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To the end of the world, back, and everywhere in between Some take holiday, some go on gap year and some never come back...this is for all of us, lost in travel

The end of the road – Northern Chile (San Pedro de Atacama, Copiapo, La Serena, Caldera, La Serena,

CHILE | Monday, 31 December 2012 | Views [2280] | Comments [1]

Punta Choros

Punta Choros

Crossing into Chile from Bolivia is like crossing into a different world. After 20 meters there is an actual paved road, border crossing no longer consists of make shift building in a middle of nowhere and there are pavements.

Civilization has its price of course and so there is a clear jump in cost of anything.

I have been warned that due to the restrictions on bringing in any kind of plants or food to Chile the queues can be very long but we were quite lucky and were out of there in an hour.

San Pedro de Atacama is beautiful. It is also clean, organised and very touristy but after 3 weeks of the Bolivian desert and general mess we really didn’t mind. Our hostel came with lovely hot water, towels, and hammocks, it was finally over 25 degrees all through the day (being the driest place in the world you can count in pretty stable weather) and felt like we were in paradise (OK, unless you permanently live over 3000m it does get a bit tiring after a while so getting down to sea level is always a welcome break).

Since it seemed that there was actually enough to do around the place we decided to stay there for 3, rather than 2 nights.

We rented some bikes and headed for Valle de Luna. Most groups head over there for the sunset and so we went during the day to avoid the crowds. If you haven’t seen good desert sun sets it’s pretty spectacular there but after salt desert not much can really compare.

The only real problem with going during the day is that it is incredibly hot and even though the cycle is not very demanding you need plenty of water and determination.

I was not blown away but the place – there are some good rock formations and a lot of sand (surprise, surprise) but its not the most spectacular or moon like valley that I was expecting.

Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile trip.

We also cycled over to the other side of the town to visit some pre Inca ruins and canyons but again -  it’s pretty nice but if you have already seen more spectacular stuff it only makes for a nice ride.

At night we went to see the starts and it was quite interesting. I don’t think we chose the best tour company but it came with mate de coca and biscuits so I was happy. And we got to see Jupiter and Milky Way.

San Pedro also turned out to be the best place for empanadas. After Bariloche they came a very close second.

I felt I had another 6000m mountain in me and so decided to get off the tourist track and head to Copiapo and to the Parque Nacional Nevada de Tres Cruzes.

Unfortunately that part was met with bitter disappointment. It all started with the problem of leaving luggage in San Pedro. Pretty much every hostel there charges for luggage storage for when you wait for your overnight bus. It then first hit me that I am off the backpacker trail and new rules apply – the regular tourism rules.

The bus journey to Copiapo was OK, expecting Argentinian quality of the buses however, we were met by a rather uncomfortable thing and arrived pretty tired and fed up.

And then we encountered the most frustrating part of travelling in Northern Chile – the hotels and hostels do not open before midday. Not even to tell you whether they indeed have place for you later on. In the country of many overnight buses this is not an ideal situation and highly annoying.

There is also the lack of the usual Latin American friendliness and openness. It is quite difficult to organise anything and people are not really helpful. This attitude made first days in Chile very hard to the point of me wondering whether it wouldn’t just be better to head to Argentina. I was, however, still determined to catch the last glimpse of the penguins before heading home.

Apart from that it turned out that the climb to Tres Cruzes takes minimum of 12 days and the tours to the national park only leave when prearranged and so we did not actually manage to visit anything else but the not so exciting Copiapo.

The most interesting thing about the city was that it was the scene of the recent mining tragedy which was watched by the whole world as the rescue operations took place and all miners were brought to safety.

Having failed to go to the mountains we decided to head to the sea and to Caldera and Bahia Inglesa.

It was a much better experience. Beautiful crystal clear water and few days just chilling on the beach. The only trouble was that being there out of season there was a slight issue of finding a place to eat but there are always empanadas.

We then headed out to La Serena. The second oldest city of Chile. After initial problems of finding the accommodation we spent the day enjoying the charming old town. It is a lovely place to just wonder around. But the main reason for us being there was to visit the nearby  penguin colony at Punto Choros. So the next day we headed out there and it was an amazing day watching the animals so close and personal (it’s very easy to arrange the tours from La Serena and in the main season to just show up and take the boat from Punto Choros itself – the only problem of doing it on your own was finding a bus to Punto Choros as no one was able to tell us at what time exactly does it leave).

After another day of just chilling on the beach we headed to Valparaiso. Of course upon arrival early in the morning we were not able to find a hostel that was open or had spaces. It has been such a frustrating issue finding a place to sleep in Chile. I am not really sure why and it was not lack of experience (I’ve been on the road for over 10 months by that stage).

But Valparaiso charmed the socks out of us. It is beautiful, bohemian, with nice bars and really good food. Perfect for extended walks, culture and going out at night. And right by the sea…

As these were my last days in South America I focused on enjoying every minute and Valparaiso turned out to be perfect for it.

The very last day and night of my travels I spent in Santiago. Being warned about the city not being very pretty I kind of ignored it but upon arrival found a very interesting place with lots of culture and plenty to do so actually regretted that only planned to spend 24 hours there.

After a day of eating, wondering around the old town and final shopping trip we headed out for a night of cumbia to say my goodbyes to the continent.

The very next morning all I had time for was to pack my bag and grab an airport bus. And that is how, unbelievably, unexpectedly and surprisingly I was on the plane to Europe. Culture shock of gigantic proportions!!!

And so one adventure has ended but…the planning has already started for the next one. There is no denying that I have fallen in love with this continent and its people and so I will be back…

 

Tags: bahia inglesa, chile, copiapo, la serena, on the road, punto choros, san pedro atacama, valle del luna, valparaiso

Comments

1

You blog didn't answer my quuestion but it was very open and readable. Thank you.

  Susanne G Jul 29, 2017 11:57 PM

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