Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia

In the morning on Sept 30 we got picked up by a van to start our three day journey to Uyuni, Bolivia. The trip began with another long wait at Chile immigration services to get our passports stamped. Next, we drove an hour to the Chilean/Bolivian border where we were served a quick breakfast and went through the unfortunate experience of buying a Bolivian visa (including an outrageous charge for copying two pieces of paper). Despite the rough start, Bolivia was AMAZING. 

At the border, we got into the 4×4 that we would be traveling in the next few days. The people in our 4×4 were: Jugo (our guide and driver), Lucy (a nurse from Holland), Willy (a student studying in Santiago, but from Spain), and Danny and Diego (a couple from São Paulo). 


The first stops of the day were Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca, both located at the bottom of the Licancabur Volcano. 

Then we drove to 5,000m (~14,500 ft) above sea level (we had to take long, slow breaths for a good hour) to Daly Desert where we saw a surrealistic landscape, thermal water pools, Sol de Mañana geysers, fumaroles, and cracks with emerging volcanic lava. 


(It was hard to breathe and take a picture here, but we did it!)

The day’s journey ended at Laguna Colorada, the main nesting center for more than 30,000 flamingos of the three different species we learned about the day before in Atacama. 



We spent the night at 4,300m above sea level and unfortunately it was not very pleasant. Luckily, we acclimated by the next morning and hopefully won’t have any other problems at these high altitudes over the next few weeks. 

We were excited to start the day on October 1, since it meant we would be descending to ~3,800m above sea level. We drove to Siloli Desert to see a set of rocks formations resulting from wind erosion. Then we went to the high plain lagoons (also known as colored lagoons) called Laguna Honda, Chiarcota, and Cañapa.

We ended the day at Chiguana Salt Flat in the town of San Juan.

We spent the night at 3,700m above sea level at the Salt Hotel. Almost every piece of the hotel was made of salt! The beds were more comfortable, the temperature was warmer than the night before, and the floors in each room were all covered in salt! 


We woke up at 4:15am on October 2 to head towards the Uyuni Salt Flats for sunrise. It was worth absolutely the early wake up!!!


After the sun rose, we drove a few minutes to Huasi Inca island. While Jugo prepared breakfast, we did a quick hike to the top of the island to see more beautiful views!

After breakfast, we drove into picturesque areas of the salt flats to take our funny pictures (apologies in advance for many, many photos)!!

(P.S. Cody’s new Achilles is working well 😜).



Later we drove towards the Colchani town and passed some salt sculptures on the way. 


Our last stop was at the train cemetery.


We ended in Uyuni where we had lunch and unfortunately had to say goodbye to everyone, as we all went our separate ways. 🙁 
The trip was absolutely awesome and we are glad we made the last minute decision to go to Atacama and Uyuni. The altitude definitely made us uncomfortable, but it was worth it for the views and we were bound to have some crappy hours of acclimating at some point before our trek in Machu Picchu. Now, we are off to La Paz for the evening!!

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile 

As we continued to travel and meet so many interesting people, almost everyone raved about their visit to San Pedro de Atacama. Atacama is a small, desolate village in the desert and located about 2,500m above sea level. It’s surrounded by national parks, which makes it a very popular backpacker destination. We didn’t have this on our itinerary and over the last few weeks we briefly looked into figuring out how to go, but then got distracted and dismissed the idea. But, the day before our flight scheduled from Santiago to La Paz, we decided to sit down, focus, and figure out how to squeeze in Atacama!! Although we had to cancel and change many flight and hostel reservations, we kept telling ourselves it would be worth it, and it 100% was!! 

Sept 28 consisted of a lot of traveling to get us to Atacama: a bus from Valparaiso to Santiago, another bus from Santiago center to the airport, a flight from Santiago to Calama, and a van from Calama to Atacama. We arrived as the sun was setting, checked into our hostel, walked into town to book activities to squeeze into our one, full day, and went to bed early. 

Sept 29 was a day filled with manyyy activities since we only had one full day in San Pedro de Atacama. We woke up at 5am to get picked up for a tour of Piedras Rojas. We drove about 2 hours to our first destination, Laguna Tuyajto. It was freezing cold since Atacama is the desert and the sun had not fully risen yet. Our guides cooked us breakfast as we took pictures of the beautiful landscapes. 

Our second stop was Aguas Calientes to see the famous “red rocks.” These views were even more beautiful than the first stop!! 

The last stop on the tour was Reserva Nacional Los Flamingos. We learned about the three types of flamingos in the area (Flamenco James, Flamenco Chileno, and Flamenco Andino). 

