9th October 2017
As the highest and driest desert in the world, there is nowhere else quite like Atacama. The neighbouring Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia are dazzlingly white, but the salt plains in Atacama are rockier with more vegetation, multicoloured lagoons (inhabited by flamingos) and volcanoes decorating the moon-like vistas.
Hot air balloons over Atacama was our first excursion, floating over this unique landscape for an hour before a champagne breakfast back on terra firma - truly one of my favourite ever travel experiences. Our hotel The Explora features 40 'exploration' options of the Atacama desert, ranging from horse rides to geyser visits to high altitude trekking. The hike we took brought us through a magnificent gorge and finished at a series of hot springs. Later that afternoon we jumped on mountain bikes for an exhilarating ride down the 'Devil's Throat' - a geological labyrinth with wonderful views of the surrounding canyons at the end.
Our other major destination was Patagonia and more specifically Torres del Paine national park. This area is famous for granite peaks, glacial lakes and its unique wildlife including guanacos, condors and pumas. The hike to the French Valley is one arm of the famous 'W Trek' which crosses rivers and passes a base camp before arriving at hanging glaciers. The following day we took the catamaran back across Lake Pehoe for the trek to Glacier Grey - theview from this point is perhaps the most incredible I've ever had.
We also got to spend a little time in cosmopolitan Santiago, Chile's capital, and the charming coastal town of Valparaiso, so the trip did well to take in most of Chile's highlights in just over a week. However, the spectacular landscapes have only whetted my appetite to return to explore Chile's Lake District and its excellent vineyards, not to mention the mysterious Easter Island.