A Travellerspoint blog

Summer in Chile - 2017

Northern Chile - Atacama Desert- Salt Flats & Highland Laguna Altiplanicas

Laguna Miscanti

Today was my last tour and I saved the longest day with the highest altitude for last in the hope my breathing would be better by then. When I booked this tour, I was told it was the most popular one in San Pedro, hence instead of being picked up in a small mini-bus, this time it was in a large bus, and every seat was taken.
The tour was a very long one, beginning with picking up people at Hotels from 7am, then the tour and back to San Pedro around 7/8pm. Our tour guide informed us to buy some snacks as breakfast and lunch wouldn't be till late in the day, he wasn't wrong there - 11.15am for breakfast and 4.45pm for lunch, I think that was the latest lunch I have ever had in my lifetime.
I was so glad I had a good breakfast at my Hotel before the tour began.

Laguna de Chaxa

Today the tour took us to Laguna de Chaxa in “Los Flamencos National Reserve” to see the Flamingos. Once our national park fee was paid, our guide took us into the building where there was plenty of information about the Flamingos. In a tank were some brine shrimps and blue-green algae which the Flamingos forage in the water, this is what makes their feathers turn pink.


Flamingo nest

Also on display was a Flamingos nest, very different to how I thought one would look.
We were told usually around 200 Flamingos call Laguna de Chaxa home, only a fortnight before hand, rain had fallen here and wrecked nearly all the Flamingo eggs, once this happened, those Flamingos flew off, so all that were left were a few Flamingos who still had an egg to nuture. A little disappointing, but I still was able to view some Flamingos in the wild.

This is desert country, in-fact the driest area on earth, yet surprisingly we come across a forest of Tamarugo trees on either side of the road. Evidently this was a project from the 1960s, when the government tried to reforest a long stretch if desert between San Pedro and Toconao. It wasn't real successful though.

The town of Toconao whose name means “place of stones” in the indigenous Kunza language is another oasis in the desert. It is very old as evidence of humans living here goes back 10,000 years, making it an area of historical and archaeological significance. The separate bell tower locacted in the park dates back to 1750.

The Jerez river runs through town and as we exited Toconao we passed over the limestone Quebrada de Jerez, a narrow ravine/gorge.


A couple of Llamas were in the main street giving the owner a headache - they didn't want to be caught.
Church at Toconao

Probably the main sights were the church, another with cactus wood, the bell tower, the town park and the markets.


Socaire was a small town we stopped at for a quick breakfast, at the end of the day, we would be returning to the same Restaurant for lunch. Not much here to see, another church and a good view of one of the volcanoes.

Near Laguna Miniques

The further we travel, the better views we have of this volcano, then more snow covered volcanoes appear and a type of tufty yellow grass takes over and adds colour to the barren landscape of the Altiplano plains. Our guide told us this grass (Paja Brava) is very hardy and can withstand all types of weather. As we were travelling along the dirt road, a South American grey fox ran across the road in-front of the bus, then at a safe distance stopped and looked at us. By the end of our tour, we had seen three of these and I still didn't have a photo of one!

We make our next stop at Laguna Miniques where a volcano resides with the same name. The air is very thin as it's located over 4,000 metres above sea level, so it was take it easy for me.

Laguna Miniques

We all made a beeline for the toilets as they are few and far between, then went to the look-out for views over this pretty blue lake where some Flamingos and other birds were feeding.


Laguna Miscanti

This was our furthest point on the tour, from here the bus headed back along the road we had just travelled along, stopping at Laguna Miscanti, only divided from Laguna Miniques by a lava flow from an eruption of Volcano Miniques.IMG_1918.jpg
Laguna Miscanti

This lake didn't have much water, so we had to follow a pathway to the waters edge.


Before heading along there, I noticed some Vicuna feeding on the golden tufts of grass and the salt lake. This was my first sighting of these animals so photos were in order, I did see a large herd on the way back and even a couple of Rheas.


For many tours, this is the end and they head back to San Pedro de Atacama, but I chose my tour as it went to Salar de Talar located on the edge of the Argentina and Chilean border. Going here does make it a very long day but I can tell you it is well worth it, as in my mind, this was the prettiest area of the whole tour, although the whole day had been full of incredibly beautiful scenery.

View over Salar de Talar

As we came down the hill to this 46 square km salt flat, we stopped for the best views of the whole lake and volcanoes. It was fantastic! Salar de Talar is part of a series of salt lakes and salt flats located at the foothills of a chain of volcanoes located in the high puna of the northern Chilean Andes.

