Tag Archives: Argentina

Survivors of Andes plane crash mark 40th anniversary

The surviving members of a Uruguayan rugby team have marked the 40th anniversary of the Andes plane crash that killed their teammates by finally taking part in the match they should have played four decades ago. The 16 survivors were among 45 passengers – including members of the Old Christian Club rugby team from Montevideo, Uruguay – who, on October 13th 1972, were on a flight from Uruguay to Santiago, Chile, where the rugby team were due to play a match against a Chilean side.

Roberto Canessa, one of the men who trekked for 10 days to find help (Photo: 100 primeros dias de la Primera Dama by Gobierno de Chile)

They never made the match, however, as their plane crashed on the remote mountain border between Argentina and Chile. The 16 famously survived for for 72 days in the mountains by eating the bodies of the dead passengers, before finally being rescued after two of the 16 trekked for 10 days to find help. To mark the 40th anniversary, the remaining team members once again traveled to Santiago, where they played Old Gregorian, the Chilean team they would have played back in 1972, drawing 1-1. They also met with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, and held a minute’s silence to remember those who died.

Three Argentine Authors to Read

In the Northern hemisphere, autumn has officially arrived. It is now time to prepare for either hunkering down for the winter, or be like a snowbird and head to warmer climes.

 

Whether you looking for a book to curl up with in front of the fireplace, or a tome to toss into your knapsack before hitting the open road, here are a few classic Argentine authors to read. Their works are available in English and other languages.

 

The epitome of gaucho literature is José Hernández’ Martín Fierro. This slim volume recounts the struggle of the gaucho underclass against the powerful ranch owners. The story is recounted in poetry.

 

Nahuel Sanata con Jorge Luis Borges, por Nahuel Santana http://www.arteyfotografia.com.ar/10319/fotos/177169/

The most famous of Argentina’s 20th century writers is Jorge Luis Borges. This Buenos Aires native wrote not only poetry, but also short stories. Borges often wove elements of the Kabbalah and other mysticism into his literature, in a pre-Magical Realism style. His opus includes Ficciones, El Aleph and Other Stories and Labyrinths.

 

A contemporary of Borges was Julio Cortázar, who went into exile during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. His internationally acclaimed novel, Hopscotch (Rayuela) is an avant-garde reading adventure. Readers may choose to read the chapters in any order they wish—much like tossing a stone in the children’s game and skipping from block to block. If that proves a bit mind-boggling, try a collection of his short stories, which are wonderful vignettes of life’s bizarre adventures. Those published in English include Blow-Up: And Other Stories and All Fires the Fire and Other Stories.

Julio Cortázar por anastacia http://www.arteyfotografia.com.ar/4940/fotos/116440/

 

Pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina and venture through that remarkable country with our writers. It is loaded with special articles on the history and culture of Argentina—as well as the best places to go, from de rigueur Buenos Aires to off-the-beaten track pueblos. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina is available in print and e-book formats.

 

Nine Great Jurassic Park Adventures in Argentina

Argentina is an ancient land, geologically speaking. Once upon a time, its landscape was covered by jungles and seas where dinosaurs and other mythical creatures roamed. Today, you can venture into those lands of Jurassic and other monsters.

Dinosaurs roaming across the Argentine plains. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

During the Permian Period of the Palaeozoic Era (251-299 million years ago), South America was still part of Pangaea. This supercontinent began tearing apart. South America and Africa were still one continent during the Jurassic Period (150 million years ago), the most famous dinosaur era. Those great jungle forests were covered with ash when this great continent tore apart, forming the Andes. The landscape then was covered by sea about 40 million years ago.

 

Fossils from all these eras scatter the pampas of western Argentina and the Patagonia. Some dinosaur species are unique to Argentina.

