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Travelling Through The North Of Chile

Sep 12, 2008
Chile is a place of contrast, not just by the diversity in its geography, but by the landscapes and climates that can be found travelling through its territory. Beginning by the Big North (Norte Grande), linked to the Desert of Atacama (Atacama Desert or Desierto de Atacama). From Putre by the north in the Chilean Altiplane (Altiplano chileno), contemplating to the Chungara Lake and Lauca National Park, Vicuñas National Reserve, to San Pedro de Atacama and the Salt Flat of the same name, you will encounter a wide spectrum of colors drawn in the landscape, a dry atmosphere, the cold nights and the warm of the afternoons.

The Desert of Atacama is by its geographic and morphologic condition, a zone rich in minerals ores, here we find Chuquicamata Mine which developes their mining operations in this area considered the largest deposit of copper in the world. The mine it is located in II the Region or Region of Antofagasta, closely to Calama and more than 62,14 miles of San Pedro de Atacama. The city of Calama stands as an important pole of mining development and the welcoming point to all those tourist that wish to visit San Pedro de Atacama, due to the presence of the airport of the city. San Pedro de Atacama is one of the unmissable spots in the Chilean tourism scene. It is important to point out that all this area including the coastal cities like Arica, Iquique and Antofagasta are areas of great mining importance and thriving tourist activity. Prepare yourself to be astonished not only by the Desert of Atacama and San Pedro de Atacama, but the various less-known sites which can be found travelling in this zone, from north to south: the Valley of Azapa (Azapa Valley or Valle de Azapa), Valley of Lluta (Lluta Valley or Valle de Lluta), Parinacota, Pica and Mamiña, the Sanctuary of the Tirana (Santuario de La Tirana), Humberstone Saltpeter (Salitrera de Humberstone) the border town of Ollagüe, Toconao and the Gorge of Jerez (Quebrada de Jerez), where you may found fruit trees like pears and apples, figs and Toconce in one of many oasis that stands in the dry landscape.

Perhaps the less known area in Chile is the one from Antofagasta until Copiapo that for many comprises part of the Chilean Big North (Norte Grande). The existence of different weather systems gives an unique identity to this territory. From the south of Antofagasta to Chañaral, by the coast, we are in the presence of warmer temperatures, nicer than the area between Arica and Iquique. We may found beaches of incredible beauty such Bahia Inglesa (English Bay) and Caldera where the waters are of turquoise color and white sands. Heading to the center, by the mountain zone, there are located the main cities like Copiapo and Vallenar. Near Copiapo are Nevado Tres Cruces National Park (Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces) and the stranger and mysterious Salar de Maricunga. The National Park Llanos de Challe also is placed in this area, near Huasco by the side of the coast. Almost in the limit between the North Grande or Big North.

The Small North (Norte Chico)

Towards the south, we come upon the zone of valleys with greener landscapes but still with a great influence of the desert, mainly standing out of La Serena, Coquimbo and more specifically the Elqui Valley (Valle de Elqui), where you may see the clearest skies of the South Hemisphere and according to many, of the world. A zone with more than 300 cleared days a year that have made possible the foundation of astronomical centers of world-wide reputation, as the Observatory Paranal, and Tololo Hill, and recently, a basic observatory in the city of Vicuña, the Mamalluca. This entire zone is called the Small North, with more pleasant temperatures at night, if we compared them with the Great North. The zone of the Norte Chico or Small North in Chile has charming scenes composed by small interesting towns as those placed in the zone of the Elqui Valley, Vicuña, Pisco Elqui, Monte Grande, Cochiguaz and Alcohuaz among others. Most of the localities live mainly on agriculture; most of them cultivate vines, which provides grapes for the elaboration of pisco, typical liquor of Chile, used as a main ingredient of the most typical Chilean coctels. La Serena on the other hand, and also Coquimbo, constitutes two poles of great importance for the tourism, since is in the coast of the Small North area (Norte Chico), has calm beaches well protected of the marine air and the cold. Some beaches you may find in the area are: Totoralillo, Las Tacas, Guanaqueros, Puerto Velero, Playa Blanca and Tongoy.

Andacollo it is a small town which fame is due to the Sanctuary devoted to the figure of Virgin Mary of Andacollo and the festivals that take place once a year on her honor. Near Andacollo, also is the Natural Monument of Pichasca, near Hurtado River (Rio Hurtado). Going down south is Ovalle, an agricultural area. Less than 1 hour from Ovalle we will find Fray Jorge National Park (Parque Nacional Fray Jorge), famous by its flora, fauna and also archaeological findings. Monte Patria, La Paloma Dam (Embalse La Paloma), Punitaqui, Combarbala, are also small towns located near to Ovalle. If you head south you will find Illapel and facing the coast the small town of Los Vilos, Salamanca also is another zone in the Small North (Norte Chico), and it is commonly recognized as the city of the Wizards, but there is no clear explanation for this name besides the popular beliefs. Nearby Illapel, is the Chinchillas National Reserve. From the Vilos by the coast, small coastal cities can be appreciated whose subsistence in addition to the fishing, is based on the tourism, between which we may include Punta de Lobos, Pichidangui, the Molles, Pichicuy among others.
About the Author
Ximena Diaz is an expert consultant about holidays in Chile and is currently Chile hotels reservation adviser.
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