adventure travel, Atacama Desert, Bolivian altiplano, Bolivian High Desert, bus travel, continuous travelling, crossing the Pacific, overland travel, Salar de Uyuni, South American buses, travel highlights, travel in South America
I had thought to do a post about the best of all our travels, those places or adventures that really stand out as special and that are lodged forever in our memories as absolute highlights. One post. What was I thinking? It will likely be four or five posts.
This is the first – the three best ways we travelled from A to B.
1. 2-14 Dec 2013. Mendoza, Argentina to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Of course we could have flown from Mendoza to Santiago, and then from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, but where’s the fun in that? Before we even thought about flights we looked at land travel. We wanted to see the country.
And then we found out about the buses.
Distances in South America are huge, and there are few trains. Mendoza to Santiago is 363 km, Santiago to Antofagasta is 1336 km, and the final leg to San Pedro is another 312 km; that’s over 2000 km or 1250 miles. And yet still we chose buses. Are you mad? I can hear you asking. If we were sitting in a seat half-way back in a regular bus I would have thought we were mad too; scrunched in there where all I can see is the back of the seat in front of me. No thanks. The long hours would have been excruciating, though I did once see a volcano erupting from the bus window in Mexico. But it was actually the buses that convinced us. For a start we could book our seats.
For each of the four legs of this two-week journey we sat in luxurious business-class-sized front seats on the top level of a double-decker bus with a wide uninterrupted panoramic view of the passing landscape. It was epic!
The first leg was ten hours from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile,
followed by three days in Santiago.
The next leg was a six-hour journey to the seaside town of La Serena. Either the scenery was not very interesting or the alternative, though less likely, scenario (pun intended) is that I slept most of the way nestled in that big comfy seat.
We spent three days in La Serena.
La Serena was followed by a twelve-hour journey to Antofagasta, and this is where the scenery got really compelling. We entered the harsh sere endless expanse of the Atacama Desert, one of the driest regions on earth. It held our interest for hour upon hour as the landscape continually changed before us.
We stopped for three days in Antofagasta.
Then once again we boarded one of Chile’s luxurious double-decker buses, took our seats in the upstairs front row, and journeyed east from Antofagasta to San Pedro de Atacama. We thought the scenery of the Atacama Desert had been pretty spectacular so far, but we discovered the best was yet to come.
San Pedro de Atacama is a small desert oasis town and a tourist mecca for arriving from, or heading to, the altiplano and salt flats of Bolivia.
I would not have remotely considered taking this journey in any ordinary bus, but in the front row on the upper level of a double-decker bus; in big comfy seats with plenty of room for stretching; hours on end to just relax and gaze out the window; an uninterrupted view of the constantly changing scenery; and three-day breaks in between each leg; it was one excellent adventure!
2. 20-22 Dec 2013. After five days in San Pedro we took a three-day private tour across the Bolivian altiplano to Uyuni. This trip will forever be one of the great highlights of all our travels.
This time we travelled by 4×4 SUV with a guide and driver.
Day one took us from San Pedro to one of the most isolated hotels in the world, along the way passing flamingoes,
hot springs, a geothermal field, and dazzling scenery. At the end of the day we chorused Best day ever!
Day two we continued on through the high desert passing more wildlife and the ever unfolding scenic beauty. Surely this was the Best day ever!
That night we stayed in a hotel built from bricks of salt, and on day three we drove across the great salt flat of Uyuni.
At the end of day three we told our guide and driver Best tour ever! Next morning we flew from Uyuni to La Paz. We could have gone by bus but it would have been overnight on rough roads in an ordinary bus. No thanks.
3. 29 Nov-15 Dec 2015. We wanted to go back to Australia but couldn’t face that brutal 12-15 hour flight across the Pacific. We needed to find another way. This is what we crafted:
Fly from Vancouver to Hawaii and stay for five days.
Fly from Hawaii to Samoa and stay for six days.
Fly from Samoa to Fiji and stay for three days.
And then we flew through sunrise to Sydney.
To get to Sydney from Vancouver we had three mini tropical vacations along the way, and no jet lag. It surely has to be the best way ever to cross the Pacific. Unless you go by boat – which I did once, way back when I was 24. That was a pretty epic trip too. Maybe I’ll write about it one day.
Next post: O God, I rented a scooter and rode around in Vancouver traffic! Eeeek! It was part of my Solo Travel Adventures and pretty much terrifying. Also more to come of the Travel Highlights series: festivals, road trips, and long stays.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2021.