Farther South

Exploring Chile from the desert to the sea to discover seaside resorts, historic villages, world-class wineries and the exquisite landscape of a desert oasis.

By: Janeen Christoff

Whether continuing on to Chile from Peru or Ecuador, or beginning a tour of the country in Santiago, Chile offers adventure from top to bottom.

Exploring the desert

After flying from Santiago to Calama, it was just a 30-minute journey from the airport to San Pedro de Atacama aboard our tour operator, Latitud 90’s, expedition truck one of the only vehicles of its kind in Chile. This desert oasis has served as a hub for people transporting goods across the Altiplano along the Chile-Bolivian border for more than 10,000 years. It is from this ancient city that we began our adventure.

A quick walking tour of the city acquainted us with desert life. Houses are built low to the ground and are made mostly of mud and clay. Many places are open air, which is only possible somewhere like the Atacama, the driest desert in the world.

For our four-day desert excursion, our central hub was the Hotel Altiplanico. Guestrooms are beautifully decorated adobe bungalows with the bare essentials for the soft-adventurer. There’s a hairdryer but no shampoo or conditioner and a space heater but no alarm clock. If we needed to get up early, Latitud 90’s helpful guides provided us with wake-up knocks.

Our itinerary started with a sunset stroll to the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), where visitors walk across a giant sand hill to see the peeks of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Range) and the unusual formations formed by the wind. Although it looks like a quick jaunt, it takes about 30 minutes to walk across the sand. If you are going there to see the sunset, be sure to arrive well in advance. The sun sets early in the winter, around 5:30 p.m.

Day two of our visit included a day trip to El Tatio Geysers, a geothermal field fueled by volcanic activity in the area. The best time to view the geysers is at sunrise (between 5:30-7:30 a.m.) when they are most active. We woke up at 3:45 in the morning, stuffed ourselves into sleeping bags and began our bumpy three-hour ride up to 13,120 feet to see bubbling fumaroles and steaming geysers spewing into the air. After we admired the geysers, our guides gave us a rundown of the flora and fauna and also cooked a much-needed hot breakfast with a portable griddle. The air was so cold it froze the orange juice. It’s best to advise clients that the climate can be unpredictable and to always bring a warm jacket. We didn’t, so our down sleeping bags provided by Latitud 90 came in handy.

After a cold morning at the geysers, our day trip ended with a stop at the Puritama hot springs. There are hot springs next to the geysers as well, and many groups stop there before leaving, but they are crowded and don’t have places to change. After our swim, our guides had again set up food for us. This time it was a picnic of wine, cheese, salmon and even a pisco sour cocktail.

We followed our day tour of the geysers with a day tour of the Miscanti and Miniques lagunas (lagoons). These two salt water lakes are located at over 14,000 feet. We had a picnic overlooking the Miniques laguna. Again, our menu included pisco sours for everyone. We made a toast to our health and pachamama (Mother Earth). Before heading home, we stopped at the Tuyaito lagoon to view a flamingo breeding ground at sunset.

Our last day was a driving tour through the desert. During the drive we were able to to view wildlife and get up close and personal with grazing llamas. We saw a beautiful church in the town of Chiu-Chiu and stopped for lunch in Caspana, known for its terraced farmland and ancestral traditions. There were several opportunities to shop for authentic Chilean products along the way.

The tour ended at the airport where we took a LAN Chile flight back to Santiago and drove to the seaside town of Vina del Mar.

An Ocean View

After the dusty desert it was a refreshing change to see the ocean. Vina del Mar, Valparaiso, Reneca and Con Con line Chile’s central coast with white-sand beaches and coastal resorts.

The port town of Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can walk through the hills of the city and visit La Sebastiana, the home of poet Pablo Neruda to see the unique ocean view that inspired his writings and is now operating as a hotel or  ride the funicular railways around the city. 

Vina del Mar is know as the garden city. It is home to many of the area’s resorts. Our hotel, Hotel del Mar, is part of Casino del Mar. Located on the water, the resort offers spa services, gambling, meeting space, several restaurants and panoramic views of Valparaiso and neighboring coastal towns.

A Taste of Chile

Before we headed back to the U.S., our final tour was a stop at two wineries in the Casablanca valley.

Latitud 90 offers several different wine tours ranging from one to eight days. Their Wines of the Andes tour is an eight-day journey through the Andes mountains and includes wineries in Argentina and Chile. One day tours are available in each of Chile’s wine-producing valleys.

We stopped at the Veramonte winery, one of the largest wineries in the Casablanca Valley. In the vineyard, our guide gave us a brief lecture on the different grapes in each of the Chilean valleys. She also demonstrated how to taste wine and told our group about different techniques for judging white and red wines.

Our tour ended with lunch at the House of Morande. Once a large-scale operation, the owners of House of Morande consolidated to fulfill their dream of establishing a restaurant and meeting place for wine lovers. Now, House of Morande is both a restaurant, run by chef Richard Knoblock, and a small winery.

Our Chilean adventure may have ended with our ride to the airport after lunch, but our love for Chile had just begun.   


For information on this trip and others like it visit:
www.visit-chile.org, www.lanvacations.com

  For air travel to Chile:

  Latitud 90 offers tours, guides, airport transfers and transportation:

  For wineries:

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