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Bolivia, Chile & Argentina
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Fly from the UK to Buenos Aires
We fly across the country to Mendoza, the epicentre of Argentina's wine country. This is where General José de San Martín organised the army with which he liberated Chile and Peru from Spanish rule in 1818. Unfortunately, few historic buildings remain after an earthquake devastated the city in 1861. However, the city was rebuilt on a grid system, resulting in the broad tree-lined streets and beautiful green plazas for which it is now famous. There are great views from the top of “Cerro de la Gloria” at Parque San Martín, where you can also visit the local zoo. Situated on the foothills of the Andes, Mendoza is a great base for some optional outdoor activities, such as white-water rafting, rappelling and horse riding. But of course no trip to Mendoza would be complete without touring the surrounding vineyards. You can hire bikes and cycle the ‘Ruta de los Vinos' (wine route), visiting both ancient cellars and working wineries – tasting some of the world's best Malbecs en route.
We travel by comfortable long-distance public bus across the border to Chile's bustling capital Santiago. You will have three days to explore this cosmopolitan city at your own pace. Santiago is a very clean, modern city with many fountains and parks, but also has its own turbulent history. It is well-known for its fresh markets such as the famous La Vega Central Market, and the Mercado Central, one of the best seafood markets in the world. You can see the changing of the guard most days outside the impressive Palacio de La Moneda, the seat of the President of Chile. You can also visit the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Cementerio General and the Plaza de Armas, the centrepiece of the city, which is bordered on one side by the incredible Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago. For the best views of the city, take a funicular railway or hike to the top of San Cristobal, where you can taste some of Chile's best wines and find some beautifully situated swimming pools.
San Pedro de Atacama
We fly along the Pacific coast to the north of the country and transfer to San Pedro de Atacama. This is a picturesque small town that looks like it has come straight from the scene of a Western with its single-storey buildings, white-washed walls and dusty roads. There is an excellent archaeological museum in San Pedro de Atacama, housing a good selection of ancient artefacts. The Atacama desert that surrounds the town offers some of the clearest skies in the world and as such is used by international space agencies to monitor the skies. If it is a clear night, the starscape viewed from San Pedro de Atacama will most likely be the best you'll ever see. The next day we head into the desert, exploring the Valley of the Moon by 4WD. This area is famous for salt-covered lunar landscapes, interesting rock formationas, smoking geysers, salt flats and hot volcanic springs.
We continue our 4WD expedition and cross the border into Bolivia, into some of the most remote areas of the Bolivian Altiplano. You will see a variety of dramatic landscapes including smoking volcanoes, barren deserts and gravity-defying rock formations carved by the wind. In this incredibly empty landscape you'll most likely feel the furthest from civilisation you've ever been. You will visit the Laguna Colorada, which offers some truly breathtaking scenery, with several varieties of flamingos gathering in the shallow waters of the beautiful crimson lagoon.
Continuing our exhilarating 4WD tour, we explore the epic Salar de Uyuni. Claimed to be the largest salt flat in the world, the brilliant white vast Salar de Uyuní, which covers some 10,500 square kilometres and is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, looks like something from a surrealist painting and its seemingly infinite horizons will amaze you. The highlight of the day is Fish Island (seasonal dependent). Located in the centre of the Salar, 100 kilometres from Uyuní, this hilly outpost is covered in giant cacti amid a flat, white sea of hexagonal salt tiles. The island is so named because it has the shape of a fish. The otherworldly views from Fish Island will take your breath away. On this day we will also explore the Train Cemetery, where you can see the remains of 19th and early 20th century steam locomotives, and we visit Colchani, which is the main plant for the iodisation of salt and the best place to observe the methods of salt extraction from the Salar.
We fly across the country from Uyuni to La Paz. If it is a clear day, you will be able to see the huge expanse of the Altiplano as you fly over the landlocked country, perhaps seeing the Andes slowly flattening out to become the Amazonian basin. Nestled in a steep valley that protects its inhabitants from the harsh elements of the Altiplano, La Paz makes for a striking cityscape, with bare-brick houses and tall skyscrapers seemingly built on top of each other in front of a dramatic mountainous landscape. Our hotel is very centrally located, close to the city's colourful indigenous street markets including the fascinating and suitably named "witches market,'' where women wearing bowler hats and flared skirts sell strange paraphernalia said to ward off evil spirits. The main square, Plaza Murillo, still retains its colonial buildings including the Presidential Palace. La Paz is possibly the best place to experience a traditional peña show of Andean music and dance.
Depart La Paz and return to the UK
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