Halfway Stops Along the Coast

The distances between destinations in Norte Grande can be overwhelming and the drives dusty and boring. So if you're making your way up or down by car and need to break the journey, these two pit stops will come in handy for refueling your car, filling your stomach and getting some rest.

Halfway between Antofagasta and Iquique, Tocopilla is an ugly port for the remaining nitrate oficinas of Pedro de Valdivia and María Elena, which offers a chance to break the long journey along a desolate stretch of coast. It sits off Ruta 1, the paved highway between Iquique and Tocopilla, which has largely superseded the older Panamericana for southbound travelers. The town has a handful of lodging options although they are often booked up by miners; the best value is Hotel Galvarino with pleasant rooms on the northern end of the town's main drag. For a filling good-quality meal, try El Trebol, which serves up simple hearty meals in two cheerful dining rooms just up the main strip.

The only settlement of any size on the long thirsty haul from Chañaral to Antofagasta, the fishing port of Taltal is a surprisingly neat little town. For such a small place, it has a palpable pride in its heritage with elegantly manicured plazas and lovely period architecture from its nitrate-export heyday when its population was 20,000. Still, there isn't much to see or do here, except have a stroll, a meal and a good night's sleep. You can fill up at Club Social Taltal, an old-school dining room just one block west of the plaza. Around since 1893, it has high ceilings, grumpy service and good seafood. The town's most adorable place to stay is Hotel Mi Tampi, where spacious rooms with firm beds and TV come around a cheerful leafy patio.