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Arica, Chile: Views from El Morro and Gorgeous Skies

Arica, Chile as seen from El Morro de Arica

After the hectic days of travel leaving Peru, arriving to Chile, and visiting Parque Nacional Lauca, I needed to take things a little more slowly on my third day.  I woke up early and practiced yoga, and then headed into town for lunch at Govinda’s, which serves a daily vegetarian menú, prepared by the Hare Krishnas.

Afterwards, I climbed up to the top of El Morro de Arica, the iconic natural cliff overlooking the coast. The pathway is easily accessible from downtown Arica and is actually much easier to climb than it looks from below. You can also drive or take a taxi to the top.

Looking Inland

As I climbed El Morro, I got a clear view inland towards the region surrounding Arica.  The dusty hills reminded me of the foothills of Huaycán and I felt quite at home!  Although Arica seemed like a small city when I wandered around the downtown area, this view showed me that the city continues for quite a while!

Appreciating the Views from El Morro, Arica, Chile

From this viewpoint, I saw the busy port of Arica and was joined by many businesspeople on what seemed to be their lunch break.  I also chatted with a friendly ice-cream vendor who, upon learning I was American, wished me a happy Independence Day, reminding me that it was July 4th back home!

Military Nationalism on El Morro, Arica, Chile

El Morro is also home to a military museum and many, many monuments celebrating Chile’s military prowess and defeat of the Peruvian army in 1880, which removed Arica’s port from Peruvian possession. In fact, this blatant celebration of Chile’s victory is a little uncomfortable if you know anything about the brutal treatment of Peruvians living in the city after their defeat.

Of course, no monument in South America would be complete without a sculpture of Cristo Redentor visible from all points in the surrounding city. You can also look out towards the ocean and appreciate the 360 degree view from this vantage point. It reminded me a lot of the Southern California coastline.

Viewing the Coast from El Morro, Arica, Chile

After enjoying the sun on top of El Morro, I headed back downtown to wander around and explore some of the notable buildings around Arica, such as the Catedral de San Marcos, which was build in Eiffel’s workshop, who is better known for the Eiffel Tower in Paris. 🙂  This structure was transported to Chile and then assembled in Arica!

On my way back to the hostel, I noticed that the clouds were becoming beautiful yet again and snapped pictures while walking through the park and passing some of the interesting sculptures around the city.  I hurried back to the coast so that I could watch the sun set yet again over the water.  No matter how many sunsets I watch over the west coast, it never gets old!


Sunset over Arica, Chile

The next morning, I woke up super early and through the window in my room I saw this gorgeous sky, and stepped outside with my camera to capture the interesting cloud formations. A few years ago, I read The Cloudspotter’s Guide, which only increased my love of clouds and blue skies.

Gorgeous Clouds Over Arica, Chile

I decided to leave Arica the next day and head directly to San Pedro de Atacama, one of the places I was most excited to visit on my trip.  After buying my bus ticket, I located the place where the taxi colectivo (shared taxi) would take me to the Valle de Azapa (Azapa Valley) about 12 kilometers outside of Arica.  The Valle de Azapa is known for growing olives and producing olive oil, as well as the region’s archeological museum, El Museo Arqueológico San Miguel de Azapa.

Inside, you find the typical collection of artifacts from the pre-Incan and Incan cultures that passed through the region, as well as information about the olive growing industry, but the museum is best known for its impressive collection of Chinchorro mummies.  What I appreciated about this museum is that they displayed the mummies with respect and care and provided interesting details about the burial culture.  I was particularly touched by how the Chinchorro people mummified and buried miscarriages as if they were already full members of the family.

After leaving the museum, I sat outside to plan my trip back and was befriended by this adorable guy!

I walked back to the main road to flag down a colectivo back to Arica and headed downtown to check out that night’s music festival and try some regional foods.  A representative from the Arica tourist board spotted the only foreigner in their midst and gave me a number of souvenirs, probably to encourage more of us to visit!

All in all, I enjoyed Arica’s laid back atmosphere and excellent climate, and would stop there for a night in August when I was on my way back to Peru. Arica showed me that Chile’s coast is just as gorgeous as that of its neighbor to the north.