At an altitude of 3,950 metres, the air was thin and once again I had to walk slowly to breath. We were given plenty of time to wander around and enjoy the views.

Salar de Talar

One that was particularly nice was the mountain Cerro Medano whose peak is 4665 meters above sea level. The mountain is barren and coloured in shades of grey and brown, colours contrast nicely with the vivid white of the salt flat's surface. This area has a cold desert climate with an average annual temperature of 12 ° C .

Cerro Medano

Cerra Medano

It was late and we still hadn't had lunch, but at least we were on the way back to Socaire. At 4.45pm, lunch was served in the Restaurant to a very hungry group of tourists. I did enjoy my meal which was a typical Chilean dish.

Near San Pedro de Atacama

Fed and watered, we were back on the bus again with one more stop, and that was at the small town of Toconao before reaching our final destination, San Pedro de Atacama around 8pm.

Even though a long day, this was one of the best!

Posted by balhannahrise 17:43 Archived in Chile Tagged lakes birds walking Comments (11)

Summer in Chile - 2017

Northern Chile - Atacama Desert - Rainbow Valley

Another day in San Pedro De Atacama and today the tour I'm doing is to Rainbow Valley, (Vallee Del Arcoiris).

Rainbow Valley

Breakfast was included in this tour that began at 8am from San Pedro. As my Hotel opened for breakfast at 6.30am, I had breakfast before the tour began. Once all the Hotel pick-ups were complete, then we were on our way, heading out of San Pedro through Death Valley towards Calama.

There was excitement as we came around one corner on the main highway and found a Guanaco feeding on the road edge. Quickly it scrambled up the bank and away from our mini bus.


A little further on was our turn-off to Rainbow Valley. This was dirt road with some sharp corners that our driver took too fast, it scared him (and us), then he was back to his bad driving again.

It was along this section we saw a herd of Guanacos feeding on what looked to be very little. How they survive is incredible as where there live in some places of the Atacama Desert, rain hasn't fallen in over 50 years. So how do they survive? Wind carries fog across the desert, where cacti catch the water droplets and lichens that cling to the cacti soak it in like a sponge. When the guanacos eat the cacti flowers and the lichens, they get their much needed water.

The Guanaco pelts are known to be soft and warm and are sought after for luxury items. Something to remember if you ever corner a Guanaco - They often spit when threatened


It was time for out first stop of the day and that was for breakfast at the "Hierbas Buenas" petroglyph site.
A National Park office was here and an undercover area with benches for tour groups. Our guide came with an esky from which he produced ham, cheese and fresh rolls, fruit juice, tea and coffee.


We sat there as group admiring the mountain views and the many Llamas feeding on what looked to be nothing.
While there, another tour group arrived with a similar breakfast.


Next, we explored the many ancient stone carvings carved by the Atacameno people over 10,000 years. Some of the petroglyphs were llamas (a sign of fertility), chamanes (medicine men), monkeys, flamingos, foxes, people and many more shapes. There is plenty of information about them and a map which you follow in a one-way direction. Each area was marked so was very easy to find.


We are back in the bus, but before we can drive to Rainbow Valley, our driver has to do three complete circles in the Mini-bus to scare away the evil spirits, then we can drive the terrible rough road through Matancilla, a valley which has a nearly dry river, Poplar trees and green grass. Along here are some isolated farms.

Matancilla Valley

A little further on is where we start to see the coloured mountains that are this way as the minerals have come to the surface.

The array of colours is incredible!


Blues, greens, yellows, purples, black and white, browns, reds, ochres are probably the main colours. We stopped at quite a few places to do walks, one was a walk through a very narrow chasm.


I'd just spent another amazing day exploring the Atacama Desert

Posted by balhannahrise 02:52 Archived in Chile Tagged animals desert landscape valley day rainbow tour Comments (2)

Summer in Chile - 2017

Northern Chile - Moon Valley - Atacama Desert

View from Valley of the Moon.

The Valley of the Moon was created around 22 million years ago.

At San Pedro De Atacama, the first tour I did was to the Valley of the Moon or El Valle de la Luna located in the Salt Mountain Range, 13kms west of San Pedro de Atacama.


Valley of the moon

The tour ran for 4 hours between 4pm and 8pm - or when-ever sunset is. It wasn't very expensive as the site is close to San Pedro, in-fact we passed cyclists who had ridden there and back from San Pedro.
Valley of the moon

As there were a lot of tour groups all heading there at the same time, I thought it was going to be overcrowded, but it wasn't. The tour companies seem to have a route worked out between them so this doesn't happen.

