert, but receives water from the Altiplano (the Andean plateau), where it rains abundantly in summer. The region also has 350 kilometers of coastline.

This area is rich in history. The earliest settlements go back 10,000 years and there are still vestiges of the Chinchorro, Tiwuanaku, and Inca cultures, which successively occupied the area in pre-Hispanic times.

Arica and Iquique, the two main cities, lie on the coast, and enjoy a warm sea and pleasant climate, which have encouraged investment in tourism. The most distinctive feature of Arica is the Morro, a huge rock 110 meters high, with a vertical west face.

Iquique, which is just a two-hour flight from Santiago, has become one of the main resort towns on the Pacific. It has excellent hotel accommodation, good restaurants, pubs, and discotheques, and is also attractive for its architecture of wooden buildings dating back to the nitrate era and carefully restored.

Desert wealth

Mining is the most important industry in the region, followed by fisheries, which exploit mainly anchovy and have diversified into the production of fish meal and fish oil, canning, and freezing.

Although land suitable for forestry or agriculture accounts for only 1.1% of the region’s total area, these activities are dynamic. At Pica, an oasis in the Pampa del Tamarugal, excellent oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and mangoes are grown, as well as the famed Pica lemon, a tiny lemon prized for making pisco sour, Chile’s most characteristic drink.

The hub of commercial and service activities is the Iquique Free Zone (ZOFRI).

The region aspires to become an international business center and service platform for neighboring countries. To this end, it has a bioceanic corridor that runs through the Colchane Pass from the ports of Arica and Iquique in Chile, to Ilo and Matarani in Peru, to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. This corridor extends to the State of Matto Grosso in Brazil and reaches the port of Santos via Cuiabá or Corumbá.

A tour of history

The region’s main growth industry is tourism. Infrastructure expansion and improvement have facilitated access to resorts and warm-water beaches where the sun shines all year round, as well as attracting new investment.

The picturesque villages of the interior, located in small oases next to rivers or streams trickling down from the Andes, are the region’s most attractive feature. Their sunweathered inhabitants are friendly people, familiar with the mysteries of their land, who preserve Andean traditions. The cheerful music of flutes, quenas, and zampoñas breaks the silence. The couplet is the musical form of the region’s folklore.

On hill slopes in the Lluta and Azapa Valleys, and in the Pintados Salar, the pre- Columbian peoples left gigantic geoglyphs, drawings made with stones depicting nature, animals, and birds, as well as human and geometric figures.

The fauna includes flamingo, alpaca, llama, guanaco, Andean deer, armadillo, skunk, vicuña, vizcacha, puma, fox, and rhea. In the Isluga National Park, an unexpectedly green landscape appears and in Puchuldiza the geysers shoot up to five or six times the height of a man.

Another tourist attraction is the Nitrate Route through former «nitrate offices», towns once inhabited by thousands of Chileans and foreigners, drawn to the area in the mid-19th century by its nitrate boom. Until World War I, Chile held the monopoly of the world nitrate trade.

Abandoned after the development of synthetic nitrate, these «offices» became ghost towns. Some have been restored in the past few years under a plan to turn them into museums, showing how the pampinos lived and worked, and how important nitrate once were for Chile’s progress.