Recommendations for Arica, Chile:

  • stay at Hostal Sunny Days and ask them for their map of things to do in Arica
  • climb El Morro on foot
  • visit Parque Nacional Lauca for at least one day
  • head to the Museo Arquelógico de San Miguel de Azapa

Transportation Notes:

  • It’s easy to get around Arica on foot or by taking inexpensive colectivos, and there are also local buses which seemed pretty easy to figure out.
  • To get to San Miguel de Azapa, you need to take a taxi colectivo, a shared taxi which follows a fixed route.  You can find the one to Azapa outside of the local bus terminal (next door to the international bus terminal).  The colectivo will drop you off on the road where the museum is located or even outside the gates.  To taxi the colectivo back to Arica, you need to walk the short distance back to the main road and flag down another colectivo on its way back.
  • You can get direct long-distance buses to San Pedro de Atacama from Arica, or you can take a bus to Calama and transfer to another bus to San Pedro, which is cheaper.  All buses to San Pedro stop in Calama.  It takes about eleven hours to get to San Pedro from Arica.  I recommend Tur-Bus because they give you a decent breakfast.  It should cost $35-40 depending on the level of service you choose, the day of the week you travel, and how far in advance you purchase your seat.
[July 4-5, 2013: Arica, Chile and Valle de Azapa, Chile]

Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile: Blue Lakes and Snow-Covered Volcanos in the Chilean Highlands

While Arica, Chile is known primarily for its surfing, it is also a base for exploring the Chilean highlands which border Bolivia.  Most guidebooks advise taking a three day tour to explore Parque Nacional Lauca, but solo travelers usually have to adapt their plans to demand, especially in the off-season.  A one-day tour happened to be leaving the morning after I arrived in Chile, so I quickly decided to go along so that I wouldn’t miss my opportunity to see this national park.

Neblina (Cloud Cover) Leaving Arica, Chile
Neblina (Cloud Cover) Evaporating Outside Arica, Chile

In the one day tour to Parque Nacional Lauca, pleasantly run by Turismo Lauca, we left the sea-level city of Arica and began the ascent to the highlands.  On the way, we saw many giant geoglyphs carved into the mountains and had the opportunity to buy coca leaves to help with the big change in altitude over the course of the day.  It was cloudy and cold leaving Arica and the lower elevations, but as we gained altitude we rose above the cloud cover, known as neblina.  The view of the clear blue skies from above the neblina was fascinating!

Plants in the Highlands Leaving Arica, Chile Landscape Above Arica, Chile
Local Foliage and Desert Landscape

At these lower altitudes, the landscape is desert-like, with brown as far as the eye can see and these interesting plants that resemble cacti.  Hidden among these hills are mines, as one of Chile’s main industries is mining.

Putre, Chile
View from Above Putre, Chile

To break up the climb, we stopped for a Chilean breakfast at a roadside restaurant.  Finally, we reached the viewpoint above Putre, where we could see the town that serves as a base for many travelers exploring the region.  This also gave us our first view of the beautiful snow-covered volcanoes in the distance.

Parque Nacional Lauca Parque Nacional Lauca
Views from Parque Nacional Lauca

We stopped a few times to admire the landscape and the animals we encountered along our way.  Many of my companions on the tour were Chileans escaping the capital city of Santiago, where you rarely see snow and ice, so it was fun for us to get out and wander around.

Lagunas Cotacotani, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile
Lagunas Cotacotani

Our next stop was Lagunas Cotacotani, a gorgeous collections of deep blue lakes dotted with rocky hills.  I would have loved to get closer or even farther away to get a panoramic view, because these lakes were hard to believe.  We all joked about how the electrical poles ruined any landscape photos, but you have to admire the feat of bringing electricity to this distant part of Chile!

Laguna Chungará and Volcán Parinacota, Chile
Laguna Chungará and Volcán Parinacota, Chile

From there, we moved on to Laguna Chungará, another richly hued blue lake surrounded by the distinctive altiplano (highland) landscape and dominated by Volcán Parinacota with its bright white peak.  After wandering around and appreciating the views, we headed to the small village of Parinacota.

Church at Parinacota, Chile Church at Parinacota, Chile

Parinacota is known for its traditional church.  This was our chance to browse for souvenirs and I picked up a postcard to send to my mom.  We also sat for a bit at one of the little shops that doubled as a cafe.  It hasn’t changed in years, if this photo proves anything!

Coca and Chachacoma Tea, Chile
Coca and Chachacoma Tea, Chile

One of the major differences I immediately noticed between Peru and Chile was the attention to small details and the emphasis on presentation.  While food and drinks in Peru are often served on/in plastic, Chileans always use pretty ceramic cups with saucers, even in a tiny village like this one.  I loved this infusion of coca leaves with chachacoma, a local herb with a minty flavor.  Both herbs help with altitude sickness, but also taste delicious!

