Feb 14, 2018

City of Antofagasta, Northern Chile

City of Antofagasta, North of Chile.
Photo: atacamaimmersion.com

     Antofagasta is a seaport of 361,000 inhabitants (the fifth most populous city in Chile according to the 2017 Census), capital of the homonymous region also known as "Second Region of Chile". The distance by land from Santiago is of 1368 Km. Because of the great mineral wealth that covers the entire area and for being one of the most important cities of the country, Antofagasta is called "La Perla del Norte" (The Pearl of the North). It should be noted that the nascent city was part of Bolivia, and after the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Antofagasta became part of Chile. Its landscape is dominated by the Pacific Ocean and the immensity of the Atacama Desert, the driest in the World. Today, the economy is mainly based on the exploitation of various minerals, especially copper and a promising future for its large deposits of Lithium, one of the biggest in the World. It is important to point out that Antofagasta is the city with the highest per capita income in Chile, surpassing the US$ 25,000 (2017).

     How to get there: By Land: There is a good connectivity of roads with numerous Bus Lines either departing from Santiago or other nearby cities. The road system called "Autopistas de Antofagasta" covering the entire Region, is composed of Route 5 North (Pan-American Highway), Route 1, Route 26 and Route B 400. By Plane: Cerro Moreno International Airport is located 24 Km. North of the city. There are daily frequencies that connect with the cities of Santiago, Calama, La Serena and Iquique. "La Perla del Norte" is full of interesting places, here are the main points of tourist attraction in Antofagasta:

La Portada Natural Monument

"La Portada" Natural Monument in Antofagasta, North of Chile.
La Portada Natural Monument - Photo:  ahoranoticias.cl
     La Portada  (English: "The Gateway"), is the best known postcard of Antofagasta and one of the most popular in Chile. It is located 18 Km. North of the city through Route 1 and then a 2 Km. fork corresponding to Route B 446. It is a natural rock formation in the shape of an arch, as a result of the erosive action of the sea on the coast, surrounded by cliffs of 70 meters high. The arch is 43 m high, 23 m wide and 70 m long, very close to the seashore. The base made of volcanic rock is around 150 million years old and the arch formed by sedimentary rock has 2 million years old. The place is also ideal to observe a wide variety of Birds and Marine Fauna, but due to the aridity of the whole area the Flora is practically nonexistent. On the coast there is a viewpoint to safely observe this Natural Monument as well as a Hiking Trail, a Museum and a Restaurant. The access road is available all year round.

Plaza Colon

     Plaza Colon is one of the most representative places of Antofagasta. It is the main square of the city, a site full of history because it witnessed the landing of the Chilean troops in 1879 and keeps symbols of the foreign colonies that founded the region. One of them is The Clock Tower donated by the British Colony, installed in 1911 in the center of the square, in commemoration of the first centenary of the Independence of Chile. The monument was originally planned as a scale model of the Tower of the Houses of Parliament in Westminter, but the rules that regulated the constructions of that time prevented the total achievement of the primitive project (it was expressly forbidden that there was any construction that would exceed the Cathedral in height). Its chimes evoke the original Big Ben. Another of the symbols is the Kiosko de Retretas, also inaugurated in 1911, donated by the Croatian Colony in return for the friendship and affection of the former residents. There, every weekend, performed folk groups or military bands. At present, after having suffered serious damage by a strong earthquake in 2007, the Kiosko de Retretas is fully restored. The Statue to Spain and America, donated by the resident Spanish Community, represented by two female images at the top of the sculpture. This set is completed with a Condor holding the Chilean Coat of Arms and a Lion with the Spanish emblem.

