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  • Writer's pictureMarielle Velander

MONTHLY UPDATE 02: From Patagonia to Altiplano

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

I can't believe I've been on the road now for 2 months! If you want to see what I did my first month of backpacking, check out this post. I'm now so excited to share with you what I've been up to in Month 2, traversing both southern and northern Chile, a bit of northern Argentina, and a lot of Bolivia. Buckle up, and hope you get inspired to visit some of these places yourself!

Stop 1: Pucon 🇨🇱

Since I covered so much of Valparaiso in my first newsletter I'll just jump straight to my next destination. On January 21 I left Valparaiso, where I spent an incredible 18 days falling in love with the city and having countless memorable experiences. After a final penguin tour and a quick dance party on a rooftop I caught a night bus to Pucón, Chile's adventure capital in northern Patagonia. I didn't waste anytime—after a brief nap I went for a kayak ride on Lago Villarrica and found my own beach with a view of Volcan Villarrica. The view was so inspiring I chose to ascend the volcano the very next morning, learning to use an ice pick and crampons to get as high as we were allowed to go, 2330m above sea level. Then we slid down the glacier at the top on the most spectacular slide I've ever been on! If you go to Pucón, I recommend doing the volcano tour with Ermitaño Expediciones.

The next few days I toured the incredible nature of northern Patagonia. I saw beautiful turquoise waterfalls at Parque Ojos de Caburgua, soaked in hot springs at Pucón Indomito, ascended through a forest of monkey puzzle trees to a mirador with a view of four different volcanoes in El Cañi reserve, and extended my visit by a day to see the lakes of Huerquehue national park.

Stop 2: Puerto Varas & Frutillar (Round 1) 🇨🇱

After Pucon I went further south, to the romantic lakeside town of Puerto Varas. On my first day I checked out the quirky museum of local artist Pablo Fierro. The next day I did a day trip to Petrohue, where I had a private swim in the magical Lago de Todos Los Santos after a 6 hour hike, tempted cute foxes near Petrohue falls with tres leches cake, and hitched a ride to the ski station at the top of Volcan Osorno with the help of a lovely Chilean couple.

I also popped over to the town of Frutillar, where I had German-style kaffee und kuchen, brought to this region by German immigrants in the 19th century, and adjusted my plans so I could attend the annual classic music festival held there, that I coincidentally was in town for.

Stop 3: Chiloé 🇨🇱

Before my classical music concert in Frutillar I had some time to kill, so I decided to pop over to the mystical islands of Chiloé for a few days. In the fishing hamlet of Ancud I checked out fascinating museums about Chiloé's colorful UNESCO World Heritage marked churches and the overall region's unique traditions and beliefs, including a host of mythical creatures. From the island's capital of Castro I did a day trip to Chiloe national park, where I walked through the same landscapes Darwin explored here in the 1830s, and visited the locally famous landmark Muelle de Las Almas. I also had opportunities to try local dishes of curanto (a seafood stew) and Chilote cordero al palo (local lamb slow-roasted on a spit). They were some of the most flavorful and interesting dishes I've had in Chile!

Stop 4: Puerto Varas & Frutillar (Round 2) 🇨🇱

I returned to the mainland just in time to catch the Chilean national symphony orchestra play their closing concert for Semanas Musicales Frutillar at the incredible Teatro del Lago. The concert ended just in time to catch the sunset color Volcan Osorno across Lake Llanquihue in shades of rose. The next couple days I just took it easy soaking up the relaxed vacation vibe of Puerto Varas, and admiring the full moon and stars from the emotive monument to women by the lakeside.

Stop 5: San Pedro de Atacama 🇨🇱

From Puerto Varas, I grabbed a flight via Santiago to Calama, and got a shuttle from there to my next destination: the Atacama desert. I based myself in San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis in one of the driest places on earth. It didn't seem so dry to me though! I was there during a historic rainfall, more rain than the region has received in over 7 years. As a result most of the popular tours were cancelled (due to inaccessible roads) but I was able to sneak into the closed off Death Valley to experience the Martian landscapes and enormous sand dunes almost to myself.

I was also finally able to attend one tour, to the stunning highland lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques, where I saw wild vicuñas and flamingos against an unforgettable backdrop of mountains at over 4000m altitude. The tour also took us to the salt flats at Piedras Rojas and a flamingo reserve. I'm so glad this tour wasn't cancelled because the landscapes were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen!

Stop 6: Salta 🇦🇷

There was too much snow on the border crossing from Chile to Bolivia so last minute I switched route and decided to enter Bolivia via a brief visit to Salta. Salta is a highly underrated region in northern Argentina, with rainbow mountains (quebradas) rivaling those in Peru and world-class wines near the town of Cafayate. The town of Salta is also host to a museum (MAAM) showing the perfectly preserved bodies of Incan children sacrificed more than 500 years ago. The bodies were originally preserved by the cold and dry conditions of a 6,500m peak of a volcano, and are now maintained by amazing scientific advancements. I studied this case of archaeology in university, so seeing it with my own eyes was incredible.

Stop 7: Tarija 🇧🇴

I was finally able to cross into Bolivia from Salta at 3am on February 11. My first stop in this beautiful country was Tarija, the one major wine-making region of Bolivia. My very first day I did a wine tour of the winery and vineyards of Aranjuez, one of the leading winemakers in Bolivia. The next couple days I also got to spend time with some local friends of friends, who showed me where to get the best street food in town, and joined me for a hike to a stunning waterfall called Chorros de Marquiri.

Stop 8: Sucre & Potosí 🇧🇴

I took a night bus from Tarija to get to Bolivia's constitutional capital, Sucre. Called the "white city" because it is primarily painted white, I actually got a bit of a European feel from its colonial-style buildings and range of cool cafes offering good coffee and delicious cakes. My first day there I was able to learn more about the range of cultural and artistic expression in Bolivia in the Museo de Etnografia y Folklore and the Indigenous Art Museum. I also found two cafes with incredible views, one in an old clock tower (Cafe Mirador San Miguel) and another next to an old monastery with a view of the sun setting over the city (Café Time&Coffee Recoleta).

Before I left Sucre I made a trip out to Parque Cretatico, which is one of the largest sites of fossilized dinosaur tracks in the world. While we got caught in the rain for our tour, the whole experience was so worth it to feel close to those primordial giants.

I also couldn't leave the region without visiting the famous town of Potosí. This city, situated at over 4000m above sea level, was once one of the richest cities in the world due to its proximity to abundant silver mines. Today you can do a mining tour (I didnt have time for this) or visit the old Spanish colonial mint (this I did and can recommend). And that is where I am currently writing this from, while suffering a slight headache from the altitude and enjoying the peace of my own hotel room for a change after weeks in hostels.

Where to next?

  1. CARNAVAL DE ORURO & SALAR DE UYUNI: Today I catch a bus to the town of Oruro to experience Bolivia's most famous carnival celebration. After that the plan is to visit Salar de Uyuni on a three-day tour.

  2. LA PAZ & LAGO TITICACA: After Salar de Uyuni I want to go and see La Paz, Lake Titicaca, and potentially try to not die on Death Road or trek to the 6088m peak of Huayna Potosi. We'll see what I end up doing! Then from there I'll take a bus to Arica.

  3. BACK TO CHILE: From Arica, Chile, I will fly back down to Santiago to keep exploring a bit more of Chile and participate in my first ever wine harvest, which happens in mid-march. So I'll be sending next month's update from Chile again!


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