Let's start with where we entered Bolivia and crossed the border.
Desaguadero or Chaka Marka (Aymara and Quechua for "bridge village") is a town on the Bolivian-Peruvian border, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Both tiny Bolivian and Peruvian towns bear the same name. The highlight of the town is definitely its bazaar.
Indigenous culture is alive and well in Bolivia, a country where the vast majority of inhabitants are of native descent. Even today, the traditional bowler hats and frilly dresses of indigenous cholita women can be admired at every turn.
Landlocked at the remote heart of South America, Bolivia rewards the adventurous travelers and encompasses everything that outsiders find most exotic and mysterious about the continent. Bolivia embraces an astonishing range of landscapes from salt pans to ancient Inca trails and towering volcanic peaks.
Reached via a series of lush valleys, Bolivia is dominated by the Andes. Although it covers an area the size of France and Spain combined, Bolivia is home to just under ten million people, who are concentrated in a handful of cities founded by the Spanish. The language of government and business is Spanish, however, the streets buzz with the cadences of Aymara, Quechua and more than thirty other indigenous languages.
Despite these attractions and being one of the continent’s least expensive countries, Bolivia remains one of South America’s least-visited countries. Some blame Queen Victoria, who after a diplomatic incident is said to have crossed the name from a map and declared that “Bolivia does not exist”. Among those who have heard a little about Bolivia, meanwhile, it has a reputation for cocaine trafficking and political instability.
The ancient city of Tiwanakau sits high on the Bolivian Altiplano at over 3962 meters. The UNESCO World Heritage Site ruins are believed to be the ancient capital city of the Tiwanaku Empire which once stretched across Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Predating Incas, the Tiwanaku people first arrived in the area around 200 BC and lasted for 1200 years!
The Tiwanaku were adept astronomers as well as masters of pottery & agriculture, however, it was draught that cause their extinction. As the Tiwanaku never had a written language and much of the site remains unexcavated, the city is still shrouded in mystery. Many things, such as how they had moved those mammoth 25-tonne rocks, remain a mystery.
Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara, who partly descend from the Tiwanaku, hold a lavish New Year’s celebration at the ruins on June 24 each year. Dressed in traditional Andean clothing, revelers chew coca leaves and drink singani before climbing to the peak of the temple at dawn to welcome the first rays of the new year.
As part of their continent-wide expansion, the Incas overtook the remains of Tiwanaku in the 15th century. In order to exert their dominance, they were said to have displayed the heads of rival chieftains on spikes and made belts out of their skin.
I was told, just as Spanish named the places they conquered after their own cities back in Spain, they also named some places inspired by some of the names here in Americas, such as Puerta del Sol.
Situated 10 kilometers from downtown La Paz, Moon Valley is a unique area featuring lunar landscapes and bizarre geological formations. The maze of canyons and giant spires, composed mainly of clay and sandstone, were created by the persistent erosion of mountains by the area’s strong winds and rains.
Great variance in mineral content between each individual mountain creates colorful compositions ranging from clear beige tones to sections of red and dark purple.
There are two circular walking tracks to choose from at Moon Valley each spanning different view-points. Devil’s Point (the most spectacular view-point) is located toward the end of the longest track, which takes around 45 minutes to complete.
In a way, I was reminded of the formations back home in Cappadoccia, Turkey.
It's said to have received its name after Neil Armstrong apparently visited the site and remarked how the landscape resembled that of the moon 😀
Set against a striking backdrop of snow-capped mountains, La Paz is Bolivia’s third most populous city and the highest capital city in the world.
La Paz’s Witch Market is the place to go for a variety of potions, medicinal plants, spells and spiritual advice. Taking up only a small section of La Paz’s lively tourist area, this is the part of the city where ancient Aymaran beliefs are still practiced.
The beautifully decorated Church of San Francisco, admired for its intricately carved facade and blending of catholic and native art, was initially built entirely by indigenous Aymara workers. This is the second version from 1750 as the first had already been destroyed.
One of La Paz’s most popular streets is Calle Sagarnaga, an area dedicated to all things touristy. This bustling strip, located just south of San Francisco Church, is lined with hostels, tour agencies, cafes, souvenir and clothing stalls.
Mi Teleferico, world’s highest cable car ride is a fun way to experience impressive views over the city from 4000 m above sea level.
