Discover the Andes

Excursion guide Movies Photos Presentations


by Simone Helmer and Magdalena Steiner


Iquique is a Chilean port city in the Atacama Desert. Its average annual temperature is approx. 22° centigrade. Much more remarkable is, however, the average annual rainfall: it reaches less than 1 mm so that, despite the location of Iquique directly along the Pacific Ocean, one of the most arid climates on Earth prevails here. You can learn more about this interesting phenomenon in the contribution on the coastal fog and the christchild. The existence of Iquique is very much related to saltpetre mining in the late 19th and early 20th Century, when this valuable good was shipped away from here. Since then, the harbour of Iquique has lost part of its importance, even though it has the status of a free port (Zona Franca de Iquique or ZoFri). The city itself is popular among tourists and thereby profits from its beaches such as the Cavancha, but also from its scenic position directly at the foot of the coast range with Cerro El Dragón.

Change between different views of Iquique by clicking into the title photograph.

A walk through Iquique

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Click on the arrows or into the photograph to enjoy different views of Iquique.

The clock tower (Torre Reloj) on Plaza Prat, the central square of Iquique. This tower was erected in 1878, replacing the older clock tower of the church which had been destroyed by fire. The tower was equipped with an English clockwork, and its eclectic architecture was a symbol of internationality at the times of the saltpetre boom.


Iquique and Valparaíso: two unlike sisters

This sketch roughly illustrates the layout of Iquique, squeezed on a coastal terrace between the Pacific Ocean and the coast range with the dune Cerro El Dragón. Clearly visible on the graphics as well as on the images, many tall buildings are concentrated in proximity to the sea, whereas lower buildings are more common in the remaining part of the urban area.

  1. What could be the reason for this pattern?
  2. What are the differences between Iquique and Valparaíso, and what are the similarities between these two cities?
  3. How can these similarities and differences be explained?

The contribution on Valparaíso will help you in answering these questions.

Show solution
  1. Historical buildings are mainly found in the city centre. However, they do not go back to the colonial era when Iquique was not yet important, but rather to the 19th Century. Also retail concentrates in the centre. The shop window index decreases with the distance from the centre, and so do the height of the buildings and the number of floors. However, a particularly high number of tall buildings - mainly upmarket apartments and hotels - are concentrated along the coastal promenade. Also public buildings and monuments are common there. This phenomenon can be explained with the pull effect of the seaside (beach) both for local residents and for visitors. The upper part of the city consists of a mix of residential areas of various social strata.
  2. The seaside is mainly used for recreation in Iquique (beach, Casino, Cafés etc.), whereas in Valparaíso, it is almost entirely occupied by the port facilities and separated from the city centre through major traffic lines. Therefore, urban life in Valparaíso is largely detached from the sea - the reverse is the case in Iquique.
  3. Due to the still high importance of the harbour, the seaside of Valparaíso is mainly used for trade and for the transport of goods. The recreational function is taken over by Viña del Mar, only few kilometres away from Valparaíso, which shows some similarities to Iquique. The movies in the contribution The coastal fog and the christchild were recorded in in Viña del Mar.

References and links

Wikipedia article on Iquique [Access source]

Wikipedia article on the Torre Reloj [Access source]

This contribution was revised, extended, and translated from German by Martin Mergili.