Bolivia & the High Desert
By Last Chance Traveler | Mar 2015
By Last Chance Traveler | Mar 2015
On a cold morning deep in the Atacama Desert, we stood anxiously awaiting, wondering what our journey would have in store for us.
After arriving in Lima, Peru, I rushed through customs and quickly hopped on the next flight to Tacna. The city of Tacna was beautiful but unfortunately I wasn’t able to spend any time there as I need to get the first taxi to Arica Chile in order to stay on schedule. The drive between Tacna and Arica is absolutely nothing but barren desert with almost no vegetation as far as the eye can see. The view to the East was a steep plateau that looked like an amazing watercolor painting of desert and mountains.
About 40 minutes in the drive, I arrived at the Chile border and had to get out for customs once again. I exited Peru customs only to enter Chile customs but it went quick unlike larger border crossings. Now, I was minutes away from arriving in Arica where I planned on staying the afternoon before jumping on a bus straight into the heart of the Atacama Desert. Arica is a beautiful and vibrant city nestled right next to the Pacific Ocean. Tired from the day, I settle down for a few hours at Hotel Casa Beltran located right on the main square.
The nine hour overnight drive to San Pedro de Atacama was uneventful and would have been much cooler to see during the day. I was lucky enough to wake up just before the Atacama sunrise and I was awarded with an amazing glimpse of what the desert had to offer.
At my first destination, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, I was welcomed by an earthquake, the first one I had ever felt. I found out later it was a 5.2 on the Richter scale. I stayed at Hotel Kimal, my room was a detached bungalow that was next-to-new and had all the amenities of a great hotel. There were two pools and a fantastic hotel restaurant where I found one of the freshest salmon dishes I had ever tasted. The city was energetic and filled with backpackers and tourists looking for adventure.
I enjoyed an amazing empanada dinner by an open fire before I was picked up by a group for the star gazing tour. We headed to the outskirts of town where a gigantic telescope was set, focused on the sky. The sky was lit up with millions of stars, all of which appeared to be within arm’s reach away. Due to zero degree Celsius temp., the operator decided to end early and compensate us with a nice cup of hot cocoa and bread.
The next morning before sunrise, I was hurried into a packed van with our first destination, San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats. On the drive to the salt flats, the group was in awe at the sunrise over the mountains, awakening the magnificent earth tone colors of the desert. Arriving at the salt flats, we were greeted by the native Flamingo population. From here we began the drive to Miscanti Lake. We stopped along the way at Socaire and visited a church built around the 1600s. During the drive we were fortunate to see a heard of vicuñas. Proceeding up and over the last hill into the entrance of the national park, I couldn’t help but admire the blanket of small flora covering the desert floor. At that moment the group spotted a fox, three feet away, who put on a little dance for us as everyone took pictures.
From the main road you cannot see the park but immediately after cresting over the hill you will find the wonderful views of Lago Miscanti below Cerro Miscanti. A short distance south is Lago Miñiques which directly below Miñiques Vulcan.
As we began our drive back, our driver stopped in the middle of the road and asked the group to exit the van. At this exact spot we were directly on the Tropic of Capricorn with expansive panoramic views of the mountains, salt flats and everything in between. The guide pointed out that we were on a part of the original Camino Inca route used by the Incas to travel to the Llullaillaco Volcano, where the Incas would make children sacrifices to the gods.
We made another stop, this time in Toconao to view the old church bell in the middle of town and watch a pickup game of soccer. Dinner again was awesome; a mixture of beef, topped with fries and some vegetables. I capped the evening with a stroll through the main street where I bought some llama clothing for the upcoming days in Bolivia highlands.
Day 1 – We started our tour in San Pedro de Atacama and it ended in Uyuni Bolivia. This route is considered backwards and it did cost more but it was worth avoiding all the tours that started the traditional way. The taxi ride began up a long road towards the mountains to Bolivia. It was pretty cool seeing San Pedro de Atacama through the rear window as I headed further and further away.
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