A photographic odyssey Chile in style

| May 24, 2013

Paul and Judi Lambeth were delighted to win a tailor-made holiday for two to Chile with Cox & Kings.


Our holiday began when Cox & Kings phoned my husband Paul to say that he had won the photographic competition, the prize being a tailor-made holiday for two to Chile. We had visited Chile before and loved it – the country’s stunning variety of scenery, the vagaries of the weather, "four seasons in a day", the friendly people, amazing wildlife, and renowned wine.

These photographs represent only a fraction of our wonderful holiday and we have decided to concentrate on just one of the areas we visited, namely the Atacama Desert.

We stayed at the Awasi, a small luxury boutique hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, built of stone, adobe and wood, at an altitude of 8,000 feet.

It had the most beautiful architecture and design, blending in with the other buildings in San Pedro. Our round suite was absolutely perfect with a gorgeous bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers, and a thatched roof over our huge, comfortable bed. Excursions were organised by Awasi so that we weren't always out in the heat of the afternoon. The white church in the centre of San Pedro, built in 1641, was just a short walk away.

On our first evening we were taken by our guide, Cristobál, to the Valley of the Moon to see the sun setting over the amazing lunar-like landscape (NASA tested their moon buggies here). We also looked at the lesser-visited, very windy Valle de la Muerta, where the colours of the astonishing rock formations in the sun were quite amazing.

The next day we started to venture higher. Altitude can be a problem, but our daily outings were planned so that we acclimatised gradually – the ultimate goal on day four being a trip to the El Tatio Geysers at 14,200 feet. First we stopped at a small village called Tocanao, notable for having 20 houses washed away the previous February by the first rain to fall for centuries. It sits beside Jere Creek, a canyon with the only fresh, running water in the area. We continued to the Atacama Salt Flats, an area of rugged beauty teeming with flamingos, avocets and other water birds.

Here we visited the Chaxa Laguna, a national reserve surrounded by salt crusts produced by the evaporation of salty ground water and fringed by mountains.

Later that afternoon we went to the Cejar Laguna, more very salty stretches of water surrounded by mountains, in which you can swim. We declined despite being told that it is impossible to sink.

The following morning we set off on a full day’s journey to the Altiplano, the high salt flats at more than 13,800 feet. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on our journey, passing the ancient church at Parinacota.We climbed to 13,000 feet at Aquas Calientes to walk on the shores of Lago Tuyiato, admiring the distant mountains and watching the many water birds. To walk on salt was quite amazing. After lunch we continued to the Laguna at Miscanti and Miñiques. Again, we were amazed by the range of colours in the landscape and the variety of birds living at high altitude.

The final day of our stay in Awasi involved an early wake-up call, as the best time to see the El Tatio Geysers is at dawn, when the sun shines through the fumaroles and lights up the huge vents of steam.

Atacama has some of the clearest skies in the world and, as it was dark when we left, we were treated to a stunning display of stars. It takes an hour and a half to get to the geysers with their huge steam columns, hot pools, colourful mineral deposits and bubbling mud. On the rocks beside the thermal springs we caught fleeting glimpses of viscachas – animals that look like a cross between a rabbit and a small kangaroo. One feature of the landscape is herds of guanacos, wild cousins of the llama. When the herd is grazing, one member always stands guard on the look out for danger.

Then it was back to Awasi for one final dinner, complete with excellent Chilean wine, before beginning the long journey home.

The whole holiday was a fantastic and eye-opening experience. Our thanks go to Cox & Kings for making this possible and particularly to Arturo Tapia, the company’s South American specialist, for organising everything to make it so enjoyable.

View Cox & Kings' Chile holidays.

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