We went back into town, had a late lunch with our tour group, and then headed to our hostel to take a quick nap before getting picked up for our second tour of the day to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). 
The tour started with a visit to a cave that has been carved by rain for thousands of years. The guide asked who was claustrophobic before we entered and he was definitely not joking around. The first few yards were simple and enjoyable, but the second half of the cave required phone lights and a good deal of ducking under overhanging rocks and scaling arounds corners.


Next, we took the van a few kilometers down the park to see a rock formation called Tres Marias. We must have missed the joke/background story because it was just a couple of rocks sticking out of the ground. 


Following the Tres Marias, we hiked for about 15 minutes to a peak where an enormous sand dune had been created between two mountains.


Lastly, right before sunset, we were driven to the top of a cliff overlooking the national park. Melanie asked the semi-bilingual guide, Guillermo, when we would be seeing the moon (given that the tour was called ‘Moon Valley’). While Cody held in his laughter, Guillermo had to explain that we were on the top of the cliff to watch sunset, and the park is called Moon Valley given its physical similarities to the moon…All in all, the sunset was beautiful and we went back to the hostel to get ready for our last activity of the day!


At 10:30pm we got picked up for a van to go stargazing. We were excited about it when we booked it the night before, but by the time the tour came around we were exhausted and knew we had to wake up early the next morning. Long story short, the tour was ok and we got to get a great picture of the moon. Next time, we will just stargaze on our own 😌. 

Valparaíso, Chile

Sept 25 was a long travel day. We took a bus from Mendoza, Argentina at 9:30am and arrived in Valparaíso, Chile at 8pm 😡!! The border crossing took about 3 hours which was a bit frustrating, but luckily we had some shows and podcasts downloaded to keep us occupied. After we checked into our hostel, we grabbed dinner at a burger joint called Restaurante Brecons. The restaurant was pretty empty, so we ended up having some beers with our waiter who recommended a few things for us to do during our stay in Valparaíso.

On Sept 26 we woke up and had a quick breakfast at the hostel. Breakfast included a strange looking, but delicious, fruit which we later learned is called a pepino. After breakfast we ran along the water and then trekked up the hill to La Sebastiana Museo de Pablo Neruda. The museum was informative and the views were beautiful!


We were starving after the museum, so we decided to head down back towards our hostel and find food on the way. Luckily enough, right across the street from our hostel, we found an empanada joint with over 80 varieties! We would definitely be coming back..!

At 3pm we went on the free walking tour with Caitlin and Andrew (who we met on the vineyard tour in Mendoza). On the tour we saw a lot of street art and learned about the port and the history of the city. 





At the end of our tour, the guide recommended a restaurant called Almacén Nacional where we later met Caitlin and Andrew for dinner. We split many bottles of wine, had a 3 course meal inclusive of the seafood of the day, and ended up spending over 4 hours at dinner!

Based on our evening, we were a little slowmoving the morning of Sept 27. That being said, all four of us surprisingly made it to our 10am tour. This tour was different than the tour from the day before because it focused more on the history and culture of the city. Again, after the tour, we all went back to get empanadas! 


After lunch, we said goodbye to Caitlin and Andrew (they’re off to Santiago) and we went back to the hostel to figure out how to rearrange our itinerary to get to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and Uyuni, Bolivia!

Mendoza, Argentina

When in Mendoza, one MUST go to the vineyards where the Malbecs are made! On Sept 23 we went on a bike tour through the vineyards. We visited three vineyards (Bodega Cecchin, Vistandes, and Domiciano) and one brewery! 





Each vineyard provided a brief, unique tour followed by a tasting of some of their wines. We learned how to smell, taste, and store wine (horizontally, NOT vertically). The brewery was also great because we got empanadas with our beers! We biked for about 12km total and spent the day with a couple from Scotland (Andrew and Kaitlyn) and a bachelorette party!


After having a day in the vineyards, we decided to have an adventurous day…sooo we decided to go paragliding! On Sept 24 a man and his son picked us and another girl up from our hostel and we drove about 30 minutes to a hiking trail with a restaurant at the entrance called Puerta de la Quebrada. We hung out at the restaurant for an hour while another couple went paragliding. Then the guy came back to the restaurant to get us and drove us all the way up the hiking trail for about 20 minutes. As we ascended the hill, we both started getting a bit nervous! 


The instructors didn’t speak much English, but they did reassure us that the weather was perfect for paragliding and that they had been doing it at this mountain for over 20 years. That being said, we were still freaking outtt..!!! 😬


Each of us ran and jumped and then stayed in the air for about 20 minutes. It was awesome!! We were able to see the city of Mendoza on one side and the Andes on the other!!


