Arica in northern Chile has a fearsome reputation for hosting Chile’s heaviest wave. El Gringo, is a shallow, heavy, terrifying slab infested with hard-charging locals and bodyboarders. The wave has featured on the WCT and is still part of the WQS roster.
But as far as a fun surf trip goes, is there more to this town than heavy death slabs? I was intrigued, so I booked a ticket and headed to Arica to find out what the place is actually like. Le’s discover everything you need to know about surfing Arica, from where to stay, and what waves are on offer…
Table of Contents
Water temp/wetsuit needed – 4/3 (boots in winter)
Types of spots – Rock Slabs and beachies
Level – Beginner (beachies) Expert (Slabs)
Crowds – Crowded
Localism – Unless you’re snaking the top locals at El gringo, localism shouldn’t be an issue.
Hazards – Shallow reefs, urchins, cold, broken glass, petty crime in the area.
Best Time of Year to Surf Arica
Arica faces directly into the pacific and rarely goes flat. During winter, Arica is bombarded with solid, long-period swells almost daily. You won’t wait for the swell to come up here, but likely for it to drop and get less scary.
Unless you’re a barrel-hungry slab hunter, you’ll probably try to seek the hidden corners and bends in the coastline that dampens the swell and provide something more fun to ride.
What waves are on offer in Arica?
Arica doesn’t have many different waves on offer. While there are other waves than El Gringo, in my experience, during September 2022, there weren’t many other “fun” waves and seemed the choice was heavy slabs or beginner-friendly beachie.
I found nothing more than an average left-hander (that only broke on the biggest days) and a handful of more obscure slabs that looked super shallow and too intimidating to put on a cold, wet wetsuit.
El Gringo – The heavy death slab that put Arica surfing on the map. Heavy, shallow and intimidating packed with local bodyboarders and hard charging locals.
La Isla – A left hand point that breaks just around the headland from Gringo. Needs large swell and gets super crowded.
Las Machas – Long stretch of beach break that sometimes provides fun banks. Miles long stretching into Peru. Great for beginners at the southern end.
How to get to Arica
Getting to Arica, is relatively straight forward, you can get the bus from other cities in Chile, for instance the gruelling 24 hour bus from Santiago, or the closer Iquique. check out the buses in Chile, here.
Alternatively, you can fly to and from Arica, with the airport locate juts 20 minute outside of town.
Where to stay in Arica?
There are a handful of large skyscraper-style hotels throughout Arica, and while these huge standalone towers do little for the town’s already poor aesthetic, they do serve as a comfortable, clean, and decent place to stay when traveling and surfing in Arica.
If you’re more of a budget traveler, a super cool hotel is situated right on the beach of Las Machas. Hostal Willka Kuti is super affordable (around $13usd per night for a dorm) and run by an incredibly helpful family who will go out of their way to help you.
What’s Arica town actually like?
Arica is cloaked in grey skies every single morning, then burns off into sunny and blue skies, blowing out the surf in the process. However, the views the lifting greyness unveils certainly aren’t anything to look forward to.
The town sits on the edge of the Atacama desert, the driest place on the planet, and the landscape is exactly how you’d picture such a place. The town itself is run down, annoyingly busy, and dirty, and walking the streets is picking your way between people, broken glass, and rubbish.
Surfing Digital Nomad in Arica?
While Arica, doesn’t compare to the best digital nomad surf locations, there are a few hostels and cafes where you could in theory get work done, in-between charging slabs. But if you’re looking for somewhere with a blend of surf and digital nomad, community vibe, you’re better off choosing other South American destinations such as Florianopolis in Brazil, or Costa Rica’s Santa Teresa.
Non-surfing activities in Arica
Because Arica, is located in one of the driest areas on the planet, the surrounding hills and dunes are a fantastic place to go explore the Atacama, from bike riding to sand boarding and hiking, there’s a bit to do!
Surfing Arica - Final Words
Unless you’re a hard-charging slab hunter looking for vision at El Gringo, or a complete beginner, Arica doesn’t offer much in the way of fun easy-to-surf waves. The town is also not the coolest place to hang out and lacks the traveling backpacker-type vibe common in many surf towns throughout Central and South America.
And for this reason, I would skip Arica and head down south to make the most of surfing in Chile. Check out my guide to surfing in southern Chile here.