Chile from North to South

Chile has always intrigued us, with its unique long shape stretching from Patagonia in the South to the top of the Andes and high plateaus beyond in the North, offering unbeleivable picture-perfect landscapes. Of all the countries in South America, this is the one I (Steph) was looking forward to visiting the most, and it did not disappoint!

We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama in the North, as do most travellers, by Jeep tour via the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia. San Pedro is said to be the driest place on Earth, surrounded by salt pans, deserts and volcanoes. From there, we crossed over to Salta, Argentina, one of the many border crossings we would go through as part of our plan to ‘zig-zag’ all the way down to Patagonia between the neighbouring countries. We returned to Chile soon after, visiting the colourful arsty coastal town of Valparaiso, the breezy, vibrant capital city of Santiago, and one of my highlights, Vicuna, located further North, in the Elqui Valley. We didn’t go there for the pisco distelleries, which abound, but to visit one of the many international space observatories located in the valley. The high altitude and clear skies in the region explain why it hosts the biggest and highest concentration of telescopes in the world!

From there we did a big leap to Temuco, the start of Patagonia, where we were very fittingly greeted by rain and cold weather! Temuco definitely isn’t on Chile’s tourist map, but we went there to get a taste of living and enjoying life like a Chilean, staying with our friend Marisel, who we met in San Pedro, and who kindly offered to babysit us for the week-end!

The next stop was adventure-packed Pucon. On the menu: grade 4 white-water rafting and the ascent of the Villarica active volcano, via an ice sheet equipped with crampons on the way up and sleighs on the way down! From there it was a short trip to Puerto Varas, a layed back German looking town by a huge blue lake overlooking volcanos and forests. We came here to prepare for and access a trek and camping trip in Cochamo Valley, often described as Chile’s Yosemite. This little-know jewel was strongly recommended to us by a German traveller we had met in Bolivia. We easily convinced a few other travellers to join our expedition: 3 French (Julie, Juliette and Louis) and a Chilean (Fernando) who we met on the way. This short 2 to 3 day trek turned into a crazy week-long adventure, accompanied by Juliette and Louis, crossing the border with Argentina on foot, passing through dense moist forest, sparkling emerald rivers, deep blue lakes, and … ALOT of mud!! The poor state of the trail, combined with the fact that being a one-way trip, we had to carry ALL our stuff, plus food, on our backs, made our progress slow and difficult. But we got there in the end!

And although we didn’t know it at the time, those would be our last days in Chile, this beautiful country with its friendly people. We continued down to Patagonia via Argentina (see next page), unfortunately having no time (or money!) to head back to Chile to do the world-famous Torres del Paine trek.

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