Putre, Chile  Putre, Chile
Views from Putre, Chile

Putre, ChileAfter leaving Parinacota, we headed down to Putre for a late lunch, retracing our steps and appreciating the lakes and volcanoes once again.  Putre looked like your typical Andean town with men and women in traditional dress, but also had a number of fancy restaurants and facilities for tourists.  I would have loved to spend a night there and to wake up to see the mountains which surrounded the town.

After leaving Putre, we had the long drive back to Arica.  Luckily, we saw this beautiful sunset as we headed through the windy roads through the mountains.  The altitude changes led to most of us nodding off along the way!

Sunset Leaving Parque Nacional Lauca
Sunset Leaving Parque Nacional Lauca

As you can see, this was a beautiful way to start my backpacking adventure.  I remember sitting in the bus and having it hit me that I was finally living my dream, that my responsibilities were finished for the time being, and that I could just enjoy each of these moments without having to worry about anything or rush anywhere.  It was also fun to get to know my tour companions, including some Japanese travelers, a Spaniard working in southern Chile, three animated young Chilean women making the most out of their week’s vacation, and two older Chilean women who had been friends for a long time.  Seeing these sites is absolutely amazing, but getting to know people from all kinds of backgrounds is part of the magic of travel.

[July 2, 2013: Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile]

Beginning the Journey: Arica, Chile

If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you. […] Your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior.  If you are ready for it, then doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else.  And you must have courage.  It’s the call to adventure, which means there is no security, no rules.

–Joseph Campbell, A Joseph Campbell Companion

I have said to many friends that my backpacking trip throughout Chile, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador was blessed with luck.  I felt like I was connected to the flow of my life and that the universe provided me with support and guidance, as long as I trusted the journey and reminded open to all the possibilities of my trip.

As I read this quote recently, it struck me that perhaps I am finally living my “true adventure.” I had wanted to do this trip for 10 years, and I had always found an excuse to not do it.  But after allowing myself to change during my year volunteering, I was completely ready to embrace the experience.

I left Lima on July 1, 2013 on a 20-hour bus ride to Tacna, Peru.  I used this time to sort through pictures, read my guidebooks, and adjust to the giant change in my lifestyle. As the hours passed on the bus, the other passengers and I began to chat, particularly because the girl sitting in the row behind me was an American from Oklahoma named Haylee.  She had also been living in Lima, and was doing what is known as a “border run”: crossing the border for one day to then re-enter and get another six-month tourist visa. Like me, she had been volunteering in Peru and had fallen in love with the country (unlike me, she had also fallen for a Peruvian, which is why she still lived in Lima!).

I had read some troublesome reports about crossing the border on the Peruvian side, as this is usually where people try to trick you and cheat you, so I was happy to have some people to join me for this endeavor.  One of the Peruvian women on our bus served as our guide and helped us find a shared taxi for the drive to Arica, Chile. In the end, crossing the border was simple, straightforward, and well-organized, as long as you knew how to get to the international bus terminal.

First impressions of Arica, Chile

When we arrived to Arica (which is about a 20 minute drive from the Peru-Chile border), Haylee and I made our way to Hostal Sunny Days, a friendly, cozy hostel with an amazing breakfast, located near the beach, making it ideal for surfers.  Even though we were tired from the overnight bus journey, Haylee only planned to spend one night in Chile so we headed out to explore.

Views from Arica, Chile

Being in Arica reminded me of being in southern California, with palm tree-lined streets and blue skies everywhere.  The biggest shock after one year in Peru was that people actually stopped for pedestrians in the crosswalk.  Chile really felt like another world!

Main Plaza in Arica, Chile

After wandering throughout the streets of Arica for the afternoon, we saw that the sun was about to set and rushed back to the coast to watch.

Sunset in Arica, Chile

Arica is known for its gorgeous sunsets and sunny weather, and this day was no exception.  It was a beautiful start to my amazing journey.  We headed back to the hostel to rest, as I had an early morning start to my tour of the Parque Nacional Lauca.  Of course, it was also time to socialize with other travelers and to listen to their stories and get inspired. 🙂

[July 2, 2013: Arica, Chile]

How is it possible that a year has already passed?  I’m trying to post about my trip in the order that it happened, roughly around the same dates, just one year later!  It’s a fun way for me to relive these memories and to share them with you!

Six Weeks on the Road in Chile and Argentina!

How time flies when you’re on the road!

