When we decided on Iquique for our second anniversary trip, I was looking forward to good weather and the beach. I wasn’t particularly excited about the city itself, to be honest, expecting a combination of slightly run-down areas downtown and new high-rise buildings on the coast. And that’s exactly what I got. But I also got some beautiful historical architecture and a city center that pleasantly surprised me.
Chilean cities tend to all be laid out around a main plaza. At some point, I became one of those people who thinks the Purén Plaza de Armas and the Curicó plaza qualify as tourist attractions. New town? Let’s go check out the plaza! But as it turns out, Plaza Prat in Iquique is actually very well-maintained and worth a wander.
On one side, the Teatro Municipal hosted a photography exhibit showcasing festivals and landscapes from the surrounding small towns. I don’t think Broadway has anything to fear from this theater, but it’s nice to see a legacy of culture maintained. And I now want to roadtrip through northern Chile to attend random religious festivals that looked so colorful in the photos.
The pedestrian street Baquedano borders the plaza, and I immediately fell in love. From the late 1800s through early 1900s, the nearby saltpeter mines and shipping industry brought both foreigners and plenty of money to town. Can’t you just imagine society ladies decked out in the latest fashions taking these trolleys up and down the street rather than deigning to walk?
For those of us peasants who do walk, the cobblestone streets and wooden sidewalks make for a lovely stroll, especially on the kind of perfect day Rodolfo and I had for discovering Iquique. We wandered a few blocks, appreciating that while the buildings and infrastructure retained their old fashioned charm – and you know it really must have been something for me to refer to a sidewalk of all things as “charming” – modern life was apparent in the restaurants and shops lining the boulevard. While sitting on a bench in the plaza itself sounded inviting, sitting with a drink in hand along Baquedano’s pedestrian promenade sounded even more so.
But we had places to be! With only two days in the city of Iquique, we couldn’t be tempted to laze away half of our first afternoon. Luckily, our hotel was only steps away from Plaza Prat, so we were able to revisit Iquique’s historical neighborhood just in time for a sunset stroll.