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