 

The most famous dinosaur fields are near Neuquén, on the northern edge of Argentina’s Lake District. Plaza Huincul (106 km / 65 mi) west of Neuquén towards Zapala) has a museum that displays dinosaur eggs and a skeleton of the 35-meter-long herbivore dinosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest ever found in the world. You can see a replica of the biggest largest carnivorous dinosaur in the world, Giganotosaurus carolinii, at the museum in Villa El Chocón (80 km / 50 mi southwest of Neuquén). Three kilometers away, near Lake Ezequiel Ramos Mexia, are well-preserved, 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. Centro Paleontológico Lago Barreales, 95 kilometers (58 mi) northwest of Neuquén, is an active dig.

 

North of Neuquén, is San Agustín del Valle Fértil, located between San Juan and La Rioja cities. San Agustín is the gateway to two parks that preserve prehistoric remains. Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) has rain and wind-sculpted, 45-50 million-year-old rocks that are said to be the best fossil fields in the country. The most primitive dinosaur, Eoraptor lunensis, was found here. Adjacent to the Valley of the Moon is Parque Nacional Talampaya, a national park protecting more dinosaur fossils.

 

To see life-size dinosaurs roaming across the Patagonian plains, head to Sarmiento and its Parque Temático Paleontológico Valle De Los Gigantes. This is a Cretaceous Park, featuring great—and small—reptiles from the last dinosaur era, like Aniksosaurus Darwini, which weighed only 50 kilograms (110 lb), Notohypsilophodon comodorensi (25 kg / 55 lb) and Epachthosaurus sciuttoi (10 metric tons / 11 tons). Some 38 kilometers (24 mi) southeast of Sarmiento is Monumento Natural Provincial Bosque Petrificado Sarmiento, a petrified forest created 65 million years ago during the great geologic upheavals.

 

The largest, most impressive petrified forest in Argentina is Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, also known as Bosque Petrificado Jaramilo, located 220 kilometers (132 mi) south of Caleta Olivia and 230 kilometers (138 mi) north of Puerto Deseado. This national park contains not only the remains of the semi-tropical forests that carpeted these prairies during the Devonic and  Jurassic periods, but also fossils of oysters, shark teeth and ancient other marine life from when this was a massive sea.

 

Cabo Curioso. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

More remnants of that sea can be seen at Cabo Curioso, 11 kilometers (6.6 mi) north of Puerto San Julián. The cliffs are rife with 35-75-million-year-old, gigantic oyster fossils that piqued the curiosity of Charles Darwin.

 

The dinosaurs and forests that once carpeted southern Argentina from Neuquén to Puerto Deseado left behind petroleum that the region’s economy thrives upon. The landscape is dotted with oil wells dipping and rising, pumping the rich, black blood to the surface.

 

With the austral spring approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other palaeontological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s Jurassic, Devonian and Cretaceous Parks, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina.

On the Road – Peru: Surfing Safari

Anthony Walsh (Australia) and Eala Stewart (Hawai'i) conquered El Gringo. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

 

As the announcer began the awards ceremonies for the Maui and Sons Arica World Star Tour surf competition in Arica, Chile, the winners craned their necks to see the waves coming high and thick. Third place was a tie between Cristian Merello of Pichilemu, Chile, and Lucas Santamaría of Mar del Plata, Argentina. Eala Stewart from the cradle of surfing, Hawai’i, in came in second. The grand prize of $8,000 went to Anthony Walsh of Australia. As soon as the formalities were over, they hit the mighty El Gringo, to give it one last go.

 

These surfers were amongst the 69 who came from 12 countries to challenge El Gringo, also called the Chilean Pipeline, which forms off Isla Alacrán. Why is it called El Gringo? Because it is the man-eater of waves: a perfect A-frame, with barrels forming to the right and left, rolling over an uneven, submerged reef seabed and crashing upon a rocky shore. It has serious power and is fast. Hazards are impalement, death by drowning and having your ego bashed. Needless to say, this gnarly wave is only for experts.

 

Over three-quarters of the competitors came from Latin America, including eight Peruvians. But not even that country’s greatest surfers, Gabriel Villarán and Cristóbal de Col, could make it to the semi-finals. They packed their boards and headed back north to hit the surf in their own country.