Ruinas de Huanchaca

     Visiting for the first time the imposing stone construction of Ruins of Huanchaca, really impresses because of its appearance of abandoned Fortress of some extinct people. But in reality this National Historic Monument, the oldest construction in the city dating from 1888, is what remains of an old silver foundry, belonging to a former Bolivian mining company. The foundry definitively closed its doors in 1902, since then, more than 60 years elapsed until the facilities were transferred by the Government of Chile to the Universidad Catolica del Norte. In 1974 Huanchaca was declared a National Historic Monument. In 2007, with the creation of the Fundacion Ruinas de Huanchaca, integrated by the Universidad Catolica del Norte in partnership with Enjoy Antofagasta, the monument was officially included in a plan that considered its openness to people. Today, the ruins are located within the Parque Cultural Huanchaca, located at 01606 Angamos Avenue, in front of the Enjoy Antofagasta Casino, a Park which also includes the Museo Desierto de Atacama, a great cultural and tourist center of the Antofagasta Region.

Museo Regional de Antofagasta

     The non-profit institution Museum of Antofagasta, is a historical, archaeological and geological gallery located at 2786, Jose Manuel Balmaceda Av., Historical Quarter of the city. Created in 1964 under the aegis of the former Universidad del Norte, today, the Museum has 12 permanent rooms and an auditorium for traveling exhibitions, distributed in two buildings that formerly belonged to the Customs Offices and the Maritime Authority. The collection, grouped in the areas of Bioanthropology, Natural and Social Sciences, has around ten thousand cultural assets, including mineral, paleontological and archaeological samples related to pre-Hispanic cultures of the desert's coast.

     The Museum also includes an important photographic compilation, of around 1,500 images representing different aspects of Antofagasta's society in the middle of the 20th century. In addition, there are ethnographic components, works of art, objects and historical documents related to the urban and mining history of the Antofagasta Region, especially furniture, and an endless number of implements belonging to the daily life and tasks of the once flourishing Nitrate fields.

Balneario Municipal

"Balneario Municipal" Artificial Beach, Antofagasta, Chile.
Photo: Antofagasta Television
     The Balneario Municipal is a very popular artificial beach of Antofagasta, located in the southern part of the city, suitable for swimming and all the activities related to the marine environment. It is surrounded by green areas, restaurants and places of entertainment. The city itself has a rocky coastline, reason why this is one of the few beaches within its limits. Anyway other beaches suitable for swimming within the city are El Trocadero, Paraiso, soon La Chimba artificial beach and outside the city limits is located Balneario Juan Lopez.

Hornitos, Town and Beach

     Although located 90 km. North of Antofagasta, Hornitos is always mentioned as one of its important attractions for being one of the most beautiful beaches in northern Chile, a coastline of 5 Km. nestled at the feet of the coastal cliffs, typical of the region. It should be noted that Chile's beaches are not very warm because the temperatures are regulated by the Humboldt Cold Current, despite this, the name Hornitos ("Little Ovens") is due to the high temperatures that this part of northern Chile registers during the hottest months (25 to 28 degrees C). Contrary to his reputation of tourist town, until now (2018) Hornitos does not have basic services such as electric power and drinking water, services that the own residents self-provide by means of generators and water tanks, however there is an infrastructure to meet the requirements of visitors such as accommodation, food, recreation.

La "Mano del Desierto" ("The Hand of the Desert" sculpture)

The Hand of the Desert Monument, Atacama Desert, Chile.
Photo: panamericanahoteles.cl
     75 Km. South of the city, in the middle of the Atacama Desert and next to Route 5 (Pan-American Highway) is located this notable work of the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrazabal. Today, the eleven-meter-high sculpture built with reinforced concrete, has become one of the tourist icons of the so-called "Second Region of Chile". Many are the interpretations that the travellers give to the monument and in fact, according to its author, it leaves it to the imagination of each visitor to the Hand of the Desert. A negative point is the constant cleaning and maintenance required by the sculpture as it is often scratched with graffiti.

