Northern Chile has provided me with a lot of fun things to do so far. One of the most rewarding detours off the main road south has been visiting the hamlet of Pisagua and its abundant former glory.
This used to be one of Chile’s biggest ports back in the day, which one can’t imagine anymore. A lot of buildings are wooden, including the semi-abandoned theatre. The theatre now hosts a tiny library and internet café in one of the small rooms. Only a few shops provided my provisions of food and water. After walking around, I’ve spotted four restaurants and cafés in total.
All over town, there’s cool graffiti – occasionally the mildly depressing type – and abandoned buildings good for urban exploring and a night’s squat. The “old Pisagua”, North of the current one, has a few nice beaches. The boulevard in current Pisagua is completely renovated with concrete and rubbish bins galore. This looks kind of funny in contrast with the old building styles around. A hike towards the south brings you to a big cliff with walruses tanning (or whatever these creatures do with their time) on the rocks below and big birds of prey above.
And yes, Pisagua means “piss water” in case you were wondering. It’s a reference to its former nitrate industry.
In the meanwhile, I’ve moved on far from Pisagua. I spent quite some time in Iquique and recently arrived in Antofagasta. Both of these are big cities with faster internet than Pisagua could ever offer. But they’re also really crowded with midday beachgoers and evening joggers. I’m moving south a little faster now so I can be in Chile’s capital city Santiago soon.
I’m hoping to one day return to Pisagua and stay a bit longer. The place fascinates me.
The book I’m writing about hitchhiking in Iran is taking shape more and more and I can’t wait to give my e-mail subscribers an excerpt from one of its chapters as a test. It’s a trip down memory lane, but of course a fun one!
7 thoughts on “Pisagua, Chile: Squatter’s Paradise”
Pisagua doesn’t mean “piss water”, it’s a quechua–spanish word that means something like “place of few water”
Hey Tomás 🙂 I got my knowledge from Wikipedia at the time and they gave the explanation that the nitrate made the water smell/taste bad, like piss. I see now that’s been changed on the Wiki into your quechua explanation. Thanks for pointing this out, of course I didn’t mean anything bad by it.
Pisagua was a center of torture, did you visit the cementery?
Hey Carla 🙂 yes I visited a monument and the cemetery on the north east side one day, which is quite a hike in the heat of summer. I also visited the south west corner where the seals are. I will likely visit Pisagua again in a few months when heading back to Chile
Hi Iris, I know there’s a public camping site in Pisagua: Did you camped there? Also, I know is kind of dificult to get there without a car : how did you got to Pisagua (Did You hitchiked to arrive?
I live in Iquique and I would like to go there camping myself XD.
Hey Pablo! 😀 I tend to go camping where no one goes, to be completely left alone. The public camping was quite busy always! Do whatever works for you 🙂 I thought it was quite alright to hitchhike around that area. I got to the crossing to Pisagua in the afternoon from Iquique and then waited in the bus shelter for two hours until a car stopped. For the amount of traffic that goes there, it wasn’t that hard. The cars that didn’t stop for me were also completely full! Hitchhiking out of there took me about three hours. The police didn’t stop unfortunately (unlike in the south of Chile). You can also squat an empty building for accommodation there, but not on the weekend. The difference in number of visitors of week vs. weekend is quite big. The best camping experience is probably to hike up to Pisagua Viejo to the Fuerte in the evening, pitch a tent there and wake up for sunrise and see the first light come over the mountains. Breathtaking experience!
I hope this was helpful. Have fun in Pisagua! 😉
Thanks for your answer!. I would like to start travelling long term in the near future and I´m very interested in wild camping, since it seems to be a very liberating experience, appart from cheap: It really impresses me the way you can camp so relaxed in almost any desolated place. Could you give me some hits on that?. I hitchiked to Pisagua last weekend and it was very easy to get there (as you said). I also hiked a little bit to the fort, in the north and to southern peninsula, were the sea lions are. Did you slept inside the fort or around that area?.
Thanks and good luck in your travelling!