Crossing the border by a roadtrip enabled us discover off the beaten track villages like Putre. It's unbelivable to come across this in the middle of the desert. Pocket-sized Putre is an appealing Aymara village perched precariously on a hillside in the precordillera at a dizzying elevation of 3530m. Just 150km from Arica, it's an ideal acclimatization stop en route to the elevated Parque Nacional Lauca on the altiplano. As such, this languid mountain village now hosts a number of hostels and tour agencies.
It is dominated on its northern side by Cerro Taapaca (5775m). Most of its inhabitants are Aymara people. The name ″Putre″ is a deformation of the Aymara word ″Puxturi″ that means ″murmur of water″.
Church Virgen Asuncion of Putre was originally constructed in the 17th century and reconstructed after the earthquake of 1868.
Did you know, receiving only 15 millimeters of rainfall a year, Atacama Desert is in fact world’s driest nonpolar desert? It´s been used as an experimentation site for Mars expedition simulations.
Before the Inca empire and prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the extremely arid interior was inhabited primarily by the Atacameño tribe who are noted for building fortified towns called pucarás, one of which is located a few kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama.
As one of the globe’s stargazing hotspots, it's home to two bases of European Southern Observatory; La Silla & Paranal. Some of the most popular sites in Chilean part of the legendary desert are Chaxa Lagoon, Salt Flats, and Rainbow, Death Valleys. And on your way, if not the largest, you can see some anthropomorphic geoglyphs! They can be found in an area of over 100 square miles . They depict many subjects, lamas and similar animals humans, chessboards and other geometric designs. They're believed to be 2500 years old.
Arica is known as the city of eternal spring, a place where the sun is always shining and the temperature is ideal. 2,5h plane ride from Santiago, we happened to visit it on our way.
To view Arica in all its splendor, hike up the Morro, a large 130m-high rock that is part of the Coastal mountain range. As well as the amazing views from the city and the port, you can also find here the Historical and Weapons Museum, which is dedicated to the War of The Pacific in 1880, between Chile, Perú and Bolivia. The land here was once part of Bolivia and was the last piece of land taken from them which left the country landlocked.
Did you know Chile has world's oldest mummies? The Chinchorro people settled in coastal bays of the Atacama Desert, had developed a technique for mummification around 5000 BC, which is 2000 years before the ancient Egyptians! San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum in Atacama (and in fact Arica Chacalluta Airport) has some of these mummified remains. However the museum only displays about 10% of its collection for public view. That's because, at the moment, there is neither the money nor the space to showcase the mummies in a way that won't irrevocably damage them. Chile hopes a UNESCO application for World Heritage Site status soon.
The city holds Carnaval Con la Fuerza del Sol, a 3-day festival which is one of the most important carnivals in South America.
If you have more time in Arica, check out the beaches that are warmer than in the rest of the country and is ideal for surfing. Visit Anzota Caves or do birdwatching at the mouth of the Lluta River.
Santiago de Chile is the capital of Chile, and encompasses a whopping 40% of all Chileans within its boundaries. This makes it the 5th most populous city on the continent!
Santiago's reputation as a great place for business and quality of life is increasingly more welcoming to international businesses and expats. It is widely recognized as the cultural hub of Chile as well.
The Spanish colonial architecture’s royal appearance runs through Chile’s capital like a pulsating electric vein. Plaza de Armas is the central hub to all things in Santiago, as the main square in the middle of the city.
Plaza de Armas literally means “weapons square“, but it’s better to be translated as “parade square”. This is the name given to all principal squares in the Latin cities built by the Spanish conquistadores. It arose from the fact that this would be the shelter in case of an attack upon these cities, from which arms would be provided to the defenders. All the Plaza de Armas are designed in a conventional military way, enclosed by governmental buildings, churches or cathedrals, post offices, and museums.
Plug into the square’s pulsating energy while indulging in some prime people-watching and admiring the grand architecture of the surrounding Metropolitan Cathedral, the Palacio de la Real Audiencia (today home of the National History Museum), and the Central Post Office—possibly the poshest post office you’ll ever encounter.
The Monument to the Indigenous People, by Chilean sculptor Enrique E. Villalobos Sandoval, to honor the bravery of the indigenous Mapuche people caused controversy when it was unveiled in 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the America. The Mapuche people fought against the Spanish conquistadores for 350 years. Their struggle outlived the Spanish Empire, continued well after Chile’s declaration of independence in 1818 and today they reverted back to farming.
Museum of Memory and Human Rights is dedicated to all the human rights abuses carried out around the world, focusing mostly on the horrible human rights abuses and ‘disappearances’ carried out between 1973 and 1993 by Chile’s military dictatorship, led by General Augusto Pinochet. It’s estimated that 40,000 people were disappeared, tortured or executed during this period.
Inaugurated in 1876 and rebuilt after a fire in 1895, this neoclassical building with magnificent Corinthian columns was used by the Chilean National Congress until 1973. The building was declared a National Monument in 1976 and is now used for government offices.
Palacio de la Mondea is Chile’s presidential palace. Underground the square is Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, an interesting underground art museum.
Overlooking the incredible views of mountain-ridged metropolis, San Cristóbal Hill, is home to a sanctuary dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, with a 22-metre statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which presides over the city, and an amphitheatre and a chapel. Santiago’s most expansive green space of 722-hectare, encompasses a botanical garden, zoo, swimming pools and even a wine museum. You can take the “funicular” from Bellavista neighborhood to reach the hill.
Bellavista is also home to Pablo Neruda´s House -La Chascona- as well as a wealth of street art, interesting cafés and restaurants.
Foodies will enjoy the Mercado Central, which although busy, is the best place to enjoy the variety of fresh seafood. It´s voted ‘5th best market in the world’ by the National Geographic. Beneath its vaulted ceiling, vendors serve up local products ranging from seafood to baked goods, empanadas, cheeses and more.
Chile was the first country in Latin America which recognized Turkey with the Friendship Treaty, on January 30, 1926. In Santiago, there is also the Turkish Republic Square as well as Atatürk College. This monument in Novigod Park of Santiago de Chile, was placed for the 50th anniversary of the proclamation.
You might wanna visit a winery to taste the famous Chilean wines. It wasn't necessarily when Spanish conquistadors had grown vines by planting the pips of the raisins they had brought over with them from Spain but in fact when cuttings from France were planted, the wine growers started to have the best vines thanks to also ideal temperate climate and the right type of soil for the vines to flourish.
From Santiago, you can also take a day trip to the coast to bask on two beautiful beaches. Valparaiso and Viña del Mar.
Viña del Mar
Mix modern buildings with white sand beaches and large gardens, villas, palaces and you have Viña del Mar! Chile’s largest and best-known beach resort draws tens of thousands of mostly Chilean vacationers each summer.
Its official name, which means 'Vineyard by the Sea,' stems from the area's colonial origins whereas its nickname translates to Garden City. Football fans aren't known for their love of flowers. Or clocks, for that matter, unless they’re counting down the seconds to a victory. It was when Viña del Mar, was chosen as a venue for the 1962 World Cup to spruce up its seafront with a large, fully functioning Flower Clock.
Why not enjoy an exquisite lunch by the sea before you hop on to your next stop?
One of Chile’s loveliest ports, famed for its rainbow palette of cliff top homes and historic funiculars, this world heritage city has charming narrow streets with endless staircases and numerous lookouts offering perfect panoramic views.
Sotomayor Square is known for its eye-catching monument dedicated to the seamen who lost their lives in the Iquique Naval Battle. Chilean Navy Headquarters building initially served as a municipal building in 1901. Soon after Chile declared its independence from the Spanish Empire in 1818, the First National Fleet was founded leading to the creation of the Chilean Navy. It was a logical first step to help defend its 2,500 miles of Pacific coastline.
Bohemian and colorful, Valparaiso’s maze of hills has long inspired poets and writers. Perched atop Cerro Florida, Pablo Neruda, the most famous Chilean poet & writer who won Nobel Prize for Literature has another house here called La Sebastiana, which can be visited as it's a museum.
Head up to Concepcion Hill via funicular and be amazed by the remarkable Lutheran Church of La Santa Cruz. The UNESCO World Heritage Site's iconic feature is its street art and walking down to Sotomayor Square from here is the best way to discover it. Graffiti covers the city from the bottom to the top, no matter where you turn, you will sooner or later find a colorful mural wall. You will stumble across many picturesque staircases like Appolo Stairway or Piano Stairway.
One of the world’s most remote islands, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is located over 3700km to the west of the Chilean coast. It's famous for massive, monolithic moai statues that were carved here between 1400 and 1650 AD. Next time Gadget, next time...
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