I’m currently revisiting Arica, Chile, after a 32-hour bus ride from Santiago. In a few hours, I’ll leave for the Peruvian border once again, crossing over to Tacna to begin another 21-hour ride back to Lima. From Lima, I’ll leave for the part of my journey I’m most excited about: exploring central and northern Peru, regions I have yet to visit!

I thought I’d be able to keep up with my blog and upload photos on a much more regular basis, but the truth is, when you’re traveling, you’re focused on the moment. Access to the internet is plentiful, but a lot of hostels I’ve stayed in only have a good signal in open courtyards, and since it’s winter, I usually don’t have the stamina to sit outside for a long time. Even when I’ve had good access to the internet, I’ve spent my time looking for hostels and deciding on my next destination; it feels like a waste to spend too much time on the internet! On top of that, I take so many pictures that I’m still behind in selecting the best, though I’ve been using these long bus rides to catch up as best I can!

In the last six weeks, I’ve covered a lot of ground! I started with a few days in Arica to get to know the area and visit Parque Nacional Lauca. From there, I headed to San Pedro de Atacama, a place I’ve wanted to visit for over 10 years. And it is still the highlight of my trip; there are so many gorgeous things to see in the Atacama. After San Pedro, I crossed the border to Argentina, heading directly to Salta, Argentina, historically my favorite city in the world. I spent a few days in Salta enjoying the ambiance and people, and then I headed to Cafayate, known for its wineries and amazing scenery. Most people spend a day or two there, so it was nice to take a couple more days to get to know it better. It’s changed a lot since I visited in 2002.

From Cafayate, I headed south again to Tucumán, a city I’d never visited, and the birthplace of Argentine independence. Tucumán is known for its nightlife, and I took advantage of this, heading out to a super-club almost as soon as I arrived with the awesome people at my hostel. I saw some of the sights and then headed on to La Rioja, another small city I’d never visited. I lucked out and managed to join a group to visit Parque Nacional Talampaya in La Rioja province and Parque Nacional Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) in neighboring San Juan, two interesting and scenic parks which are not frequently visited by foreign tourists. Then I headed to Mendoza, where I spent a lovely week recovering from so much travel, tasting all kinds of wine, riding horses, relaxing in thermal baths, and meeting wonderful travelers.

After much internal debate, I decided to skip Buenos Aires on this trip, since it is just too far away from Peru, therefore too expensive to fly from. Instead, I headed back to Chile to spend nearly a week in Santiago visiting former students turned friends! Santiago was fascinating to me, as it has a lot in common with both New York and various Californian cities, especially when you take into consideration the neighboring cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso! I loved my time in Valparaíso, especially, and have to spend more time there at another moment. I still love capital cities, though most travelers prefer to skip them, so I am a fan of Santiago.

And today I’m en route back to Peru. I definitely feel like six weeks won’t be enough to see everything I want to see in this amazing country, but I’m going to do the best I can! 🙂

Below are quite a few selected pictures from my trip so far, with more details and more information to come, all in due time, of course. 😉

Sunset in Arica, Chile
Sunset in Arica, Chile

Laguna Chungará and Volcán Parinacota, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile
Laguna Chungará, Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile

Valle de la Muerte, San Pedro de Atacama
Valle de la Muerte, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sunset from Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama
Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Chaxa/Salar de Atacama
Salar de Atacama/Laguna Chaxa, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Salar de Tara/Aguas Calientes, San Pedro de Atacama
Posing at Aguas Calientes, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Miscanti, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Miscanti, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Ojos de Salar, San Pedro de Atacama
Ojos del Salar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama
Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Merienda on the Plaza, Salta
Merienda on the Plaza, Salta, Argentina

Horseback Riding in Chicoana, Salta
Horseback Riding in Chicoana, Salta, Argentina

Near the Rio Colorado, Cafayate
Hiking near Rio Colorado, Cafayate, Argentina

Neblina (Cloud Cover) on the Road to Tafí del Valle
Sea of Clouds, near Tafí del Valle, Tucumán, Argentina

Sunset in Tucumán, Argentina
Sunset near Tucumán, Argentina

El Hongo, Valle de la Luna, San Juan
Valle de la Luna, San Juan, Argentina

Wine Tasting at Clos de Chakras
Wine Tasting, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Posing at Termas de Cacheuta, Mendoza
Termas de Cacheuta, Mendoza, Argentina

View from Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Bodega Catena Zapata, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina

Flowers Near Santiago, Chile
Flowers near Santiago, Chile

Posing at Viña del Mar
Viña del Mar, Chile

Posing on top of Cerro Santa Lucia
Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile