Making forth and back trips to special destinations is by and large a bad idea. The repetition of sights during the trip back would give the feeling of wasted time. Sometimes this can be justified by taking alternate routes round a major landmark. By doing so while exploring Machu Picchu from La Paz, one can get to know better the Titicaca Lake and other centers related to the origins of the Inca Empire. Alas, not always that’s possible. In my Driest Desert journal, I described a trip from La Paz, Bolivia, to Arica and Iquique in Chile. Returning along the same path would not only take away the fun of the experience, it will also look foolish. While climbing up back to the plateau all the awesome landscape of the area would be on the backside. After seeing the hundredth spitting llama boringly watching back at him, the traveler would begin reading a bulky copy of Ana Karenina with deep interest. For years this book was in his backpack for no other reason that it was suitably heavy for holding tightly closed the room doors at dingy guesthouse rooms. Afterwards, he’ll find he doesn’t have enough material for the planned IgoUgo journal. Unthinkable sin.
Luckily, the complex recent history of the area created interesting opportunities for the traveler. The War of the Pacific – not to be confounded with the oxymoronic Pacific War – changed the area’ countries geometry in the late 19th century. Chile conquered territory along the Bolivian and Peruvian coasts; Bolivia became landlocked. Regardless the actual political borders, the traveler can use the roads that existed before the war. This is important. Peru had roads between Putre and Arica. This is the road described in the first Driest Desert journal as descending from the Andean High Plateau to the Pacific Ocean coast. Then, Bolivia had roads from Potosi to San Pedro de Atacama and Antofagasta, its port on the Pacific coast. Maybe it is not the easiest path, but it offers the perfect opportunity for creating an interesting loop around the Atacama Desert and finishing the trip with a visit to Potosi, once the biggest and largest city in the Americas.
Thus, this journal begins were the first Driest Desert ended – Iquique – and advances southwards along Road #1 to Antofagasta. This is straightforward and simple. The best is taking a bus from Iquique’s terminal. This coastal trip is still along the Atacama Desert and enriches the experience; it is along this part of the trip when the traveler would comprehend the vastness and absoluteness of this desert. In essence, Antofagasta is not very different from Iquique and Arica. A port city with good beaches and surrounded by a profound desert.
It is from Antofagasta that the most interesting part of the trip – eastwards – begins. Making it with local transport – including buses to the Bolivian border – is possible and recommended. In this way the traveler can change plans easily and without unnecessary expenses. Other options include travel agencies tour, which exist in all the main towns of the area, or renting a car. The last would complicate things is wishing to exit through Bolivia. The main stops along the way would be Calama, a mining town, and San Pedro de Atacama, an awesome oasis amidst impressive volcanoes and the only pre-Inca populated area of the desert.
Due to the national orientation of IgoUgo journals, I do not expand here on the Bolivian side sights. However, it is recommended to plan that part of the trip so that the Lagunas Verde y Colorada (the Green and red Lagoons) are visited before reaching Potosi. This can be easily be arranged by any travel agency in the area. The lagoons have their unique colors due to the presence of minerals. Surrounding volcanoes – like the Uturunco – and flamingo birds trapped away from the ocean add to the strange beauty of this area. Enough words! Now, to Antofagasta…