Destinations Northern Chile

The desert meets the sea.

Where: Chile, wedged in between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, is located in the southern hemisphere and takes up nearly two-thirds of the South American western coast. The coastline stretches 2,650 miles and receives abundant swell from the Antarctic and roaring-forties storm systems. The northern area of the country, with its dry, lunar-like terrain, is where the heaviest and most critical waves are found. The cities of Iquique and Arica are your best bets for scoring quality surf.

What: Bring your cajones, because Chile consists mostly of thick, dredging reef breaks that heave with utmost power. While there are a few average beachbreaks, the real Chilean treats are the urchin-covered, board- and body-snapping, left-breaking reefs. The heaviest wave in Chile, El Gringo, is located in Arica and is referred to as the Chilean Pipeline. Ask anybody there-it’s an ass kicker of a wave.

When: Chile receives surf year-round. In fact, during the summer months of the northern hemisphere, there is almost too much swell. Conditions are generally cleaner from November through May, but because of an offshore submarine canyon, they can still get up to triple overhead.

How: The flight from Los Angeles (or Miami) to Santiago will set you back between 700 to 1,000 dollars. You’ll have several stops along the way, but check TACA airlines for the best rates. The Atacama desert, in between Santiago and Iquique, is one of the driest, most inhospitable places in the world-don’t drive through it, get a flight. From Santiago (the capitol of Chile), a flight to the northern part of the country will run you less than 200 dollars. Don’t bother buying an inter-Chile ticket in the States-it’ll be much more expensive. Buy it when you arrive in Chile, and save yourself some money.

Food: The national dish of Chile is called empanada. It’s either fish, chicken, or beef mixed with onions, egg, raisins, and olives and wrapped up in a tasty pastry. Another popular belly filler is called humitas, which is seasoned corn paste wrapped in corn husks and boiled. Seafood is plentiful in Chile and prepared in a plethora of delicious ways. Chile is also famous for its excellent red wine and piso, a powerful and intoxicating liquor that will make your head spin out of control.

Places To Stay: There are plenty of places to stay in both Arica and Iquique for every budget. The Holiday Inn in Iquique has rooms for 60 dollars per night and is close to the main surf spots. Cheaper, local hotels have rooms for around 30 bucks and are also centrally located. In Arica, a duty-free port city, rooms are also widely available for every budget.

Crowd Factor: Iquique is chock-full of spongers, and they clog most lineups. However, up north in Arica, there are less boogies and even fewer surfers. Just like anywhere, get out early, and more than likely, you’ll find yourself alone.

The Senorita Scene: Iquique is a university town, so if you bone up on your Spanish, you just may have a bit of luck. Arica is a bigger city, and there’s a main strip where you’ll find plenty of bars, cafes, and discothà¤ques, but northern Chile is generally not known for its population of good-looking ladies. Staying a night or two in Santiago for some extracurricular activity is your best bet in that department.

Stuff To Bring: Booties are a good thing to pack, not so much for the warmth, but for protection from the urchin-covered rocks. In a poor country like Chile, stickers go a long way with the kids and are a prized possession. A 3/2 fullsuit will be enough rubber. At least two boards are recommended: a short board and a semi-gun. Some phrases in Spanish will help you out immensely,too-you don’t want to be the stupid American who arrogantly thinks everybody should speak your language.

If The Surf Is Flat: Check out the Atacama desert. Reputed to be the driest spot on Earth-there are some areas of the desert tthat have never had rainfall recorded. Gambling is an alternative as well-casinos in Arica will be happy to take your hard-earned money. For the adventurous, get a 500-dollar flight out to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and really step back in time. Flights are also available to the Juan Fernandez Islands, where Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked.

Helpful Web Sites: Casasol.com (run by Chilean surfers) is a good one to check out, as is Globalsurfers.com. For tourism information, go to Visitchile.org.