Astronomical Tourism

     Undoubtedly, the North of Chile, constituted by the so-called "Norte Grande" (Big North) and the "Norte Chico" (Small North), are worldwide recognized as the best place to observe the firmament, for the clearness and purity of the sky. For this reason, several scientific organizations of global importance have chosen Chile to build their astronomical observatories. According to information provided by the digital newspaper www2.latercera.com, 40% of the facilities for astronomical observation in the World is concentrated in Chile, estimated to increase to 70% within the next 10 years.  The same newspaper www2.latercera.com adds that Astronomical Tourism is an activity that is growing, attracting more and more people, both Chileans and foreigners, and during the tours that last approximately three hours, tourists can observe stars , planets, constellations, galaxies, nebulae, the sun and the moon, through modern and powerful latest technology telescopes.  

     The largest number of observatories nationwide is located in the fourth Coquimbo Region, however Antofagasta stands out for the importance of its facilities such as Cerro Paranal or VLT (Very Large Telescope), 130 km south of the city, considered the largest installation of its kind worldwide, operated by the European Southern Observatory. Paranal has the most advanced facilities for astronomy, being the most productive observatory all over the World, based on its investigations, more than one scientific document per day is issued. Other very important observatories are ALMA (Atacama Large Millimiter Array), the largest Radio Telescope in the World, consisting of a group of 66 antennas or radio telescopes seven and twelve meters in diameter. On the top of Cerro Armazones (Armazones Mountain) will be located the ELT (Extremely Large Telescope), still under construction, which should become the largest optical observation center ever built. Several of the large scientific observatories accept visits by means of online booking systems but these must be done months in advance. However, in the local Tourism Agencies, you can hire tours to smaller observatories, but no less interesting such as Paniri Caur Chiu- Chiu, 35 Km. from the city of Calama; Ahlarkapin Astronomical Observatory, staffed by natives of the archaeological town of San Pedro de Atacama; the tour to Licanantay Ethno-Astronomical Observatory, also in San Pedro de Atacama; the Qatachilla Astronomical Tour in the Atacama Desert, 80 km South of the city, etc., etc. 

Other recommended sites:


Jan 31, 2018

Places to visit in Puerto Natales, Gateway to Torres del Paine National Park

Puerto Natales, one of the several hotels at the Waterfront.
Hotel Costaustralis and Waterfront Avenue
     Puerto Natales, is a small city of approximately 22,000 inhabitants, capital of Ultima Esperanza Province, North of the Region of Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica. It is located 253 km North of Punta Arenas, the regional capital. Its proximity to the world famous Torres del Paine National Park makes the city gateway to the tourist center, but also the surroundings of Puerto Natales offer many other places of interest to visit. Until a few decades ago, the town was a place without great prospects for the future that based its economy mainly on the operation of a local meat processing plant and coal mining of the neighboring town of Rio Turbio, Argentina. Nowadays the conditions have changed a lot and that old meat processing plant has become a Museum inside the infrastructure of one of the several international class Hotels within the perimeter of the commune.

How to get there: There are three Bus Lines that connect daily with Punta Arenas through Route 9 North, the trip lasts 3 hours, these are Buses Fernandez, Bus Sur and Buses Pacheco. By Air, the Teniente Gallardo Airport receives flights during the high tourist season (November to March), this year 2018 by LATAM Airlines, but not Sky Airline that had also operated in the last season. The Ferry Terminal receives and dispatches once a week the ship that connects with the city of Puerto Montt in a spectacular crossing through the southern channels, the trip lasts 4 days and 3 nights. By Land from Punta Arenas, following Route 9 North or from Argentine territory through  Rio Don Guillermo, Dorotea or Casa Viejas border crossings.

What to visit around Puerto Natales

Torres del Paine Park

Paine Horns, Patagonia, Southern Chile.
Photo: chiledesarrollosustentable.cl
   Undoubtedly, Torres del Paine National Park, one of the great Chilean tourist attractions cataloged as the Eighth Wonder of the World, occupies the first place on this list. Declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978, its administrative headquarter is located 145 km North of Natales. Its main attractions lie in the spectacular nature of its relief formed by a mountain chain highlighting the Paine Towers and Horns, Glaciers, Lakes and Rivers whose waters come from the Southern Ice Fields, and an abundant native Fauna and Flora. One of the many lakes that complement the gorgeous setting is Lago Pehoe, recently chosen by the prestigious Italian publication Tgcom24 as one of the ten most beautiful on the Planet.