Máncora has Peru's most famous waves. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Peru’s surfing safari trail stretches from south of Lima to the Ecuadorian border. Internationally, the most famous is Máncora, in the extreme north of the country. Legends like Fernando “Wawa” Paraud have schools here—in fact, novices can chose from over a half-dozen  places where they can learn to hang ten. The cold Humboldt Current veers off the coast here, making a wetsuit necessary some months of the year.

 

Several other good surfing spots are near Máncora. To the north, a mere 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Ecuador border, is Zorritos. It is the only place where a wet suit is not necessary. Travelers may take lessons at Hands & Surf Escuela, established by the international organization Surfing Solidaridad.

 

Cabo Blanco, to the south of Máncora, hosts a Billabong competition ever year. It is an expert wave, with reef and riptides. This small fishing village has very limited services.

 

Ancient Peruvian surfing at Huanchaco. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Further south is Huanchaco, where travelers can not only hit the waves on board, but also caballito de totora, the local reed boats that date from ancient times. This is another place where Peru’s great long boarders have opened schools and surf shops.

 

It may seem surprising, but some of the country’s other surfing beaches are right in the nation’s capital, Lima. The Miraflores district’s Costa Verde has several beaches perfect for beginning to intermediate surfers: Redondo, Makaha, Waikiki and La Pampilla. All breaks are fairly consistent year round but best with a swell from the southwest.

 

The better beaches, though, are to the south of the city. Experienced long boarders can hit the waves at Punta Hermosa, Punta Negra and Cerro Azul, immortalized in the Beach Boy’s song Surfin’  Safari.

 

Peru’s surfing team is one of the highest ranked in the world, not surprising since this is considered one of the birthplaces of the ancient sport. It has had several world champs, including Sofía Mulánovich of Punta Hermosa, who was the first South American to win the Association of Surfing Professionals women’s world title, in 2004. In 2007, she was the first South American to be inducted into the Surfers Hall of Fame.

 

So, let’s go surfing now. Come on a safari, hitting the shores of Peru.

 

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Peru: Rain, Rain, Go Away …

As reported last month, rains have caused havoc in travel plans in Peru and throughout South America. The highlands have been drenched, causing rivers to be rushing torrents by the time they reach the coastal plains.

 

Last Sunday, I got to experience this first hand while traveling south from Ica. At about midnight, our bus halted. Passengers drifted in and out of sleep, wondering why we were motionless on this black highway in the middle of nowhere. Within a few hours, we were once more traveling, the gentle sway, the gentle song of wheels on pavement lulling us to sleep.

 

Stranded in southern Peru. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But again, at 4 a.m., we were stopped. Before sunrise, I walked out to see a long line of buses, trucks and other vehicles wrapped around the base of a cliff, fading around the bend uphill, and into the distance below, ending at water’s edge. On the other bank, another line of buses and trucks wound up that road and around the curve. Between us, the land rolled down to flooded fields. In this pre-dawn light, a broad river raged, red with soil, tumbling to the sea.

 

A río huayco, the driver told me. In Quechua, huayco means a river that forms in dry gulches, hauling rocks, trees and mud into the lowland valleys—and flooding the landscape for kilometers around.

Our río huayco rolling off to the sea. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

On that stretch of the Pan-American highway just before Camaná, near the village of Pescadores, no bridge exists because this is normally a rio seco—a dry river. But the past few years, with the constant cycle of El Niño and La Niña weather patterns, this river has existed in the summer months when temperatures soar on the coast and the rainy season arrives in the Andes.

 

The rising sun’s heat was tempered by clouds to the east. But this forebode more rains in Arequipa, Puno or wherever these rivers are born.

 

"Agua, gaseosa, golosinas," he called out. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

A white van skidded to a stop at the side of the road and its door slid open, revealing mounds of water, sodas, snacks and toilet paper for sale. Passengers heading to Arequipa, Tacna and other southern destinations lined up to pay over double the normal price. The vendor grinned broadly, soles sign (S/.) dancing in his bright eyes.

