May 2010

After the trip to Morocco, I thought I would never want to see another desert again, yet, when a fam to Chile came up I was tempted as I had heard so many good things about it.
Soooo that is how I ended up on a direct flight from Toronto to Santiago de Chile, a long but uneventful flight.
Santiago itself is nice, reminiscent of Buenos Aires but not as grand. On the other hand it is surrounded by spectacular mountains which add to its charm especially when you wake up to find them covered in snow as we did at the end of our stay.

The food was good everywhere. Not surprisingly the fish and seafood is fresh and delicious, even in the desert, where we had a very creative chef…

We had a brief overview tour of the area around our hotel and a visit to an archeology museum that was very interesting, even to jet lagged and sleep deprived Canadians.

The museum had a nice map of the territory that spans for more than 4300 Km long (2,700 miles).

The next day we drove to the coast and Valparaiso, a hilly beach resort town squeezed between mountains and ocean. There are outside elevators to connect various levels of this picturesque town.

Some buildings even have their own cable car to take residents up.

We walked along the beach and even if it was almost winter we saw some seal soaking up the sun…

We drove through Vina Del Mar, another picturesque (and wealthy) seaside town.

But the highlight of the trip was the Atacama Desert. It is a virtually rainless plateau in South America, covering a 600-mile (1,000 km) strip of land on the Pacific coast of South America, west of the Andes Mountains. The Atacama Desert is, according to NASA, National Geographic and many other publications, the driest desert in the world. We flew up to Calama and drove from there to San Pedro de Atacama about 100 km away.

This map of the area features an animal that looks like part rabbit and part squirrel but the funniest part about it is that it is greenish in color. It is called the Vizcacha.

We stayed at a pretty cool resort called Tierraatacama.

This desert in the Andes is not sandy; it is rocky. There are no dunes, but plains of varying colors and rock formations of all shapes…

The few plants we saw around town were grasses.

While there we did all the usual excursions: starting with the valley of the moon, 10 km away, to watch the sun set lighting up the mountains in a rainbow of colors.

The next day we visited the Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile. Located 55 km (34 mi) south of San Pedro de Atacama, it is surrounded by mountains and has no drainage outlets. The salt flat encompasing 3,000km is about 100km long and 80km wide. Its average elevation is about 2,300 m. The Laguna Chaxa (Spanish for pink flamingos) is home for various rare and endangered species of wildlife, among them 3 kinds of flamingos. They feed on tiny algae that live in this salted water. Trying to photograph them as they fly by was a challenge.

We then drove over to the village of Socaire

and then on to Miscanti and Miniques lagunas. Laguna Miscanti is a brackish water lake located in the altiplano of the Antofagasta Region. Miñiques volcano and Cerro Miscanti tower over this lake. This heart-shaped lake has a spectacular deep blue color. This is where the view is most spectacular:

The next morning we got up before dawn to drive up to 4321 meters to El Tatio. With over 80 active geysers, it is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere. The best time to see them is at sunrise when each geyser is surmounted by a column of steam that condenses in the cold morning air. The steam plumes disappear as the air warms up.

On the way down we drove through a narrow canyon populated with llamas, guanacos and alpacas.

The following day we headed for Puritama HotSprings, a cascade of small natural pools with water reaching 30°C… a treat!!

It was now time to head back down to Santiago. We visited the required hotels and the next day headed south towards the wine region. Unfortunately it was raining so we did not get to walk through the wine yards. We visited the Concha y Toro estate. The cellars we visited are huge and a bit too sanitized (Hollywoodised) for my taste.

On our last day in Santiago we walked through a wonderful neighborhood.

And stepped into a restaurant that is supposed to serve the best Pisco Sours in town. It is named after the film: “Como agua para chocolate”.
Pisco is a brandy distilled from the white Muscat grapes and is used in several drinks such as the above-mentioned Pisco Sour made with lime juice, sugar, egg whites and Pisco.

We visited several boutique hotels that I will not post here but that I can tell you about if needed.