P.S. This was Cody right before the jump; has anyone ever seen him look so scared?! 


We got back around 4pm and attempted to find a bar in town to watch the last quarter of the Pats game. After failing, we found a pub to watch the other games and shared a pizza. Tomorrow we head to Valparaiso, Chile! 🇨🇱

Santiago, Chile

On Sept 20 we took a morning bus from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas and then we took a 3 hour flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago. We arrived at our Airbnb in the architecture district of Lastarria (which is really beautiful!!) and then went to the grocery store to get some ingredients for dinner and breakfast the next morning. 

We spent the morning of Sept 21 doing a lot of laundry since most of our clothes were dirty from the W Trek. We grabbed lunch at Empoprio La Rosa, which we later learned is a famous ice cream shop in Santiago (ooops). After lunch we went on the famous “Wally” walking tour to see the highlights of the city. The 3 hour tour was absolutely worth it – we learned about “quiltros” (the street dogs that are super friendly and part of the culture in Santiago), the famous coffee “with legs” culture, and the political history of the city. After the tour we grabbed a drink and light dinner at CH PE to have Chilean “pisco” (the brandy of South America) drinks.

We woke up early on Sept 22 to hike Cerro San Cristóbal. It took us about 45 min to get up and 30 min to get down. The views from the top were beautiful!!!

After the hike we packed up and left the Airbnb for the airport. Time to go to wine country (aka Mendoza, Argentina)!! 🍷

W Trek in Torres Del Paine, Chile

On Sept 13 we took a bus from El Calafate, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile. The bus ride and border crossing are very easy and way less expensive than flying! For the rest of the day on Sept 13 and all day on Sept 14 we rested up since we had a big trek coming up on Sept 15!! 

Day 1: Sept 15
We started our journey to complete the W Trek in Torres Del Paine with a company called Chile Nativo. The Chile Nativo van picked us up from our lodge in Puerto Natales (Kau Lodge) and then we drove about two hours to the eastern entrance of Torres Del Paine National Park. The drive was beautiful: the sun was rising, the sky was pink, and there were many llamas and cows grazing on the side of the road. We also passed a huge group of condores encircling a dead mammal, most likely a puma. 


About five minutes past the entrance to the park, we arrived at our Refugio for the evening (Las Torres). We dropped our big packs off, quickly put on our layers, and started off on our trek. We were told the previous day at orientation that the estimated trekking time would be 8-10 hours and we were to bring headlamps, since we would most likely be finishing our trek after sundown. 

The trek itself wasn’t too difficult, but the weather conditions made it extremely challenging. For the first hour, the terrain was mostly flat and then a bit uphill. It was warmer than we were expecting, so we actually started shedding a few layers. However, as we approached the valley, we saw a few people heading back down to the Refugio because they couldn’t make it through the wind tunnel and therefore they would need to try again tomorrow. Our guides, Armando and Chumo, explained that we would go to the valley, see if we could withstand the wind, and then make the decision whether or not to cross. We were a bit apprehensive, but Armando has been guiding tours through the park for 22 years, so we decided to trust his judgement 😬.

The next hour was pretty scary! We pushed through insanely strong winds (~120 km/hour) while scaling an extremely steep cliff in a valley. There were times where we had to hold onto one another and just stay still and wait for the huge gusts of wind to pass. Not only was the wind strong, but also the rain was coming down sideways! Luckily, we all pushed through and made it to the other side alive!!

After the valley, we trekked through a forest for about two hours. The path got steeper and steeper, but luckily there were trees surrounding the path to help lessen the strong winds. We stopped for snacks at Chileno Lodge, trekked up a bit more, and then had lunch at Torres Ranger Station. While we ate lunch, the rain started coming down harder than ever. Armando suggested that we shouldn’t do the last, highest part of the trek 1) because it wasn’t safe and the winds were too strong for helicopters to come if we had an accident and 2) because the rain and fog yields crappy views anyways. So, we decided to listen to him and start our descent. 

We thought the trek down would be easier, but it really wasn’t. The weather was getting worse, our raingear was soaked through, and we started getting pretty cold and uncomfortable. Luckily, the wind had subsided and the valley on the way back was a lot more manageable. By about 5pm, we made it back to the Refugio. 
We showered, put all of our equipment and clothing out to dry near the fireplace, and played cards and Jenga before dinnertime. Everyone in our group is awesome and hysterical. There’s 8 of us + 2 guides: us, a mother and daughter from Germany who now live in Qatar (Carmen and Alisha), two Aussie pilots who currently live in Hong Kong (Justin and Brendon), and a father and daughter from Australia (Anna and Steven). The two guides are Armando and Chumo. Both of them have been trekking in the park for years and are very informative and entertaining. They explained that tomorrow’s trek won’t be as strenuous as today’s, but the weather might still not be so great! 🌧

P.S. It’s SO nice to not have wifi and cell service!

