From La Quebrada, Argentina to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: A Most Magic Bus Ride

by Elena

What is your favourite road trip on this planet? Highway One, Route 66, New Zealand’s West Coast, Australia’s Great Ocean Road … ? Well, let me add another famous road trip from South America: Crossing the Andes in the northernmost province of Argentina, near La Quebrada Canyon and Salta, in order to reach one of the driest and most spectacular deserts in the whole world: Atacama in Chile. Snow-capped peaks in the distance, endless “altiplano” plains, giant salt flats, rolling hills boasting all colours of the rainbow and an average cruising altitude of between 3.500 – 4.000 metres: For now, I am having the “road trip of a lifetime”!

Starting off at the foothill of "The Hill of Seven Colours" in Purmamarca, Argentina.

Starting off at the foothill of “The Hill of Seven Colours” in Purmamarca, Argentina.

During the first hour of this exciting road trip, we constantly "wind ourselves up" on the eastern parts of the Cordillera de los Andes.

During the first hour of this exciting road trip, we constantly “wind ourselves up” on the eastern parts of the Cordillera de los Andes.

A little later, we reach the first of many so-called salt flats on the Altiplano desert highland.

A little later, we reach the first of many so-called salt flats on the Altiplano desert highland.

Here, salt is "harvested" and collected for further industrial use by humans. A scenic view point for many travellers along the way!

Here, salt is “harvested” and collected for further industrial use by humans. A scenic view point for many travellers along the way!

So how do you “kill” 10 hours of road-tripping, completed by a two-hours delay “because the bus door broke down” … ? My personal tips from experience: Go wild about amazing landscape photography (yay!). Marvel at these amazing, unworldly surroundings. Listen to your favourite music. Talk and enjoy forging new friendships with fellow travellers from Korea, Norway or England. Take a deep breath every now and then in order to make up for less oxygen. Feel your body: During the first hour of the trip, we climb almost 2.000 metres (from 2.300 m to 4.200 m) resulting in frequent yawning, a wish to sleep (at 12.00 noon!) and an ever so slight feeling of headache … The best means to fight altitude sickness? Drink. Eat. Certainly, do not think about it. Luckily our bus company, Andesmar, has a few good movies to take your thoughts off the altitude …

After several hours of cruising, we also pass stunningly large (salt?) lakes like these which seem to sustain an abundance of wildlife.

After several hours of cruising, we also pass stunningly large (salt?) lakes like these which seem to sustain an abundance of wildlife.

Here, we observe a colony of flamingos by a small desert lake.

Here, we observe a colony of flamingos by a small desert lake.

These lovely creatures, Vicunas with their young, can also be seen from the bus on this magnificent road trip crossing the Altiplano & Atacama desert!

These lovely creatures, Vicunas with their young, can also be seen from the bus on this magnificent road trip crossing the Altiplano & Atacama desert!

Paso De Jama: High up in the Chilean-Argentinian Andes

Six o’clock in the afternoon. The sun is still deceivingly high up in the sky, while outside the grass has started growing again. Coldplay sweeps me down the altiplano highland and past two majestic volcanoes right before reaching the Chilean border control. My head starts spinning … north of the Tropic of Capricorn, a desert with an average altitude of over 4.000 metres and a landscape that is bizarre, unique, “out of this world” – including its climate who starts to take its toll on me. I hope that any signs of altitude sickness, “el soroche”, are not getting in the way of my Spanish language abilities as to explaining how I can possibly introduce three bottles of wine, olive oil, jam AND Mate herbs from Argentina into Chile … Oh no! 😉 In the end though, everything turns out to be fine and I arrive in Chile safe & sound!

Still loving the landscape ... what a wonderful trip!

Still loving the landscape … what a wonderful trip!

One of my favorite shots of the day, it's at the foothill of this volcanic mountain San Pedro de Atacama is set. Welcome to Chile, I say!

One of my favorite shots of the day, it’s at the foothill of these volcanic mountains that San Pedro de Atacama is set. Welcome to Chile, I say!

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