Places with photo galleries in South America
Giant stone statues are the stars on Easter Island (also called Rapa Nui). The Moai, as they are called, were carved out of the side of volcano craters and moved somehow to the shore, where they were lined up to stare over the tiny island. It is a mystery today how they were transported, in some cases to the other side of the island over rugged terrain. The history of Easter Island is full of ancient legends, controversies and guesses – though Thor Heyerdahl's wild speculations about how the island got populated by South Americans is today put to shame by genetic evidence which tells that they came from Polynesia. Due to local warfare, most statues have been knocked over, where some still remain today. Besides the stone faces, the civilisation also left behind petroglyphs (rock drawings), ceremonial villages (more rocks) and a curly alphabet that nobody today can read. Even if old rocks and mad history is not your cup of tea, the Easter Island is still worth a visit just for the sheer fact that it is the most isolated place on earth, being 1900 km from the nearest populated landmass, the Pitcairn.
The Southern part of Chile has a very rugged coastline full of fjords. Within Chile there are not that many roads to travel between Central and Southern Patagonia so a great way to cover this distance is by taking the Navimag Ferry between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt. This three-day trip is a truly fantastic journey! You are treated with amazing scenery of volcanoes, snowy mountains, glaciers and whales - all if weather permits of course. If you get bored, there are lectures about the environment and bingo nights. This ferry is a combination between a basic cruise ship and a cargo ferry. Cheapest is to take dorm-style berths that are actually quite comfortable but you can move more upscale to private huts with bathroom. Even if it is all quite comfortable, the smell of manure from the cows that are being transported on the lower deck reminds you that it is also a cargo ship.
Puerto Natales is the gateway to Southern Patagonia and more specifically to Torres del Paine national park. No matter what, if you want to travel to Torres del Paine, you will spend at least some time in Puerto Natales. You can stock up on food for a trek or you can rest there after a trek. The town lies at a fjord and has a typical Patagonian feel. A walk along the fjord with beautiful landscapes and shipyards is about all you can do in the town except for enjoying the comforts of restaurants, internet and soft beds. It is also where the Navimag ferry arrives and departs so that is another reason to pass by Puerto Natales.
Just a short distance from San Pedro de Atacama is the Vale de la Luna. Its name comes from the moon-like landscape of this part of the Atacama desert. In the valley of the moon are narrow canyons to explore and amazing rock formations in all kind of shapes. One of such valleys is the canyon de sal where, when there arenâ€™t any people around, it is extremely quiet except for the crackling sounds of the salt deposits in the rocks. One of the prettiest rock formations is called the amphitheatre, which looks like the name it has been given and is especially pretty with the Licancabur volcano in the background.
When visiting just before sunset, the colours of the desert are even more striking. Just try to avoid going to the same spot as hundreds of other visitors to se the sun set.
The old walled town of Cartagena must qualify as one of the finest colonial towns in the world. Colourful mansions with giant wooden balconies, a plaza around every other corner, and a wide protective wall all the way around, from where you can overview the leafy courtyards and rooftops. But the centro's polished facades with all the tourist shops and a suffocating amount of street vendors will eventually push you into other neighbourhoods like San Diego and Getsemani. But only for the better, because here you get the real deal. Local homes, scrappy buildings, old people in rocking chairs and colourful characters in the streets (some dodgy, yeah even scary). In the evening, do as the locals, pick a plaza, buy a beer from the corner shop, and watch life go by.
On the evening of the 13th of November 1985, volcano Nevado del Ruiz erupted and sent an avalanche of ashes and mud towards the town of Armero, more than 45 km away. Within a short time, the town was buried in meters deep mud, which took the people by surprise since they had been reassured by authorities earlier the same day that there was nothing to worry about. 23 000 people were killed, more than two thirds of the town's population. Today, the road from Mariquita goes through the ghost town, where the surviving houses still stand half covered in dirt in the shade of big trees. There are tombstones everywhere and part of the town church is half preserved. Besides the handful of DVD vendors along the road (they sell a documentary about the catastrophe), the place is completely deserted and a grim memorial of a recent tragedy.
For those who like to get lost in the magic realism world of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and more specifically into the world of '100 years of solitude', there is a town called Aracataca, just a few hours away from Santa Marta. The novel '100 years of solitude' takes place for the largest part in Macondo, which they say is based on Aracataca, the town where Gabriel Garcia lived the first years of his life and to where he returned frequently. There is a nice museum in the house where Marquez grew up with his grandparents, and you can visit the telegraph office where his grandfather used to work. In this chilled town surrounded by banana plantations, people sit in rocking wicker chairs in front of their houses. Bicycle taxis cruise around. There is a square, a church, a river and there are train tracks. Pretty common stuff but in combination with the fantasy world of Gabriel Garcia, a lovely place to get lost and let your imagination flow.
Every Tuesday, the small village of Silvia holds its weekly market. Buses loaded with Guambiano Indians and sacks of potatoes in every colour and shape arrive early to return equally loaded in the afternoon. The Indians are dressed in their finest, which just happens to be the same for all. Ankle boots, deep blue scarf, bowler hat and wraparound skirt, and that includes the men too. It is a great mix of trading and get together at the plaza for catching up on the latest gossip. It is just one of those lovely places that Colombia is so full of, but again not many visitors come here (luckily).
The largest lake in Colombia, located at the semi-high elevation of 3000 m. It is an enchanting place, where clouds come rolling in from the surrounding hills to lie low over the cold water. Any road to here is winding and takes you through tough farmland and rough villages (like Cuitiva, Iza and Tota). The local farmers all sport ponchos, wide brim hats and sunburned cheeks. There even is a "Playa Blanca" at the shore of the lake with sand and space for camping under the pine and eucalyptus trees.
In the surrounding hills of the village of San Andres de Pisimbala are several groups of underground burial chambers, also known as Tierradentro. Not much is known about the ancient culture that left these behind, but it is believed that the tombs are from 6th to 9th centuries AD. The inside of the chambers were painted in bright geometric patterns and creatures, and to this day it can still be seen in the best preserved ones. A visit to all four sites (Segovia, El Duende, Alto de San Andres and El Aguacate) will at least require a day's walking in the beautiful mountains and will also include the site of El Tablon where mystical stone statues, similar to the ones at San Agustin, can be seen. It is the only place in the Americas where such tombs have been found, and a wonder why they are so seldomly visited.