Day 2: Sept 16
Today was a much clearer day. We introduced peanut butter to everyone at breakfast (yes, we brought our own mini jar of it 😎) and then we set off for Los Cuernos. The trek was much easier then yesterday (due to the nature of the trail and also due to the weather being much less extreme). The trek was about five hours and this time we were able to actually take some pictures!

We also passed many different plants on the path. There is “chowda” which look like micro apples and taste very bitter. Chumo also pointed out a plant that is used as natural viagra! We all got a kick out of that. 

We got to the Refugio around 2pm, had lunch, and introduced the game “Heads Up” to everyone. After an hour, we checked into our cabins. The cabins are very nice; they have a big bed, a fireplace, and a skylight! 

We relaxed, had dinner, played BS with Justin, Brendon, Anna, and Steven, and then went to bed early! 😴

Day 3: Sept 17 
Today was another long, challenging day. At 9am we started our trek towards the French Valley. We trekked for about 3 hours to the Italiano campsite, which is in the middle of the base of the “W.” There was a shelter there where we could have lunch and avoid the rain. Then some of us went up to the French Valley viewpoint to see the Glacier! This trek was quite steep and very slippery. Our hands and toes were numb, but it was definitely worth it!

As we continued to trek onwards towards Paine Grande Lodge, the wind started to subside and the sky cleared up a bit. We made it to the lodge by 6pm, showered, and had dinner at 7pm. After dinner we played BS and” Guess that Celebrity” with Brendon, Justin, Anna, and Steven. 
P.S. We keep learning more and more hysterical sayings from the Aussies! They say “let’s go and smash that out!” when they want to go do something quickly and with a lot of effort. 

Day 4: Sept 18
Today was awesome since there was no rain or fog!! We started from Paine Grande Lodge and slowly made our way along Grey Lake to Grey Lodge. The views were amazing today!!

We got to the lodge around 3pm and relaxed, drank some wine, and played some cards before dinner. Armando and Chuma even made us some guac and cheese plates as a pre-dinner snack!! At dinner, Jason and Brendon kept buying Armando and Chuma whiskeys. After both Aussies had more than 7 whiskeys each, the twister board came out..! Let’s just say it was a very entertaining night! 🤣
Day 5: Sept 19
For the last day, we did a mini trek up to see Glacier Grey from another perspective. Chumo took some great pictures of us crossing the large, wobbly bridge! 


We trekked back to Refugio Grey, had beef stew for lunch, and walked down towards the beach to catch the boat. 


On the boat we went very close up to Glacier Grey, saw many icebergs, and had some whiskey sours! 


We got off the boat and took the van for two hours back to Puerto Natales. We spent the evening having burgers and beers at an amazing microbrewery in town called Bagueles with Brendon, Justin, and Carmen! 

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All in all, the last 5 days have been challenging and very rewarding. We trekked over 90km and met some amazing people that we will definitely keep in touch with!! 

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Sept 20 is a full travel day: Bus Sur from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, then fly from Punta Arenas to Santiago. On Sept 21 we will explore Santiago!

El Chaltén, Argentina

On Sept 12 we woke up very early and took a 3 hour bus to El Chaltén (arranged by the hostel). El Chaltén is a village with many trails and viewpoints of Mount Fitz Roy. It’s definitely a must see in Patagonia! We loved the town since the people were friendly and there were microbreweries all over, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so we weren’t able to do many of the hikes. We ended up doing a 2 hour hike to a waterfall (Chorillo Del Salta). 


After our first hike, we stopped for some lunch, and then did the other hike available for the day (Mirador de los Condores). The hike led us to two awesome views – one of the lake, and one of the entire town of El Chaltén!



We had a quick dinner in town and then met the bus to take us back to the hostel in El Calafate. Now, off to Chile!! 🇨🇱

El Calafate, Argentina 

We spent Sept 10 and 11 in El Calafate, a major Patagonian city that sits on Lago Argentino. We arrived at our hostel around 2pm on Sept 10, so spent the remainder of the day walking through the city and along the water. The city is very bare and simple. 


The hostel in El Calafate is by far the best we have stayed at so far on our trip (America Del Sur Hostel). The views from the common area are amazing and they have their own restaurant where they do BBQs every night. We shared BBQ lamb the first night and it was the best lamb we have ever had!