 

Finally with the morn, a bulldozer began clearing a channel in that río huayco. Soon the waters ceased to rise. The level lowered enough for the first buses and trucks to cross. Finally at 9 a.m., it was our bus’ turn to slowly wade through the still-strong current.

 

Our turn to cross. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

This year’s rains have caused havoc all over the region. The Peru-Chile border south of Tacna is closed 7 a.m.-noon (5-10 a.m. Chilean time) to clear 40-year-old anti-personnel mines that the flooding has unearthed. Chile has been wracked with overflowing rivers, from the San José in Arica to the Río de las Minas in Punta Arenas. Travelers report being stranded for up to 12 hours when crossing the altiplano from Bolivia or the Atacama Desert into Argentina.

 

 

If you are traveling this season, be sure to pack extra food and water. (Buses only carry enough for serving at mealtimes.) If you will be traveling into Peru’s southern departments of Moquegua or Tacna, or crossing international borders, this is a challenging task because of agricultural customs controls. No produce, whether fresh or dried, dairy or meat products are allowed. Bread is safest bet, as are peanut butter, marmite or vegemite sandwiches. Stock up on drinks and snacks, as well as a book, sudoku puzzles or anything else to pass the time.

 

And most of all—don’t forget to pack in some extra patience.

 

Safe Journeys until next week!

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

Lima’s Big Sunday Fest: The Dakar Arrives

Waiting to get into the Plaza de Armas.

Instead of heading to the beaches yesterday, Lima’s residents headed to the streets to welcome the arrival of the 2012 Edition of the Dakar rally.

 

The city dawned under a foggy shroud. Already lines of Limeños stretched for several blocks, waiting to enter Plaza de Armas where the awards ceremonies would be held. After the city’s main plaza was full, spectators were left to line the avenues, hoping to see the rally’s finishers.

 

The Dakar race, which had started January 1 from Mar del Plata, Argentina, and shot across the deserts of northern Chile and southern Peru, ended at Asia, some hundred kilometers (61 miles) south of Lima. From there, the racers made a more leisurely entry into the city. All along the route, people cheered the participants on, giving them a warm welcome to the capital.

 

The prime viewing spot was on Avenida Talca, near Jirón Callao. Here, the motorcycles, quads, cars and massive trucks parked until their call to enter the Plaza. Racers bought snacks at local stores and sat on curbs relaxing. The challenge was over and now it was time to relax. They heeded the calls of tourists from their home countries and locals to pose for photos.

 

 

Liparoti posing with a child.

 

The French had a strong finish. Stéphane Peterhansel carried home the car division crown for a record tenth time and Cyril Despres took the motorbike trophy, his fourth victory. Rounding out the car winners were Joan (Nani) Roma (Spain) and Giniel de Villiers (South Africa). Second and third place in motos were taken by Marc Coma (Spain) and Helder Rodrigues (Portugal).

 

Second place, trucks went Hans Stacey of the Netherlands.

Winners of the car division.

 

 

Argentina dominated the quad division: brothers Alejandro and Marcos Patronelli took first and second place, and fellow countryman Tomás Maffei took third. The Dutch came out strong in the big trucks, with Gerard de Rooy winning and Hans Stacey in second. Artur Ardavichus (Kazakhstan) was third.

 

The Dakar, which began with a total of 443 participants in the four categories, ended with 249. Among the 10 women who signed in, five finished, including Eulalia Sanz Pla-Gilibert of Spain, who was the only woman to finish in the motorcycle division (39th place of 97), and Franco-Italian journalist and photographer Camelia Liparoti, who finished 10th in the quad competition.

 

Sanz Pla-Gilibert was one of five women to finish the 2012 Dakar.

 

The 2013 edition of the Dakar will begin in Lima, Peru, and finish in Santiago, Chile.

 

The road rally, though, is not without its controversy. Last year, archaeologists in Chile filed a complaint with President Sebastián Piñera about the destruction of the Alto Yape geoglyphs near Iquique. Before and after photos of the site may be seen here.

