I’m on a boat!

When I researched things to do in Iquique, one super touristy thing stuck out: a boat ride around the harbor. I’ve seen these tours offered in Valparaíso but never succumbed, always assuming they would be relatively uninteresting and uncomfortable. But something about being farther from home and feeling more like I was officially on vacation made me want to give it a try.

Iquique harbor

So we wandered down to the Muelle de Pasajeros, the passenger pier built in the early 1900s. On our way, we passed a little fish market. We weren’t buying, but the sea lions were lined up on the rocks waiting for any scraps they could snatch up.

Fish market


Hungry sea lions

The customs house, with its monument to the famous heroes of the Battle of Iquique, stands in contrast to the old-fashioned pier next door. The Battle of Iquique was part of the War of the Pacific, the war which took place between Chile on one side and Peru and Bolivia on the other. By winning this war, Chile won all of the territory from just south of Antofagasta to the current borders with Peru and Bolivia. It’s still something of a sore subject with the losers, especially Bolivia which is now landlocked.

Iquique war heros

But back to the present day. In which…I’m on a boat! With a mostly toothless man as my tour guide speaking a mile a minute – clearly our new friend Francisco has his speech memorized and gives it verbatim to every group of tourists, but not for that was he any less interesting.

Iquique boat tour

Most of the ships near the Muelle de Pasajeros are charmingly run-down and colorful. But on the other side of the bay, it’s all seriousness with the line-up of active naval ships.

Iquique boats

Iquique navy ships

Naval ships in Iquique

I include the following horrible picture to justify the fact that by the end of our hour-long ride, I was feeling ever so slightly sea sick. These boats looked great in person, but going over the waves as we headed out of the bay had us rocking enough that my little camera just couldn’t do them justice. Also featured in some of these photos: a spot from a drop of water. I’m basically a professional photographer, obviously.

Iquique tug boats

We turned around at this buoy, which marks the spot that the Chilean corvette Esmeralda sank. If you just learned that corvette is a kind of ship and not just a sports car, you’re not alone. I only found that out in Iquique.

Anyway, despite winning the War of the Pacific, Chile only tied the Battle of Iquique. One of their ships grounded a Peruvian ship, but the Esmeralda went down. Yet for some reason this battle is super famous and a source of national pride. Whatever. Either way, the Esmeralda is important enough to get a buoy marking where it sank and a life-sized replica on the shore.

Battle of Iquique


I was more excited by something in the water around the buoy: jellies! They were everywhere, but I still found each one exciting. They were less exciting the next day when I was in the water at the beach with them sure they were deathly poisonous (they aren’t) and going to sting me, but from the safety of the boat, I enjoyed them.


Our creature sightings didn’t end there, as the last spot we passed before returning to the pier was an outcropping home to millions of sea lions and pelicans. Millions is only a slight exaggeration.

Iquique sea lions

Sea lion in Iquique

It was hardly a luxury cruise, but I enjoyed my silly little boat ride. Part history lesson, part sightseeing tour, part plain old enjoying the fresh sea air, our Iquique boat tour was well worth $6 each.

Have you ever done a tour like this anywhere? Was it cheesy or enjoyable? Or perhaps both cheesy and enjoyable?

More in this series:
A weekend in Iquique
Stepping into the past in northern Chile
The perfect Chilean beach
The problem with hotels in Iquique

22 Responses to “I’m on a boat!”

  1. Amanda says:

    Those sea lions are ridiculously adorable! Amazing! I really want to go to Iquique now!

  2. helen says:

    as a temporary citizen of iquique, just love your posts and truly agree with them:) those cute sealions posing if they were in their yoga classes made me laugh so hard!

    • Emily says:

      The big guy in the last photo was posing so hard – loved him. Iquique seems like a pretty nice place to live, at least weather-wise. And the beach is beautiful!

  3. Aww, the sealions ARE really cute. Just wanted to comment that the title of this post actually made me laugh out loud and your tour guide on the boat looks like an interesting person lol.

    • Emily says:

      He was a very interesting person. I understood everything he said, but anyone not totally fluent in Chilean Spanish would have been completely lost.

  4. Ayngelina says:

    From time to time I like very touristy things, as long as you know what you are getting into it can be a lot of fun.

    • Emily says:

      Exactly! It’s when you’re expecting something else and end up on the tourist trail that it can be a disappointment.

  5. Carine says:

    It sounds as though you had fun. How long was the boat tour?
    To answer your question, I took a boat tour in the very cold waters of the Gulf of St-Lawrence in Quebec, Canada to see whales, dolphins, nesting sea birds, etc I thought I was going to die when the Captain said: ‘and on your left there is a blue whale’ and every one wanting to take a picture rushed to the left of the boat….the boat tilting dangerously and the Captain yelling for everyone to their seats…for a moment, I remembered the story about Jonah in the whale’s belly :)

    Was your boat ride safe? Were the people on board only Chileans? Was the info only given in Spanish? It is fun to do things you would not normally do at home. Thanks for sharing your pictures – I love the ones about the pelicans and sea lions.

    • Emily says:

      It took about an hour overall, I think, and we had life jackets and just sat the entire time, so I felt safe. The passengers were mostly Chileans with a couple of Peruvians and I think a pair of Germans? But yes, the information was only given in very quick, very Chilean Spanish. It’s not enough of an operation to have English tour guides as well.

      Your boat ride sounds like a great experience with all that wildlife!

  6. Andrea says:

    I’m often leery of boat trips – I never know if I’ll get sick. Love how well-fed the sea lions are in Chile. I’ll never forget the ones we saw at the fish market in Valdivia.

  7. Cata says:

    I love sea lions! They remind me of SF! I don’t get tired of taking pictures of them. I love boat rides! You get a different perspective from the water. I went on catamaran rides in Oahu and Kauai. Very rough waters but I was lucky not to get sea sick. I also took the boat from SF to Alcatraz and that was ok except the cold wind. I want to do one that takes you under the golden gate. I love boats. Not just the sightseeing boat but going to sandbars or restaurants with marinas… Someday I will buy one!

    I finally remeber many things about the battles in the pacific. I dated a Bolivian for 4 years and they get very upset talking about chile. I knew it was bc of the ocean. I heard the story many times, but at some point i stopped paying attention to the details! Oh and I forgot to say: Beautiful pics :)

  8. @Albertoiquique says:

    Hi Emily, I enjoyed a lot your post. I live in Iquique and of course I love it. Great pictures and nice comments from you about our city. Thanks for share and I hope you can enjoy more interesting tours to the desert and the beauty of what it seem to be a dead land but it isn’t. The desert is full of secrets from the ancient cultures, you must visit it. I’ll follow you in twitter.
    Have a nice journey

    • Emily says:

      Alberto, I’m so glad you liked it! Always nice to know that someone who lives in a place I’ve visited enjoys the impression that I got.

      I would love to go back and explore the desert more – we didn’t have time for Humberstone/Pica/etc. and were really sad to miss that area.

  9. Matt says:

    Great pictures! I love the Sea Lion’s waiting for scraps.

  10. Abby says:

    I love sea lions!! I could have used a bit more space between all of the guts and entrails at the market and their cute pics lol.

  11. Laura says:

    The animals look so cute. Wow.

    • Emily says:

      Very cute, but since they have the reputation of also being quite bad tempered, I managed to avoid trying to cuddle them. I would have been tempted otherwise :)

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