     There are many Tourism Agencies that can be contacted in Natales, Punta Arenas or through the Internet offering different tours to the Natural Sanctuary. The most famous tourist circuits inside the park are: the demanding Guided Excursion to the Base of the Towers, one of the most famous trekkigs in the world; the trekking circuits known as "The W", with a length of 80 km, which lasts 4 or 5 days and the circuit called "The O", of approximately 130 km, with a duration of 7 to 9 days; trekking on ice to Gray Glacier, with wonderful view of the lake of the same name; navigation by boat on the Serrano River, with a view of the Paine massif and the Tyndall and Geyke Glaciers until reaching the Serrano Glacier at Bernardo O'Higgins National Park; also the particular geography of the park makes it an ideal setting for the practice of various activities such as horseback riding, mountain biking, rafting, sport fishing, mountaineering.

Cueva del Milodon Natural Monument

     The Cueva del Milodon (Milodon's Cave) is a natural cavern located 24 km from Puerto Natales, on the western slope of Cerro Benitez (Benitez Hill). The Natural Monument consists of 3 caves, where remains of a Milodon, prehistoric animal of great dimensions extinct probably by the end of the Pleistocene were found in 1896. Of the three caves, the most important is 30 meters high, 80 meters in front and 200 meters deep, where at the entrance there is a replica of the animal and then there is a path to go inside. This is a place much visited for its high scientific importance, besides being within walking distance of the town and in a region of great scenic beauty for example Laguna Sofia and surroundings.

La Silla del Diablo (The Devil's Chair)

     Another much visited place near Natales, located at the entrance of the Cueva del Milodon Natural Monument is La Silla del Diablo, a rocky formation of capricious shape similar to a giant chair. According to the legend, the stony structure was seat of the Milodon, which later the popular imagination transformed it into a devil. In fact, the unusual figure of this solid formation is due to the erosion caused by an enormous glacier that covered the area during the Llanquihue glaciation, which took place about 110,000 years ago.

Navigation to Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers

     One of the recommended tours departing from Natales, through Canal Señoret and Ultima Esperanza Fjord. This interesting navigation allows to know the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers which are part of Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, accessible only by sea. Bernardo O'Higgins National Park has a total area of 3,525,901 hectares, which makes it the largest park in Chile. This protected area covers parts of the Aysen and Magellan Regions and glaciers of the Southern Ice Field, the largest ice mass in South America. The tours usually include a stop in some Estancia (Patagonian Cattle Ranch) to enjoy a typical lunch with regional lamb  and a whiskey with millenary ice in the glacier area. This tour is performed in the day and the season goes from September to March.

Navigation to El Canal de las Montañas (Fjord of the Mountains) 

     Voyage through the Patagonian channels enjoying the seascape and the marine fauna up to the Canal de Las Montañas, a 66 Km. long fjord flanked by snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Sarmiento and Cordillera Riesco, dense forests of trees bent by the persistent wind and what cannot be missed in this region, the majestic glaciers. It is a group of 5 glacial masses from the Cordillera Sarmiento, whose names in order of appearance are Zamudio, Bernal, Hermann, Alsina and Paredes. With the exception of Kayak trips, the duration of the travel is 10 - 12 Hrs. leaving from Puerto Natales and the carrying out of this tour is subjected to weather conditions.

Kaweskar Navigation Route

     The Chilean tourist company Skorpios named this tour in honor of the natives that inhabited the area, the Kaweskar also called Alacalufes. Without navigational instruments, they were perfect connoisseurs of the intricate channels of Southern Chile. The 380 miles navigation route to the Southern Ice Field is of 4 days, visiting the largest number of glaciers and fjords in this region, among which the Amalia, El Brujo, the glaciers of the Calvo Fjord, Bernal and Herman stand out. During the navigation, you can see a variety of Marine Fauna and Flora, which is still kept in a virgin and wild state, there are boat raids, walks along the coast, etc.  

