Surfers, swimmers and sunbathers can all find their niche along Arica's plentiful beaches. The Pacific is warm enough to bathe comfortably here, although there are strong ocean currents that make some beaches more dangerous for swimming than others. The mirrorlike waters of sheltered Playa La Lisera are the safest place to take young children swimming.
The most frequented beaches are south of town, along Av Comandante San Martín, where there are several sheltered coves and seaside restaurants. The closest is Playa El Laucho, a 20-minute walk away, just past the Club de Yates, followed by decidedly prettier Playa La Lisera, 2km south of downtown, with changing rooms and showers. Both have only gentle surf and are worthy spots for swimming and lounging alike. Nearby, rougher Playa Brava is suitable for sunbathing only.
About 9km south of town, past a pungent fish-meal processing plant, is Playa Corazones, with wild camping and a kiosk. Just past the beach a trail leads to caves, cormorant colonies, tunnels and a sea-lion colony. Hire a cab or bike it here.
Beaches are also strung along the Panamericana Norte for 19km to the Peruvian border; these beaches are longer and rougher, but cleaner. The enormous Playa Chinchorro, 2km north of downtown, is a veritable play land: a long, wide beach strung with overpriced restaurants, ice-cream shops and, in holiday season, Jet Ski rentals. The sea is a bit on the rough side but fine for experienced swimmers. The water here turns somewhat silty in February.
Playa Las Machas, a few kilometers north, is a surfers' haunt. Take bus 12 or 14 from 18 de Septiembre; get off on the corner of Av Antarctica and Av España.
The secret's out: Arica's reputation for terrific tubes has spread worldwide. It now hosts high-profile championships and tempts surfing film crews to the area. July sees the biggest breaks. As well as Playa Las Machas, expert surfers also hit the towering waves of El Gringo and El Buey at Isla de Alacrán, an expert point break south of Club de Yates. Hire boards or take surf lessons from Arica Surfhouse.