In the Atacama Desert, the most arid and energy-laden of the world, you will find ancestral cultures immersed in the Valleys of the Moon and the Death, salt flats, geysers, lagoons of intense blue color and starry skies that dye of subtle colors the unique landscapes of the north of Chile.
4 Days / 3 Nights: Iquique – Humberstone Nitrate Mine – Cariquima – Colchane – Nationalpark Volcanoe Isluga – Vicuña National Reserve – Salt Lake Surire – Nationalpark Lauca – Lake Chungara – Arica
Day 1. Iquique – Cariquima – Colchane
We will start he tour in the morning to leave for at the most impressive nitrate mine of Chile. Humberstone was declared World Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO. This ghost town was converted into an attraction visited by national and international tourists. Rust and ruins symbolize the beauty, remoteness and silence of this ex-nitrate-mine. While walking the duty streets under the sun and exploring the abandoned houses you will find various marks and signatures left by the numerous visitors that have come to discover this fantastic town in the pampa of Tamarugal.
Our circuit continues to the village of Huara, where you can enjoy a tipical lunch of the region. It is a place with excellent climatic and geographic conditions that convert it to a paradise for adventure- and eco-tourism. Some kilometers from Huara you will get to know the biggest representation of a human being in the world: The Giant of the Atacama, located at the flanks of the Cerro Unita (Unita Mountain) some kilometers of the village Huara. This geoglyph attracts thousands of tourists every year and is considered one of the most impressive geoglyphs in the north of Chile. Appreciate this figure that measures 86 meters, representing a pre-inca human. There are many interpretations due to the mystic of this place, for example people say that the geoglyph represents a god of an ancient culture that habited the area around 1.000 and 1.400 a.C.
After that, we will get to the village of Cariquima, another example of the ancient Aymara-culture that is the central meeting point of the indigenous cultures. It is famous for many centuries for its handcrafts. On our way to Colchane you can discover the giant cactuses that reach about 10 meters and can only be found in this area at an altitude of more than 3.700m. Finally we will get to our destination Colchane, village at the border to Bolivia at an altitude of 3.750m that represents the Aymara-culture.
Day 2. Colchane – National Park Volcano Isluga – National Reserve of the Vicuñas – Salt Lake Surire – Putre
Leaving Colchane in the morning we will be visiting the altiplanic communes of Enquelga and Isluga that are located in the middle of a bofedal where Llamas and Alpacas feed themselves. Also, the churches are very beautiful to see, they are made out of adobe and date from the 17th century.
We will continue the tour to the Nationl Park Vulcano Isluga, located more than 4.000m over sea level, crossing the paths of the highlands, the desert and the pampa. The diversity of ecology is impressive and allows you to appreciate different landscapes within the park, such as the lagoon Arabilla, surrounded by small bofedales (wetlands) and forests of Queñua (typical tree of the highlands). We will visit the thermal baths of Polloquere, where you will have the perfect panorama full of flamingos and we will take the time to enjoy a Picknick.
The trip continues, reaching the most captivating destination of this tour, the salt lake Surire. It is located at 4,200 m above sea level. Surire was declared national monument and is characterized by its enormous majesty. The presence of salt deposits of intense white color contrast with the pure blue of the water of the lagoons, without doubt a delight to your eyes. The salt lake of Surire also preserves the existence of valuable species such as the ostrich (ñandu), flamingo, vicuña, alpaca and the llama, among others.
Also you will get the opportunity to appreciate majestic sceneries like the villages of Ancuta and Gualltire located at 83 km of Putre at the foot of the volcano Guallatiri. Here you can enjoy the beautiful view of its peak white of snow. The route continues to the National Reserve of the Vicuñas which as its name implies, was created to preserve the vicuña. The flora and fauna of this place are very attractive as they offer a great variety species, besides being surrounded by beautiful scenery of the Chilean Altiplano. Finally, after enjoying unforgettable landscapes and an impressive flora and fauna we will reach Putre, where the second day of our tour ends.
