The High Desert of Chile

The Atacama region of Chile is a place of stark beauty.

SONY DSC

The resorts in this area of South America are undiscovered gems for travelers from the United States. The climate of this part of the world limits the number of resorts as well as the population as a whole. Despite this, the resorts we have found in this region are some of the best Lori has visited in all of her travels.

The Atacama region of Chile is recognized as the most arid place on earth. The region averages .6 inches of rain a year although some locations, notably Arica and Iquique, average one to three inches per year. Many weather stations go three to four years between rain fall and some stations have never received rain. The desert is on a plateau with high mountains to the east and west preventing most moisture from reaching the area. The average elevation is 9000 feet, give or take. This is lower than Cuzco, Peru (the gateway city to Machu Pichu) and of La Paz (the capital of Bolivia), but higher than Denver (5300 feet). You may feel the effects of the altitude when you first arrive in the area. It is always a good idea to limit your alcohol consumption when you first arrive in a high altitude environment.

What to do? This is after all a desert and very remote. Lori took a mountain biking trip from her hotel through a landscape that she described as breathtaking, almost like being on the moon.

SONY DSC

The trek went through a valley with sheer rock walls on either side and then up a mountain for amazing views. The salt flats in the region are home to flamingos and merit a visit. Lori also visited some prehistoric rock carvings (petroglyphs).

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

For those with an interest in native cultures or our history, this is a must see. This part of the world, with its high altitude, no humidity, and almost no light pollution, has the well-deserved reputation for being one of the best places on earth to view the night sky. Lori said there are so many stars they looked like a cloud. Even if you’re not a star gazer with an interest in astronomy, you will enjoy seeing the sky in a way that is impossible in the United Sates or in any city environment in the world. The view will take your breath away.

Flights from Santiago, Chile are regular and flown in modern jet passenger aircraft. The flight is about two hours. You will be met by an English speaking guide and driven to your resort. The drives to most of the resorts take about an hour and a half. The resorts Lori visited were outside of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. This is a small town of 4000 people, mostly dedicated to tourism, and very friendly with lots of English spoken.

The Tierra Atacama is a beautiful boutique desert resort. There are three room categories, the Oriente, the Poniente and the Family suite. The Poniente is larger then the Oriente, however both offer outdoor as well as indoor showers and private terraces. The Oriente room does not have a bath tub. Both have one king bed or two twins. The family room is a two story suite with a master bedroom upstairs and two bedrooms down. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. These suites also have private terraces overlooking the hotel gardens.

The Alta Atacama Desert lodge and Spa is another resort in the area we recommend.

SONY DSC

This boutique hotel also has three room categories. Ten Quitor rooms are closest to the common areas of the resort. These 550 square foot rooms have private terraces overlooking the resort’s gardens. There are 27 Standard Catarpe rooms, which have more private terraces and are also 550 square feet. These terraces have uninterrupted views of the Cordillera de la Sal mountain range and the Catarpe valley. Finally, ten Suite Tilo rooms offer even more privacy on their terraces. These 770 square foot rooms have views of the resort’s lagoon and the Catarpe valley.

Both resorts have great pools, and with this climate you will definitely want to spend time in them. The spa services offered were exceptional. Despite the fact that they are in the driest of all deserts, water from glacial snow is what makes San Pedro de Atacama an Oasis, and it makes the Spa a strongly revitalizing experience. Water, expert hands and aromatic scents are the tools for invigorating your body and spirit after a day of exploring the desert. Spa options include Finnish Sauna, Turkish bath, Scottish showers, and indoor and outdoor hot tubs, among others.

The night sky of the Atacama desert region is enough to add this part of the world to the must-see list of the discriminating traveler, plus, there is a lot for the adventure seeker to do as well. See you in the desert!

Hot Travel Destinations for 2018: Peru and Machu Picchu

Home to some of the most ancient civilizations on earth, as well as some of its most diverse ecosystems, Peru is a prime destination for tourists from around the world. Peru’s multi-ethnic population includes Amerindians, Europeans, Africans and Asians. As a result of this cultural mixing, there is a diverse array of architecture, cuisine, literature, art, and music. Located in western South America, Peru’s terrain ranges from coastal valleys to deserts, mountains, and humid jungles. If you enjoy a good plate of mashed potatoes, you can thank the ancient Peruvians, since the potato is indigenous to Peru.