The Pedro Montt Waterfront

     The coastline of Puerto Natales, which once was one more of the desolate streets of the town, has been restructured according to the touristic development of the town, apart from the beautiful panoramic view as a backdrop surrounded by snow-capped mountains and of a surprising fauna and flora.

Other recommended sites:


Jan 10, 2018

Chile Wins Top Prize at the World Travel Awards

Chile wins important tourist award.
Photo: ahoranoticias.cl - Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
     For the second year in a row, Chile is the winner of the "World Travel Awards", in the category Best Adventure Tourism Destination. The achievement is not minor since in this 2017 competition, the country had to compete with icons of World tourism such as Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Japan, Ecuador and Sri Lanka. The ceremony was held in Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam. Other important awards granted to South American countries were Peru with Machu Picchu as the "Best Tourist Attraction in the World" and Bolivia, as "Best Cultural Destination in the World".

     The magnificent natural landscapes offered by the Chilean geography and the diversity of activities that can be performed there, were decisive for this new accomplishment. All the countries have their own charms and natural wonders, but the fact is that Chile stands out since the visitor can soak up landscapes and experiences as diverse as the vastness and archaeological richness of the Atacama Desert in the extreme North to the immensity of Patagonia, in the southernmost point of the Americas, a mixture of pampas, glaciers, eternal snow and wild nature, where the options of carrying out an endless number of adventures are numerous. On the other hand, the city of Punta Arenas, known as "The Capital of Patagonia" is one of the main gateways to the Antarctic, located a little over 2 hours from the White Continent. Currently, great emerging destinations in Patagonia are traveling along the Carretera Austral, navigating through the Southern Channels, visiting beautiful National Parks such as Torres del Paine, Laguna San Rafael, Parque Nacional Queulat, Parque Pumalin and several others, the island of Tierra del Fuego, shared with Argentina, 
the dreaded Cape Horn, union of 2 Oceans and meeting point of daring adventurers who try to cross it.


Adventure Tourism in Southern Chile
Adventure Tourism in Region De Los Lagos - Photo: cnnchile.com

    But it is not only Atacama and Patagonia, throughout its crazy geography, Chile offers multiple and varied settings for the practice of Adventure Tourism. In the South- Central part of the country, the Cordillera de Los Andes is a great attraction for snow lovers and related sports, with World Class Winter Centers, many of them a few kilometers from the capital Santiago, as well as many others in Southern Chile. During the summer season, many of these centers turn into cozy Resorts to enjoy the surrounding nature, make mountaineering, trekking, horseback riding, mountain biking, etc. With regard to water sports, Surfing and Diving are becoming increasingly popular especially in Northern and Central Chile, where some of the most important beaches for the practice of these recreational activities are located. 

     The remote Easter Island, in the middle of the South Pacific, jealously guards the secrets of the ancestral Rapa Nui Culture, whose Moai and Ahu (Ceremonial Altars), are mute witnesses of an extinct civilization, accompanied by a Subtropical climate and Nature that enchant the visitor. The Region De Los Lagos (Chile's Lakes Region) is another inexhaustible source of activities for those who like adrenaline, surrounded by a spectacular environment, volcanoes and snowy mountains, lakes of iridescent waters, rivers, waterfalls and remote fjords. The numerous rivers of the South of Chile are a true paradise for Sport Fishing lovers but also some of them offer a unique setting for the practice of Kayaking and especially Rafting, with rapids that attract adventurers from all over the World. These reasons and many others make Chile one of the most emerging tourist destinations, receiving the just ended 2017 a total of 6,449,883 foreign visitors, according to official data delivered by the Undersecretary of Tourism.