Day 3. Putre – National Park Lauca – Lake Chungara – Putre
We leave Putre in the morning. Our destination is the National Park Lauca with an expanse of 137.883 hectare, a biosphere reserve that covers the foothills and the highlands in the northeast of the region of Arica and Parinacota. To get to this wonderful world in the height, we start with a hike through the sector of the caves. In this district you can get to know the paradisiacal landscapes of the highlands, 4.300m over sea level, and you can observe the so called Vizcachas that come out at dusk and dawn. What makes this hike special is the mystical ambience that surrounds the region. It’s said that there are men living in this area that are over 9000 years old, and sometimes they are still seen, walking the ways of the highlands. They are said to be the very first visitors who appreciated the beauty of the landscapes.
Our journey continues to the viewing point of Chucuyo, which is located in the center of the National Park Lauca that contains a unique ecosystem and an extraordinary flora and fauna. Also, we will stop at the viewing point lagoon Cotacotani. This lagoon consists of different lakes and vulcano islands that are evidence of the high volcanic activity of this zone. The viewing point is placed in the middle of the wetlands and is perfect to observe the great variety of plants and animals, such as the parinas, ducks, vicuñas, vizcachas and taguas.
We will be moving on to one of the most beautiful attractions of the National Park Lauca, the lake Chungara, which is located over 4.500 meters over sea level and is one of the highest lakes in the world. It’s magical beauty and the marvelous reflection of the volcano Parinacota amaze thousands of tourists every year. On the other side of the lake you can see the famous volcanoes Payachata (twins), about which many legends are told due to their mystical appearance. For example people say, that they house an old treasure of the Inca, and others say that they are a couple in love.
Furthermore we will visit the village of Parinacota, which was declared national monument. Here you can discover the ancient architecture of the highlands. The old houses are all made of adobe and have a great historical value, for they contain relicts of the time of colonialism and are symbols of the Aymara-culture. At the end of our excursion we enjoy a bath in the thermal springs of Jurasi, located in the middle of a small canyon. They are well known for it’s medicinal purposes, for example they are recommended in case of rheumatism.
After enjoying all these different landscapes and regaining our strength with a warm thermal bath, we will return to Putre. Dinner and afterwards accommodation.
Day 4. Putre – Socoroma – Arica
We leave Putre and visit the location of Socoroma, outstanding for its architecture and its beautiful green terraces. Afterwards, we are going to stop at one of the biggest and most complex tambos of the epoch of the Inca. The Tambo Sapahuira that has a high touristical potential will be our place to have lunch, and you will get the possibility to try the typical food of the Chilean highlands.
We continue our route to one of the most important archaeological complexes in the area, the fort Pukara de Copaquilla, declared national monument and surrounded by an impressive canyon of about 150m of depth. On our way to Arica we are going to pass a canyon named after its vegetation, the candelabra cactuses that are typical for the desert. The branches are usually to find on the upper part of the plant, therefor the name. Our next stop is the village Poconchile. This valley is surrounded by fields of alfalfa and well known for its church, Iglesia de San Gerónimo, which was declared national monument, due to its impressive beauty preserved since the 17th century.
We will cross the Lluta Valley, natural exit of the highlands to the ocean. Here you can appreciate fabulous geoglyphs , representing animals, humans and abstract forms.
The following stop will be the Cerro Sagrado (Holy Mountain), a hill that also presents geoglyphs of mythological figures. The viewing point Las Llosyas is the best place to observe these beautiful geoglyphs and also to get a panoramic view over the Azapa Valley. This prodigious valley is popular for its enormous archaeological development with more than 10.000 years of history. Here you can find other surprising geoglyphs like on the Cerro Sombrero (Hut Mountain) or the Geoglyphos de la Tropilla.
We will finish out tour through the north of Chile getting to the city of Arica, known and valued for its ancient architecture and its enjoyable climate. Here our tour ends.