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The harbour at Port Iquique in Chile

Iquique, Chile

Chile is so insanely long that you might think that Iquique—1,470 kilometers (915 miles) to the north of the country's capital, Santiago—belonged to Peru. And it did, long ago. Like nearby Antofagasta, this coastal city was a pivotal cog in the late 19th-century War of the Pacific fought between Chile, Peru and Bolivia over lands rich in saltpeter, or “white gold” as it was known at the time. At the conclusion of the war in 1883, Chile’s northern border moved even farther north to include Iquique. Today, paragliding has surpassed prospecting, and Iquique attracts new residents who are drawn to its beaches and excellent surf spots. A fine old red lighthouse remains in the harbor, and colorful boats hint at the town’s fishing village past. Being in an earthquake zone has taken some toll on the city, but it retains a handsome historic center. In recent years, Iquique has also become an important gateway to the Atacama Desert. In fact, the desert landscape begins right at the city limits with the stunning, enormous Dragon Hill dunes.