Santiago Shopping: Local Crafts and Plaza des Armas

Santa Lucia Handicraft Market (Feria Santa Lucia) located at Cerro Santa Lucía on the other side of Alameda (Metro: Santa Lucia) sells lots of Peruvian, Bolivian, Chile and other native goods made in South America.The outdoor market is hard to miss, with Centro Artisana written outside. This place is considered to be the cheapest craft market locally and rows of stalls hawk clothing, jewelry, arts and crafts. If that is not your cup of tea, forget about going.

Musicians and street performers walk around the market singing for their supper and some play unusual guitars. The typically Andean Charango is a 10-string miniature guitar. Whether they are well-made or not, I can’t answer.


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A Lively Sunday in Santiago, Chile

There is always something new and fun to discover in a vibrant city like Santiago, Chile; particularly on a warm, blue-sky day, perfect for strolling. Providencia area includes Barrio Suecia, filled with pubs and nightclubs, and Barrio Bellavista that we briefly walked through on the “Santiago Like a Local” tour before flying to Atacama Desert. Providencia is an upscale area with many restaurants, embassies and parks.


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From Atacama Desert to Upscale Providencia in Santiago

TIP: LAN Airlines allows passengers to check in and get seat assignments 48 hours before a flight; earlier if a premium flyer with them.

It is an easy ride from San Pedro de Atacama to Calama Airport and an equally easy 1:50 minute flight to Santiago leaving the fantastical Atacama Desert behind. Security in the small airport allows passengers to carry water on board! Efficient LAN Airlines served the same choices as the outbound flight to San Pedro: bread sticks, fruit, and peanuts. LAN  landed on time, bags came off and we began haggling with drivers holding “official taxi” signs outside baggage claim. When a driver asked 20,000 CP for the ride to Providencia, Marine Steve counter-offered with 15,000 CP, the same amount we paid before and the driver accepted. Either make a deal or walk outside to the “Official Taxi Line” for a metered fare into the city.

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Atacama Desert Trivia

- The indigenous people are known as Atacamenos;

Tamarisk Trees are planted for environmental reasons. It survives well in salty soil, roots are twice the size of the entire tree and grow deep; 20 meters/60 feet;

Rural roads are made of a mixture of salt and clay;

Workers in San Pedro de Atacama can earn $1,000 US a month. Bolivians earn perhaps $100 a month and come to Chile for work. Miners are the most highly paid and can earn up to $10,000 US a month. The Chile mining industry has strict mining standards, and safety regulations;



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Atacama Desert Information

Following is approximate Tour costs for individual, package and groups tours with transportation:

- Geyser de Tatio & Machuca - 24,000 CP includes breakfast (entrance fees not included);

- Moon Valley and Death Valley – 10,000 CP, 1/2 day afternoon tour (entrance fees not included). This is the most popular group tour;

- Salt Flats and Altiplanic Lagoons – 42,000 CP includes lunch (entrance fees not included);

- Cejar Lagoon and Tebinquinche – 18,000 CP includes cocktail and 1/2 day tour (entrance fees not included);

TIP: Cejar Lagoon can be very cold;

Rainbow Valley – 28,000 CP includes snack and 1/2 day tour, no entrance fees;


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Atacama Desert Tours: Early Morning at the Astonishing Tatio Geysers

Tatio Geysers or Geisers del Tatio has over 80 active geysers some of which are the highest in the world and this site is the third-largest geyser field on Earth at 4,300 meters/14,107 feet! Yellowstone National Park in the United States is the largest in the world, contains approximately 300 to 500 geysers and is home to half of the world’s total number of geysers in its nine geyser basins.  But…Tatio is the only one I know of where visitors are free to walk within inches of geysers.

It wasn’t until I looked at some literature after-the-fact and read, “The ground is loose, crumbly and dangerous with subterranean geothermal action. It is possible for the ground to give way and people can plunge into boiling water.” Wonderful… Dangerous or not, and Alex did say that the ground does occasionally give way throwing a tourist into scalding water, but it is still worth doing. Tatio Geyser Field is the Numero Uno Atacama sight for good reason and will forever be embedded in my mind.

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Atacama Desert Tours: Small Village of Rio Grande

It isn’t necessary to go out of your way to visit the small village of Rio Grande in the Atacama Desert (population: 95); it’s just a rest or lunch stop on a day tour. Rio Grande is located 80 kilometers/50 miles to the northwest of San Pedro and crosses Llano de la Paciencia and Cordillera de la Sal. Groups of domesticated Llama ambled down the road in front of us wearing red tama tassels in its ear or tail. Tama tassels are part of an ancient ritual and hung on female animals of reproductive age (tama means female).

The high road overlooked the Rio Grande and Penalin Rivers with its green vegetation a stark contrast to the otherwise dry surroundings. Farmers in this area lead a subsistence life growing fava beans, alfalfa (recognizable by its purple flowers), corn and herding sheep. There are occasional glimpses in the rocks of old corrals and houses once used by these semi-nomadic people.


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Atacama Desert Tours: Incredible and Aptly Named, Rainbow Valley

Approximately four different tour agencies and/or hotels offer tours into Rainbow Valley, Valley del Arcoiris; an eye-popping explosion of geologic rocks from different periods. Take a Benjamin Moore paint chart, start flipping through the hundreds of hues and that’s what you’ll see in Rainbow Valley. If not interested in this dazzling explosion or rocks, forget visiting.

Guide Alex dropped us off on the dirt road leading into Rainbow Valley to experience the full impact of mountain formations and rock colors exploding on all sides and warned us to be on the look-out for wild donkeys; don’t touch them, they bite!

TIP: A tour to Rainbow Valley usually includes the Petrogyphs of Yerbas Buenas and small town of Rio Grande.

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Atacama Desert Tours: The Petrogyphs of Yerbas Buenas

The most visited petroglyphs are found in a rocky sector called Yerbas Buenas and date from 3000 years ago. Approximately 20 tourists visit each day who must be agile enough to scramble up boulders for close views of the most important petroglyphs; some can be seen from the sands below. Yerbas Buenas is obviously not handicap accessible.

The Petroglyphs of Yerbas Buenas can be combined with Rainbow Valley on another day tour in the Atacama Desert since they are in the same proximity. However, thousands of rock art can be seen off-road along the entire 25 kilometer/15 mile drive from San Pedro de Atacama to Yerbas Buenas.

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Atacama Desert Tours: The 2,000 Year Old Settlement of Tulor

Tulor is located 10 minutes outside of San Pedro de Atacama. Driving through Cuyo (a community of nine families who are subsistence farmers), Tulor in Los  Flamencos National Park is the site of the earliest known settlement in the area. It is properly known as the “Aldea de Tulor” and carbon dating fixes its origin between 380BC-200AD.

Tulor consists of circular dwellings interconnected by common passages and patios which had different uses and functions according to archaeologists. One question that guide Alex couldn’t answer is, “Was there only one entrance into the entire mix of dwellings? Did that mean a person had to go through umpteen houses until they reached their own or did each residence have an additional egress?” Hmm…


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