The Chilean salt flats, or salares are one of the Norte Grande (the far north of Chile)’s biggest attraction. There are several salt lakes that you can visit, with the largest, the Atacama Salt flat, easily accessed from the small desert outpost town of San Pedro de Atacama. The Atacama Salt Lake is the second largest in the Americas, exceeded in area only by Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni in southwestern Bolivia. The Atacama is a non-flooding salt flat, which means it is has not lost its natural salt formations, which give a snowlike and rocky appearance. Its natural salt sculptures come in all shapes, and in colors from snowy white, to darker, mineral-covered formations. The vast lake is almost 1900 square miles, and is bordered on the east side by an impressive string of volcanoes, including Licancabur, Acamarachi, Aguas Calientes and Láscar, which are easily visible from the visitors’ area.
As Chile is in the southern hemisphere, we enjoy winter while the northern hemisphere is deep in summer. Here, winter falls between June and August, with temperatures picking up again at the end of August. While the northern hemisphere is turning up the a/c, in Chile, we’re trading tank tops for sweaters, and holding cozy cups of tea in our hands. There’s lots to do in a Chilean winter, just remember to pack some warmer clothes for the chilly (no pun intended) climes.
Travelers headed out to or from the southern seas often either start, end or stop in Chile’s historic UNESCO heritage site of Valparaíso. The city climbs up into the hills from the port, a colorful collection of buildings perched on steep hillsides, and connected with circuitous walks, and accessed via historical funiculars.
La Tirana, in the north of Chile, some forty miles east of Iquique, is a mall hamlet of about 1300 inhabitants most of the year. But on for ten days around the 16th of July, in honor of the Virgen del Carment the population of the town swells to almost 300,000 with people coming from all over Chile and the rest of the world to watch or participate in the festivities. It’s kind of an off-season mini-carnival, and one of the most colorful festivals in the Chilean calendar.
Pucón is Chile’s adventure capital. It’s a small city in the south, about ten hours by bus from Santiago, on the shore of Lago Villarica, a large placid lake with two small beaches, along which some of Chile’s luxury hotels lie. It is about 20 misty miles from the larger (and less tourist-oriented) city of Villarica, itself worth a visit.