Chile - Deserts and Volcanoes

Short version of our travel report Chile 1994
(C) Hartmut Bielefeldt 1994
Quick overview - mountains
Cerro Jorquencal4971 m
Tatio5215 m
Volcán Licancábur5916 m
Cerro Corona5291 m
Ojos del Salado6893 mup to 6100 m
Volcán San José5800 mup to 3500 m
Volcán Llaima3124
Volcán Osorno2660 m

We spend our vacation '94 in the last corner of the world - el último rincón del mundo. While it is slowly becoming colder and darker at home, in Chile we can enjoy the spring and interesting mountains. After a 20-hour flight we arrive in Santiago, the smoggy capital. Five million people are living here, out of only 13 million total inhabitants of Chile.

Santiago de Chile
Santiago de Chile

Not astonishing that one hardly finds any larger village on the journey to the north. The 22-hour bus trip to Calama, an oasis in the Atacama desert, is cheap and very comfortable. The landscape is impressive due to an unbelievable monotony - 400 kilometers with no trees, no people, even no grass. Above 3000 m altitude we find vegetation again: first cactuses, then the hard Puna grass, which one shouldn't mix up with the small cushion-shaped cactuses. And of course we find here, between Llamas and Guanacos, also nice mountain characters like the schoolbook volcano Licancábur (5916 m). When climbing it, it appears more as a horrible heap of scree, since the mountains are free of snow up to above 6000 m in this region. Nevertheless mountaineering is quite interesing in this environment; sometimes one can "make" a 5000m peak from the road as a half-day trip.

Volcano Licancabur seen from San Pedro
Volcano Licancábur (5916 m), seen from the oasis San Pedro de Atacama.

Tatio Geysers
After an icy cold night (-15°C) in the high plain, the hot waters of the Tatio Geysers offers a bit of warmth, and some hours later we visit the salt lake Salar de Atacama. This is a 50 kilometers long plain consisting of almost pure salt, and right in its middle flamingos which apparently have to live from disgustingly salty insects.

Llama at Salar de Atacama
Llama at the Salar de Atacama

The international road to Paso Huaitiquina
An impression of the international road to Paso Huaytiquina

A bit further (800 km) in the south Chile's highest mountain is located - Nevado Ojos del Salado, world's highest volcano (6893 m). This is our next destination. This region is almost more deserted than in the north, and despite the icy cold temperatures even over the day, water exists only in the form of "nieve de penitentes". One can break out a some not too sandy pieces to put them into the pot and produce drinking water. Our summit try ends in a wild storm at -20°C; we have no other choice than turning round in order to avoid frostbite. Such inhospitability can hardly be expected from this snowless scree heap looking so harmless.

Ojos del Salado from about 10 km distance
Ojos del Salado from about 10 km distance

The lower hut at Ojos del Salado
The lower hut at Ojos del Salado

Nevado El Muerto
Nevado El Muerto. The white parts are sand, not snow.

Next station: Santiago and the Andes chain behind the city. Here we encounter almost winterly conditions. So no thought about one of the 5000 or 6000 meter peaks here. But the scenery is nice, it's completely quiet - a six thousand meter peak just two hours away from the city is something we'd like to have at home, too.

Maipo Valley
Lo Valdés, Cajón de Maipo

Change of scene to the south. That's relative, as Chile is 5000 km long, and the southernmost 2000 km consist of isolated islands and stormy Patagonia which is worth a separate vacation (if there once were good weather). We restrict ourselves to the continental part stretching thousand kilometers to the south from Santiago. The moutains here are by far not as high as those further north, mostly 2500 to 3000 meters. But heigh isn't all: It's a beautiful experience to climb one of these marvellously formed volcano cones which is covered with good firm snow, welcoming us on the top with lots of gas clowds escaping from the ground. One just has to take care not to step into one of the holes in the snow opened by the hot gas, they are dangerous as glacier crevasses. The landscape mainly consists of many single volcano cones standing around, appearing very strange to us Europeans. Down again, it looks almost like at home: cows on green meadow, but the volcanoes in the background don't fit into the Bavarian impression at all.

Cows with volcano
Cows with volcano

Volcano Llaima, 3100 m
Volcano Llaima, 3100 m

The 'needles' of the Araucaria trees
Those are the "needles" of the Araucaria tree - something in between needles and leaves.

The last volcano we climbed is the Osorno, "only" 2660 m high, but a beautiful vantage point above Lago Llanquihue, which is situated at almost sea level, 1 1/2 times as big as our Lake of Constance (i.e. about 30 km x 30 km). When the triangular shadow of the volcanoe falls into the lake and all the small clouds above it, we have almost everything making up a perfect vacation.

Volcano Osorno seen from lago Llanquihue
Volcán Osorno seen from Lago Llanquihue

Shadow of Osorno falls on Lago Llanquihue
The shadow of Osorno falls over Lago Llanquihue

Condor over Lago de Todos los Santos
Condor over Lado Todos Los Santos

© Hartmut Bielefeldt 1997 (english version)

We (as a two person team) organized this trip completely on our own, on a very short-term basis. It would be a pleasure for us to give you hints to plan your own trip; possibly also the WWW links might be useful.
Email:Hartmut Bielefeldt
Last updated November 13, 1997 by Hartmut Bielefeldt