Sept 11 was more of an excursion day. We took a small bus with about 15 others to Los Glaciers National Park to see the famous Perito Moreno Glacier. This is one of the last remaining glaciers in the world that is not retreating. Each year, the Glacier expands a few dozen meters in the winter and retreats approximately the same distance in the summer. We went on a boat ride to see the Glacier up close. 



After the boat ride, we walked along all 4 trails in the park. We were able to see the Glacier from all angles! 

Seeing the Glacier was great! Now we’re excited to actually walk ON a Glacier next week in Torres Del Paine! ❄️

Bariloche, Argentina

On the morning of Sept 9 we took a bus from El Bolsón back to Bariloche. Bariloche is basically the Vail of Argentina – there’s a ski mountain nearby and the town is filled with hotels, tourist shops, and overpriced restaurants. We stayed in a quaint hotel overlooking the water near the civic center. We spent most of our day walking through the town and along the water. We also walked through the market to check out locally made clothing and crafts. The views were beautiful, but we’re glad we spent more time in El Bolsón since it’s not as touristy!

El Bolsón, Argentina

Sept 6 was mostly a travel day. We flew from Buenos Aires to Bariloche (an easy, two-hour flight). Then we took a two-hour bus from Bariloche to El Bolsón. We checked into our apartment, explored around the town, and then did a quick, 4km hike to Mirador Cerro Amigo. 


After our hike, we grabbed some pizza at a restaurant in town and then got the famous, homemade ice cream from Jauja. All in all, El Bolsón is a small, mellow backpackers village. Everyone in the town is beyond friendly and talkative!! 

On Sept 7 we decided to do our first “long” hike in Patagonia to prep ourselves for our 5 day trek in Torres Del Paine later this month. We took the public bus from El Bolsón to Wharton (about a 45 minute drive) and from Wharton we started our trek along Rio Azul. The trail escalates through a valley carved by Rio Azul and has several “refugios” scattered along the trail. A refugio is essentially a log cabin run by a local that provides food, drink, and shelter. You can rent a small bed or pay to camp on the grounds and use its facilities. 

Our hike led us past a few refugios and about 9km later we reached Cajun de Azul, a lookout at a bend of the river. We relaxed for a few minutes, had a snack, and then started our trek back to the bus station to make sure to get back before dark. About 2.5 hours later we reached the station. We were exhausted! We ended up sharing a cab back to El Bolsón with a couple from Buenos Aires. We grabbed chicken and vegetables from the supermarket, cooked dinner, and slept veryyy soundly 😴. 
When we woke up on Sept 8, our legs pretty sore. We calculated that we had walked around 23km the day before. We spent the morning relaxing and walking around town to get face masks and warmer gloves. At 1pm, our new friend Mario came to pick us up in a 4×4 to drive us up a mountain. We thought it would be a 30 minute drive up, we see the “Bosque Tallado,” and then we would drive back down. Boy were we wrong..

We drove about 30 minutes up the mountain as we had expected. Then we, Mario, his sister, and this woman Karina (who owns the apartments we are staying at) got out of the car and started a 1 km ascent to “Bosque Tallado.” As we hiked higher and higher, the temperature started decreasing and the snow started getting very icy. Luckily we all had walking sticks that we found near where we parked the 4×4. In about 45 minutes we made it to “Bosque Tallado,” which translates to “The Carved Forest.” All around us were tons of sculptures carved out of wood from the trees on the mountain. Each sculpture was very impressive!



After the forest we ascended about 200m more to meet the rest of our crew at Refugio Piltriquitron, which some people call the “refuge in the clouds.” It was beyond breathtaking and completely worth the trek!!



We hung at the Refugio for a while. We had snacks, homemade beer, and talked with the owners of the refugio and the locals that had slept there the night before. As we were getting ready to leave, we talked about how we were going to get down since it was going to be slippery. Truth be told, we ended up sliding down on our butts for some of it! It took us less than 45 minutes to descend and we hopped back in the 4×4 to head back to the apartment. The day was definitely more rigorous than we expected, but it was completely worth it and we are so happy we went!! For dinner, we decided to treat ourselves and go out to a restaurant that many people from the town rave about. The restaurant is called La Gorda and we ordered “bife de chorizo” (which is very popular in Argentina) which was served to us as a sandwich with steak as the buns and then bacon and cheese inside!! Definitely not our healthiest meal, but boy was it delicious!!! 

 

Now we are off to Bariloche for a day before heading to El Calafate! 😁