Arriving in Chile from Peru was a huge change, even the days became much longer (literally) as we crossed over the border. Northern Chile was a big blur of deserts, delineated coasts by rust-colored rocks, abandoned mines, small villages and some big cities, and extremely dry weather. We quickly stopped in Iquique, a famous city for paragliding, where Maria and I went flying for the first time with Parapente Iquique (+56954040012)–it was incredible! From Iquique we stopped in Antofagasta to rest and visit some lovely friends we met during our travels.
Now, as many of you know, San Pedro de Atacama is a touristy destination, where travellers from all over the world intermingle and share their mutual love for outdoors and nature. Reflecting the appearance of its surroundings, San Pedro is a city composed of dusty streets and adobe houses, a little plaza, and many boutiques and restaurants. Dirt alleys buzzed with people and stray dogs raced back and forth. We parked our rv in a small inn, and from there made daily trips to nearby attractions or spent the night in the wilderness. Some of the places we visited were the Termas de Puritama, a secluded natural hot spring in the midst of the desert. We drove there through unpaved roads as the sun kissed the horizon, creating the most beautiful hues of orange and yellow which blended with the copper-colored hills. The night was spent by the hot springs under a starry sky (San Pedro is renowned for its stargazing), and became bitter-cold very quickly. The following morning promised great weather and a blue sky, perfect to enjoy the springs, which were framed by rocks and engulfed by tall reeds. In the evening, once we made our way back to San Pedro, we visited the Valle de la Luna (or Valle de la Muerte), a park which seemed to have come straight out of a martian movie: great, red rock formations sliced through the golden sands of the desert. We did a short hike, and observed the setting sun from atop a mountain–the wind howled wildly, and the first stars were seen in the darkening sky.
A fun place to visit while in San Pedro was the Laguna de Cejar, about 20 km away from town, one of the bodies of water with highest salinity on Earth–as high as that of the Dead Sea (about 33% of salinity).
The following days were dedicated to the highlands of the Atacama Desert, which were largely occupied by salt flats, multicolored lakes, and herds of guanacos and flamingos. Thus, we set off with our motorhome across the vast highlands for miles and miles, eventually coming across a little village here and there, but mostly surrounded by volcanoes and the restless wind. First, we stopped in the Miscanti and Miniques Lakes, two great lakes resting on the base of snow-capped volcanoes and a nearby mountain range; additionally, pink flamingos and furry guanacos could be spotted from afar on the white borders of the lakes, which color-graded into a indigo-blue. The surrounding landscape changed colors in the most nuanced manner, green shades blended perfectly with brown, white, and yellow, producing the most beautiful pictures. From the highland lakes, we continued to the Los Flamencos National Reserve, a similar lagoon to the Miscanti and Miniques Lakes where flamboyants of flamingos could be found.
Fast-forwarding thousands of miles and 40 days of traveling–I spent 40 days in Brazil whilst my family descended the Chilean coast–I was picked up by my family in this little town called Puerto Natales, located in the southern Patagonian region near one of the most famous national parks in the world: Torres del Paine. Torres del Paine is world-widely known for its numerous hikes, handsome snowy-peaks and unique geological formations, vast plains with guanaco herds, glacial lakes, and great glaciers; however, the crown jewel of the national park is the Cuernos del Paine (Paine’s Horns)–three prominent granite peaks, which are part of the Andean mountain range. I could write numerous pages trying to describe the mesmerizing beauty of Torres del Paine–the variety of colors within each frigid lake, the different geological features of the great peaks, the unique patterns of the feathers and fur of the local fauna, the sweet scents of the wild flowers of the valleys, the bitter-cold music of the restless wind, and the crackling sounds of the icebergs–however, one must visit this place, and see everything with their very own eyes in order to understand the grandeur of the region.
Besides the hikes, natural landscapes, and diverse fauna and flora, the national park has great infrastructure to offer to its visitors: from fancy to lodges to camping areas, from restaurants to coffee shops, from small dirt roads to ferries. There are endless options for all sorts of tastes and visitors–while one may enjoy a short little hike, others may venture on week-long hikes in the midst of the wilderness! Some must-see places within Torres del Paine are the Hosteria Pehoe, a little cabin perfect for dining on a secluded island; nearby is the Mirador Condor trail, an easy 3 km hike with an amazing view of the Cuernos del Paine and Pehoe Lake; the Grey Glacier day hike, a moderate-hard 24 km hike which leads to the perfect close-up view of the enormous Grey Glacier, additionally, one may camp in Refugio/Camp Paine Grande near the ferry, or at the Regufio/Camp Grey, which is located near the glacier; the Mirador Base Las Torres day hike, another amazing 18 km hike to the base of the three granite towers, luckily, this hike has a couple of camps along the way with food, fire, and water; lastly, explore the Laguna Azul, a crystal-clear lake with easy trails along its margins. Of course, the most famous circuits in the national park are the O and W Circuits, which take about 5 days or more to complete, and must be scheduled beforehand. Another super important point is to plan your trip to Torres del Paine carefully, making reservations prior to your visit, since it has some of the most popular treks in the world!
Puerto Natales is a picturesque little hiker town, situated by the ocean, the starting point for many travellers going to Torres del Paine National Park. Besides numerous stores of hiking gear, coffee and chocolate shops, Puerto Natales’s culinary is growing and worth exploring! An everyday lunch-stop for us was La Mesita Grande Pizzaria, which offers innovative flavours of individual pizzas, and an amazing hand-made gnocchi with smoked salmon. Additionally, El Ovejero is a popular stop on one’s way to the national park, a favorite of road travellers from all over.