Chile's second-largest city is a rough-and-ready jumble of one-way streets, modern mall culture and work-wearied urbanites. As such, this sprawling port city tends not to tickle the fancy of passing travelers, who often choose to leapfrog over Antofagasta en route north to San Pedro de Atacama or south to Copiapó. And leapfrog they may as well.
However, the city is not all high-rise concrete and gridlocked streets. The old-fashioned plaza is a pleasure to kick back in, and evidence of the golden nitrate era can be found in the wooden-fronted Victorian and Georgian buildings of the coastal Barrio Histórico. Ancient spindly muelles (piers) molder picturesquely along the grubby guano-stained port.
The port here handles most of the minerals from the Atacama, especially the copper from Chuquicamata, and is still a major import-export node for Bolivia, which lost the region to Chile during the War of the Pacific.