The crown jewel of Peru is, of course, the world famous citadel of Machu Picchu, followed closely by the famed Nazca Lines, ancient glyphs carved into the floor of the Nazca desert. However, there is so much more to see and do in Peru; an adventure awaits around every corner! Perhaps you are interested in an eco-tour of the threatened Amazon rainforest? The highly skilled staff at Condor Tours & Travel can help plan your eco-vacation. The Amazon is one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet and it is full of a wealth of rare plants and animals found nowhere else, many of which have been discovered to have medically valuable properties. Once done with your trip to the Amazon, you might want to explore Paracas and the Ballestas Islands along with the Nazca Lines mentioned above. The Ballestas are a group of small rocky islands near the town of Paracas off the south coast of Peru. These islands are an important marine sanctuary for animals such as the guano bird, blue-footed booby, and the Humboldt Penguin. Fur seals and sea lions are also commonly spotted here and often like to approach tourist boats and make a spectacle of themselves.

Another hotspot for biodiversity is in the Arequipa region of southern Peru. The city of Arequipa is a cosmopolitan center and the second largest city in Peru. The terrain of the region is very diverse, ranging from small plateaus and desert dunes along the coast to mid and high level plateaus cut with deep canyons, and finally, snowcapped peaks in the interior. Beautiful beaches can be found in the coastal provinces of Caraveli, Camana, and Islay. The famed Colca Canyon in Caylloma is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. Colca Canyon is home to many rare bird and plant species such as the giant hummingbird. It is also known for its ancient rock art and natural hot springs as well as its indigenous arts and crafts.

At an altitude of more than 12,000 feet above sea level lies Lake Titicaca, located on the border between Bolivia and Peru. Lake Titicaca is home to more than 500 aquatic species and is rich in marine and bird life. In the surrounding areas one can also find enigmatic ruins left behind by the ancient peoples who have inhabited the area for millennia. One of the more famous elements of Lake Titicaca are the “Floating Islands” of the Uros people. These man-made islands are creating by cutting and stacking the totora reed which grows abundantly in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. According to legend, the Uros originally migrated in Pre-Columbian times to this region and were oppressed and denied land to live on by their neighbors. In response, they created these floating, reed islands to move out into the deeper waters of the lake and escape their hostile neighbors on land.

Machu Picchu: Timeless City of the Inca

Located in the lower reaches of the Andes Mountains in Peru, the fabled lost city of Machu Picchu represents the most iconic surviving remnant of the ancient Inca Empire. Machu Picchu is believed to have been constructed as a royal estate for the Inca Emperor Pachacuti (1438-1472). The population of the citadel never numbered much more than 750 and these were primarily servants and attendants who were there to cater to the needs of the Emperor. It is thought that most of the inhabitants perished in a small pox epidemic around the time of the Spanish Conquest and that the site was abandoned shortly thereafter. Although known locally for centuries, Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadores and therefore remained largely untouched and un-plundered, a spectacular example of the genius and ingenuity of the Inca. The site was first made known to the wider world by the American explorer and historian, Hiram Bingham, as a result of a 1911 expedition to the region.

Sitting atop a mountain ridge, Machu Picchu is divided into an upper and lower town. Most of the chief archeological treasures are in the upper town such as the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These buildings are dedicated to the Inca sun goddess Inti. The lower town consists mainly of warehouses and storage facilities. The major buildings of the citadel are built in a classic Inca style known as ashlar. Ashlar construction involves the cutting and moving of huge blocks of stone and placing them together without the aid of mortar. This technique is so challenging, that over the years there has been much wild speculation about the involvement of aliens, giants, or paranormal entities in the construction process!

Are you a person who thirsts for adventure? Do you enjoy the thrill of seeing ancient ruins and exploring fabulous lost cities? If so, a visit to Machu Picchu might be just the thing for you! Machu Picchu is the most famous tourist destination in Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also voted one of the Seven New Wonders of the World in an online poll. The period from April – October is the best time of year for visiting Machu Picchu, and also the time when it is most likely to appear as it does in the travel brochures. Make sure you bring a variety of clothing as temperatures can vary from the 70’s in the afternoon to near freezing in the early morning. Finally and most importantly, let the experts at Condor Tours & Travel plan your exotic Peruvian vacation. We have the knowledge and ability to make sure you have a great time! Machu Picchu is obviously Peru’s crown jewel.

Your Peruvian adventure awaits! Come see the experts at Condor Tours & Travel so that we can help you plan the vacation of a lifetime!