Places with photo galleries in South America
National Route 40, or just Ruta 40, is more than 5000 km long and just one of these classic routes of the Americas. Nowadays a large part of it is paved so the trip might not be as rough and romantic as it once used to be but still, it's a great way to travel from Northern to Southern Patagonia. It gives you a better idea of how vast Patagonia actually is. The classic part of Ruta 40 is between Bariloche and El Chalten, roughly 1300 kilometres long and takes about two days. There is just no end to the infinite sceneries with hills, mountains, lakes and sometimes a farm with sheep or guanacos. The halfway point where many people end up staying overnight is Perito Moreno, an insignificant town not to be confused with the glacier that bears the same name further South.
Salta is a beautiful colonial city, perfect to linger in for a couple of days. The centre of the city is full of churches, a cathedral and other beautifully restored colonial buildings. The MAAM (Museo de Arqueologia de Alta MontaÃ±a) is definitely worth a visit. It displays three preserved sacrificed Inca children that were discovered on a mountaintop at 6700 m altitude. To get an awesome view of the city, you can hike the steps up to the top of Cerro San Bernardo, about 250 m higher than the city. This trail up is a religious path with 14 stations (chapels). If these about 1070 steps are too much for you, the cable car is another way to reach the top. Locals use the steps as a workout. Don't forget to eat some empanadas while you are in Salta. The people from Salta say theirs are the best, but don't many Argentineans say this?
On the South side of the Salar de Uyuni lies the small village of Atulcha. It doesn’t have much more than a few houses but it does make an interesting stop on the tourist route of Uyuni and its surroundings. There is a simple museum about Quinoa, the grain of the Incas. The cycle of the plant, its many uses and the customs and traditions that come with it are explained by a local. Ask the man from the museum to bring you to the mummies of Atulcha, called the Qhatinchu Archeological Site. He’ll take you on a small walk outside the village across a small hill where there are a few caves with mummies that are in quite good shape!
Atulcha is not the only place around the Salar the Uyuni that has a salt hotel but this is a quite nice one. The walls, tables, benches, beds, etc are all cut out of blocks of salt. Luckily the mattresses are not made of salt and are nice and soft!
The south-west corner of Bolivia, straddling the border to Chile, is a unique area on this planet. It is protected as a national park but the beauty of this region reaches way beyond the borders of the park. The arid altiplano landscape is dotted with volcanoes such as the active Ollagüe (5863 m) where you can see smoke rise from its side, and the perfectly symmetrically shaped Licancabur volcano (5920 m) on the border with Chile.
The park and region is however mostly known for its many lakes that all have different colours from white to blue, green and red. The most famous ones are the Laguna Verde, at the Licancabur volcano and the Laguna Colorado. The colours of these mainly salty lakes come from different algae and plankton. It is this algae that attracts the three different species of flamingos that are present in high numbers at most of the lakes. This area keeps surprising because there is still much more to see. There are geysers and bubbling mud pools at Sol de Mañana, there are hot springs to warm up on a chilly morning, rock formations such as the Arbol de Piedra and there is the rabbit with a long tail called viscacha.
Only discovered in 2003 by two local men, Cueva Galaxia is a small cave but quite different from usual caves with stalagmites and stalactites. The cave has only a few small chambers with pretty ceilings that look more like web-like structures, kind of like deteriorated tree leaves - or like inverted corals - leave it up to your imagination!
In this small area just south of Salar de Uyuni there is also Devil’s Cave (Cueva del Diabolo) with sacred burial chambers. Around these caves and on the hill above the caves you get pretty views of the area. Furthermore is the area full of petrified cacti.
If you wonder what the ** is after the name of the Galaxy caves - it stands for the two men who discovered this site.
The largest salt lake of the world keeps on amazing people and should be on the itinerary when visiting Bolivia or even South America. At an altitude of about 3600 m it is part of the Bolivian Altiplano. This enormous salt lake is dry most of the year but for a few months there is some water in the lake turning it into a huge mirror. When the lake is dry you can drive across admiring the vastness and because there is a the lack of depth it is popular to make fun photos with different objects. Other attractions are the small local salt production places at the edge of the lake where you can see the locals dry the salt and make salt bricks to use for constructing houses and hotels for tourists. Incahuasi island is another popular stop and pretty much in the middle of the salt lake where there is a trail that leads to the top of this cactus-filled island.
If you like deserted places, the train graveyard just outside of Uyuni is a true gem. A collection of turn of the century (end of 19th start of 20th century) steam locomotives and trains are spread out in the desert. Uyuni used to be a major crossroad of train tracks for transporting minerals away from the mines. Since the decline of the mining industry in the area, the old steam train were also abandoned and put to rest in the desert. For most tour groups this is the first stop on the standard tours in and around the salar de Uyuni. To avoid the crowds and for better light it is better to go late afternoon.
Start whistling a Western tune, saddle a horse or just put on your hiking boots to discover the region around Tupiza. This is the area where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid spent the last period of their lives and also found their death. The classic movie might not be filmed here but the real-life story took place in the desert around Tupiza. You don’t need a lot of imagination to get into a Western vibe. The scenery is stunning with red rock formations, narrow canyons and cacti galore. You can easily get a local guide to show you around on a day trip on foot or by horse to show you some of the sites such as Valle de los Machos, Puerta del Diablo, El Cañión del Inca and El Cañión del Duende.
At the northern edge of the Salar de Uyuni towers the Tunupa Volcano above the salt lake. On a day trip it is possible to hike to the crater rim at about 5,000 m or even further direction the top of the mountain. The base for the hike is in the tiny village of Coquesa, where there is not much more than a few houses and a hostel. From there you can start hiking but it makes it definitely a little easier to be driven some hundreds of meters uphill close to some caves with mummies at about 4,000 m. The hike from here is quite strenuous, especially approaching the edge of the crater where the terrain is sandy with small stones. The views are amazing though and worth the effort. When you stand about 1,500 meters above the salar you quickly forget the tough climb.
If you want to climb a volcano, you wanna get high with not too much effort and if you are acclimatised, Cerro Toco is an easy climb where you can reach 5,640 metres in less than 2 hours. It can also be a preparation for other but tougher high altitude climbs in the area.
The mountain is close to the Bolivian and Argentinean border and just about 50 kilometres away from San Pedro de Atacama. There is a road leading up a long way on the mountain from where it is just 350 altitude metres more to reach the top. The volcano does not have a conical shape such as some of its neighbours but from the summit you get an amazing view over Laguna Blanca in Bolivia and of the Licancabur volcano on the border.