This is an arrival day. No activities are planned, so check into the hotel and set out to explore the city.
Santiago is Chile’s largest city and capital, with internationally recognized vineyards and Andean ski resorts very close by. Explore the many museums and parks, and visit the vibrant neighbourhood of Bellavista to see some handicrafts and trendy cafés. Day-trips include a trip to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, Chile’s premier beach resort, and to Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda’s seaside home. Although Santiago covers an immense area, the central core of the city is relatively small. It is a roughly triangular shaped region, bounded in the north by the Río Mapocho, in the west by the Via Norte Sur and in the south by the Avenida del Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins (more commonly known as the Alameda). The apex of the triangle is the Plaza Baquedano, where O'Higgins forms a junction with two of Santiago's other main thoroughfares, Avenidas Providencia and Vicuña MacKenna. The centre of this triangle is the Plaza de Armas, the chief plaza of Santiago, bounded on its northern side by the main post office and on the western side by the cathedral. The streets between the Plaza de Armas and O'Higgins are wall-to-wall shops, restaurants, snack and fast food bars, cinemas, expensive hotels and office blocks. The Presidential Palace, La Moneda, is on Avenida Moneda, facing the Plaza de la Constitución. Near the Plaza de Armas is the National Congress building. One of Santiago's main parks, Cerro Santa Lucía, is in the triangle facing O'Higgins. The other main park is Cerro San Cristobal, or Huelén, in the Mapuche tongue. It is a large hill that rises dramatically from the plain to the north of Avenida Providencia. Between this avenue and the mountain, on either side of the Avenida Pío Nono, is Santiago's 'Paris quarter', the barrio Bella Vista. There are many beautifully landscaped parks and gardens, artists' colonies, and impressive views over the city, including the snow-capped peaks of the Andes (when the weather and thick smog permit).
A journey north takes us to the beachside city of La Serena. The city has an attractive, colonial feel to it, with many places of interest outside the city. Take a tour to the Elqui Valley and visit a Pisco factory, or maybe stop by one of the numerous international astronomical observatories scattered throughout the valley. In the evening of Day 5 we take a night bus to San Pedro de Atacama. Accommodation for these nights may be multishare. Santiago to La Serena Approximate distance: 397.39km Estimate travel time: 6 hours
Located in the north of the country, San Pedro de Atacama, on the edge of the Atacama desert is located within one of the driest regions on the planet. Although the town is quite small, its laid-back attitude and friendly people make it a worth a visit. It is also the base for many optional excursions including biking, exploring nearby ruins, horseback riding, and a tour of the Valley of the Moon. Accommodation for these nights may be multishare. La Serena to San Pedro Approximate distance: 1194.62km Estimate travel time: 19 hours
Climbing almost 3000 metres into the Chilean altiplano, we embark on our 3-day desert crossing into Bolivia. We spend three days in the stunning landscapes between the Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama Desert (Chile), exploring by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Driving across the salt flats is a fantastic experience, particularly for the contrast of piercing blue skies and blinding white salt on the flat lakebed. The area’s unusual landscape of mountains, active volcanoes, and geysers is like nowhere on earth. Twice submerged by a large, high-altitude lake, the salt flats now cover a total area of over 12000 square km (7440 square miles) and are one of the country’s main salt mining centres. The last large lake dried up about 8000 years ago, leaving the small lakes of Poopó and Ururu, as well as the salt flats of Uyuni. Absorb stunning views of the salt-encrusted lakebed surrounded by golden-hued mountains, snow-capped peaks and an endless azure horizon that will forever engrave itself in your memory. The tour takes us through Laguna Colorada, 4278 m/14,031 ft (a large red lagoon, the colour of which is due to algae & plankton growth in the mineral-rich waters), and Laguna Verde, at 5000 m (16,400 ft), a striking blue-green lake (high concentrations of lead, sulphur, copper and other minerals). The numerous geysers, boiling mud pools, and thermal baths, and Licancabúr volcano 5960 m (19,549 ft), which looms just behind the lagoon are clear evidence of the region’s association with volcanic activity. Surprisingly, both wildlife and flora manage to survive and even thrive in the desolate landscape; this includes vizcachas (of the rodent family), flamingos (3 varieties), and assorted varieties of cacti. Despite its isolation and challenging climate (cold and blustery most of the year), Uyuni has earned the nickname of Hija Predilecta de Bolivia (Bolivia’s Favourite Daughter). Most of its hardy residents are either Public Sector workers or salt miners in the dried out lakebeds, with tour operators a close third. The main attraction in town is the Train Cemetery, a collection of rusting railway relics, just southwest of the present train station. We spend the night of day in Uyuni before continuing north in Bolivia.