Valley of the moon

I was amazed what this barren landscape produced in the way of interesting formations. Of course there is no plant or animal life here, but plenty of weird shapes, fragments of salt, gypsum, chlorate, clay and many specimens of rock.
The Valley of the Moon which is now a classified sanctuary, is known by that name as it is said the landscape is similar to the moon, I guess nearly all of us will have to take that as being true.

Valley of the moon

Driving through it, I had itchy feet to get out and start exploring the various coloured stone and sand formations created by the wind and rain.
Our guide gave us a geology lesson, which I have since forgotten, but my memory is of an impressive range of color and texture, and the pretty white on the surface that looked like snow. Lucky we had a guide, as everybody thought the white was ordinary salt, but this was completely incorrect. He said the area hardly ever sees rain, but it had rained a fortnight ago, and this had caused the white sodium bi-carbonate to the surface. The normal salt he showed us later on our tour. We also learnt that if we came back next year, then shapes we had seen may be gone and many new ones would have appeared.

Valley of the Moon

There were plenty of trails to follow, even one up to the Great Dune Look-out. I took my time as the air was thinner and I was already having difficulty breathing, it was worth it though, for the views from the top of the sand hill and along the high ridges were amazing. I think my favourite view was of the Amphitheatre an enormous rock formation that immediately made me think of the Great Wall of China.


This whetted our appetite for more, so it was back in the bus and for a drive right through the centre of the Valley of the Moon. We stopped along the way for many walks, all produced different shapes, some had salt caves and the ruins of buildings left behind by miners.

IMG_1321.jpg IMG_1325.jpg
Old miner's building ruins

Finally, it was getting towards 8pm and we left the Valley of the Mooon behind and drove through Death Valley to see the sunset. This is where everybody finished the day, and even though there were lots of people scattered on the cliff tops, it really wasn't crowded.


Sunset was the only disappointment of this tour, it was non-existent. Can't blame the tour company for that!


It was a great tour and one I thoroughly enjoyed!

Posted by balhannahrise 22:36 Archived in Chile Tagged landscapes desert sunsets Comments (2)

Summer in Chile - 2017

The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile

Leaving Santiago behind

My next leg of my Chile trip was a flight from Santiago to Calama, a city in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.


Calama is one of the driest cities in the world averaging only just 5 mm of rainfall per year. The River Loa, Chile's longest river flows through the city and the world's biggest copper mine is here. From the air I could see the huge copper mine and many windmills producing power for the desert community.

My final destination was San Pedro De Atacama, located 98 kms from Calama and reached by a modern double decker bus travelling on a good highway. One nasty section had seen many accidents, crosses and flowers lined the side of the road, even the car the person had died in was still there as a reminder to slow down.

If you were asleep on the bus, and I wasn't, you would have wondered where you were when waking up, as the landscape we travelled through before entering San Pedro was the Valle de la Muerte or (Death Valley) as it's commonly known as. You may be forgiven for thinking you have arrived on the moon!

Near San Pedro De Atacama

My first impression of San Pedro was how different it was to the south - the people and the buildings. It wasn't a real good first impression as the buildings looked in disrepair and like they may crumble, many had huge rocks, milk crates and all sorts of things sitting on the roof to stop it being blown away, and the streets were dry and dusty.

San Pedro De Atacama

I was waiting for the cowboys to come down the road and a shoot-out to take place, you know, just like in the old Western movies. It didn't happen, but a Spanish gaucho came riding along on a very feisty horse which he handled just like a pro should.
Well, that was near enough for me, I just hope the horses the tourists were on were much quieter than his horse


The Hotel I had chosen to spend several nights was the Don Raul Hotel.

Don Raul Hotel

Accommodation was quite expensive here, I guess they know you can't go anywhere else to stay and charge accordingly.
The Hotel was located in the main street, (Caracoles street), named after the miners who years ago, left from here to work in the Caracoles silver mine, discovered in 1870. The street was dirt, just like all the streets in San Pedro. Reception could speak English and were very helpful with filling me in with information, and they gave me a map of the town too. They said I should take it easy the first day and acclimatize to the height and thin air as San Pedro was higher up than Santiago and care had to be taken, especially as I'm asthmatic.


I loved this Hotel! It was an adobe building, with great places to lounge around outdoors, my room was nice although on the small side, and breakfast was excellent. The breakfast had set menus from which I could choose omelettes, scrambled eggs, pancakes, waffles and much more, all was cooked fresh. If I was still hungry, then I could help myself to the buffet food, there was no excuse if you left breakfast feeling hungry or thirsty.
I had dinner at the Hotel Restaurant and that was excellent too!

Entrée and Main course


My day was spent exploring San Pedro, booking tours for the next 3 days and browsing the enormous amount of souvenir shops - What a shame this was the beginning of my trip and not the end, I could have gone mad buying things to take home. I couldn't go window shopping as there weren't any windows, shops here just have a door through which you enter, some had a dull light, some just relied on natural light!
All the garments made from Llama wool weren't any good for me, but if you came from a cold climate, there was many a bargain to be picked up here.

San Pedro De Atacama souvenirs

Tour Agency

San Pedro was full of backpackers and tour agencies, there wasn't any need to book ahead to do a tour here, in-fact, it was much cheaper than booking online. All offer virtually the same tours and prices do vary. The town was quite dead when I arrived, I found that altered when all the tours returned in the afternoon. San Pedro became a hive of activity.

San Pedro Roman Catholic church

The Roman Catholic church was constructed during the Spanish colonial period (17th century) in Adobe, whilst the ceilings were made from Locust tree and clay, that was later covered with large rafters of Algarrobo wood overlaid with cactus logs.
I never seen cacti wood used like this before, although in San Pedro, I found doors, lamps, fruit bowls and other pieces.

Cactus wood Restaurant Door

The entrance doors were made from Algarrobo wood and cactus wood bound together by llama leather, in the technique traditional to the Altiplan. Obviously, these woods must be strong and hard wearing as this church was built quite a few centuries ago.

Church cactus wood

I was told Algorrobo trees were growing alongside the pepper trees in the town square next to the church.
This church is believed to be one of the oldest in Chile.

The town square was really an oasis in the desert and very popular with everybody because of the amount of seating underneath the shady trees.
I sat down for a while and people watched, then a pack of dogs decided to have a fight with another pack which happened to be police dogs let our for a run. Dogs were roaming everywhere but no of them were aggressive towards humans. They would have to be the scungiest looking dogs I have ever seen.

Town Square

I really enjoyed my time in San Pedro wandering the streets, finding interesting sights along the way. I thought the mud brick walls with with new Pepper trees protruding from the top of the fence rather unique! Was this meant to happen - good question.


Some other things I liked in San Pedro were the artistic wooden business signs on the buildings.


Hot, dry and dusty, San Pedro was a unique, unforgettable experience for me.

Posted by balhannahrise 16:38 Archived in Chile Tagged desert landscape Comments (2)

Summer in Chile - 2017

Puerto Varas - The City of Roses


Puerto Varas is a town situated on the edge of Lake Llanquihue which has beautiful views across the lake to the snow capped volcanoes. I was here early morning when the lake was tranquil and beautiful, there was only a light breeze and I did manage to capture some reflections. Later, the wind came up and it was a different lake altogether.

Berhard Eunom Philippi

Puerto Varas is known as "The city of roses." As the rose is a favorite flower of mine, I was pretty happy being in a town where there were plenty of rose gardens. One rose garden had couple of statues, one was of Berhard Eunom Philippi [1811 - 1852} who was a German naturalist, explorer and colonization agent for Chile, the other was of Vicente Pérez Rosales (1807 – 1886) who amongst other things, organized the colonization by Germans and Chileans of the Llanquihue area. Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park is named after him.

Vicente Pérez Rosales

After checking out the roses and statues, I made my way across the road to the Tourist Information centre, that was closed too, but at least there were some seats where I sat and watched a fisherman trying to catch a fish.

Lake Llanquihue

Puerto Varas is very popular with Chileans as a holiday destination. It's known as a beach resort, although the lakeside beach is nothing like the soft sand I am used to, it looked to be pebbles and not soft at all. I was amazed to see so many people sunbaking and swimming in the cold lake.
Later, a tour guide later told me that is hot for them and they are acclimatised.

Swimming and sunbaking at Puerto Varas

The town has many upmarket hotels with waterfront views, a Casino and plenty of buildings with interesting architecture. As Puerto Varas was founded by German immigrants, lot of the buildings have traditional German architecture, built from wood with tools brought over from Europe by the settlers. It now is a dedicated heritage zone where many of the buildings are protected including the church I saw on postcards - The Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesus (Sacred Heart of Jesus Church) that was built in 1918 and sits on one of the highest points in Puerto Varas. Built from wood, it is painted white with red trimmings and looks great, although as I did get closer, it would be needing a coat of paint soon.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Church

It also was a very busy transport hub, with buses from lots of different places pulling in here for customers before heading on their way again.
Really, Puerto Varas is the best base to make for exploring, but be prepared to pay as I found it a lot more expensive than Puerto Montt.

Posted by balhannahrise 00:05 Archived in Chile Tagged markets architecture history lake swimming Comments (4)

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