Situated at 4070m (13,350 ft), Potosí is the highest city of its size on earth. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in1987 in recognition of its tragic history in the mining of silver during the time of Spanish colonization. Potosí provided a large share of the silver mined and shipped back to Spain until the early 1800s, when both the supply of silver and world market prices began to decline. Working conditions for miners were appalling, and a large portion of the indigenous population was decimated. African slaves were brought in to replace the native workers, and it is estimated that as many as eight million indigenous people and Africans died in the mines during the first three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Conditions have remained almost unchanged and although not for everyone a visit to these mines will give you a glimpse of real-life for the miners. Uyuni to Potosi Approximate distance: 149km Estimate travel time: 6 hours
Often referred to as Bolivia’s White City, the country’s official capital, Sucre, is situated at nearly 2800m (9184 ft) and offers its visitors and inhabitants a more moderate, comfortable climate than cities at higher elevation. Before the conquest, military, religious and political leaders of the local indigenous population made their homes on the present day city site. The site became the headquarters for the Spanish Royal Court, which by the late 1700s ruled over colonial Paraguay, parts of Peru, Argentina, Chile, and most of Bolivia. In 1825, in the wake of the Latin American independence movement, the city was renamed Sucre, after Simon Bolívar’s second-in-command, General Sucre. The city’s fine museums, colonial buildings and ties to the independence movement make it a city of great historical interest, and the city has much to offer during our two days here. Optional activities include a visit to dinosaur footprints, an old tin baron’s mansion, a textile cooperative, mountain biking and hiking. Potosi to Sucre Approximate distance: 79.31km Estimate travel time: 3 hours
Spend a final day enjoying the colonial beauty of Sucre before boarding an overnight bus heading through the Bolivian highlands to La Paz. Sucre to La Paz Approximate distance: 416.40km Estimate travel time: 14 hours
Founded by Alonso de Mendoza in 1548, La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace) is the highest capital in the world. Although Sucre is the official capital, La Paz is the Bolivian centre of commerce, finance and industry, and the de facto capital. This is a busy modern city, with its centre at the base of a canyon 5 km (3 miles) wide and sprawling impromptu housing all the way up the surrounding hillsides. The city is at nearly 4000 m (13,120 ft) above sea level, so visitors should be prepared for cool evenings and mornings. Explore the city’s many fine museums or its historic ecclesiastical structures, such as the Iglesia de San Francisco, whose architectural details reflect the indigenous and mestizo heritage of modern Bolivia. The city is also renowned for its many markets, including the Mercado de Hechicería (Witches’ Market), where Paceños and visitors may purchase potions and incantations made from all sorts of herbs, seeds, and secret ingredients to remedy any number of illnesses (real or imagined) and protect from evil spirits. With streets lined with market stalls and vendors, the pace on the street and the vibrant atmosphere is an incredible experience. There is also a thriving black market and a Carnaval market, where locals purchase carnival costumes. You’ll also find a wealth of shops selling all sorts of handicrafts, mainly alpaca wool products, silver jewellery, woven textiles and leather goods. Optional activities in La Paz include museums, excursions to Tiahuanaco ruins (cradle of Inca civilization), a tour of the Valley of the Moon, or a visit to the world’s highest ski resort, Chacaltaya (5600 m/18,368 ft). To the south of the city is the Valley of the Moon, with crater-like formations made of sand.
Depart at any time.