 

Here are some more shots to close out V!va Travel Guides‘ coverage of the 2012 Dakar.

 

 

 

 

Torres del Paine National Park Reopens

Wednesday morning, just a week after a devastating wildfire broke out in Southern Chile’s Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the government announced the reopening of the park.

 

Torres del Paine National Park, showing open sectors. Map by: www.laprensaaustral.cl

 

The northern part of Torres del Paine, which is unaffected by the fire, is now open to tourists. These include these sectors: Laguna Sur and Amerga, Valle Ascencio, Hotel Las Torres, Campamentos Cuernos and Cerón, and the Los Perros and Dichoso rivers. For complete details, visit the website of the national tourism board, Sernatur. Click here for a map of the open areas.

 

Local guides, hostels and other businesses are joining efforts to give informative talks at the park entrance, to instruct visitors on safety and environmental issues. They also are forming protection patrols to walk the trails, looking for campfires, illegal camping and other park rule violations.

 

Ecologists, however, are not happy with the government’s decision. They fear that the patrolling of the park will draw necessary manpower from the tasks of fighting the wildfire and reforestation efforts.

 

The fire has consumed 14,504 hectares (35,840 acres) of the nature reserve, as well as about 1,000 hectares of Estancia Lazo, a ranch neighboring the park. Grey Glacier was in danger of partial melting from the intense heat. As of Wednesday afternoon, only one hotspot of the fire remained out of control.

 

Over 700 firefighters from four countries have battled the blaze. Water is still being collected for the crews.

 

Already four Israeli experts have arrived to lend their expertise in reforestation. Volunteers are also being enlisted to help with recovery efforts (see UPDATE: Torres del Paine National Park Wildfire for details). The extent of environmental damage is severe. Experts estimate it will take up to 80 years for the park to fully recover.

 

La Prensa Austral has several stunning photo gallery showing the fire’s aftermath.

Torres del Paine: Before the fire

 

Forest fires are burning in other parts of Chile, including in the Maule and Bío-Bío regions. In Pichiqueime, over 22,500 hectares (55,600 acres) of forest, 100 homes and a cellulose refining plant have been destroyed, and one death has resulted.  The Catholic Church has begun an aid drive to help the affected in these areas.

 

Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera is proposing a new law to replace the present one, passed in the 1930s. The forest fire reform act would reorganize emergency response mechanisms, and increase fines and jail time for individuals that cause forest fires.

Chile’s Carretera Austral: Ten Adventures to Get Your Adrenaline Fix

Taking a rest.

South America’s summer officially begins tonight, but already travelers have been hitting Chile’s Carretera Austral (Ruta 7), which extends 1,247 kilometers (775 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Bicyclists are battling the infamous Patagonian wind as gravel kicks up around their tires. Some backpackers stand by the roadsides, thumb outstretched, to explore the road that way. Very few travelers take the public buses or rent a car. This is a highway where dreams can be made reality.

If the adventure of biking or hitching the Carretera Austral isn’t enough for you, V!VA Travel Guides Chile presents you  with a cornucopia of high-adrenaline activities to keep you pumped going down the highway. This region has many legs of the national hiking trail network, the Sendero de Chile (www.senderodechile.cl). Local families provide homestay and guiding services for not only trekking, but also birdwatching, horseback riding, fly fishing, rock climbing and other sports.

So dig out the hiking boots and pack in the provisions because it’s time to hit the open road.

 

1 – Parque Nacional Horniporén

Parque Nacional Horniporén, near the start of the Carretera Austral, protects important transition zones of flora, fauna and geology. Over 13 kilometers (8 miles) of hiking trails wind through this fascinating landscape. The nearby village of Río Puelo is the starting point for an even more challenging trek: four nights, five days across the Paso Río Puelo border to El Bolsón, Argentina.

Kayaking on the Futaleufú River.

2 – Futaleufú

Rafters and kayakers, get your gear ready to shoot through the rapids of the Futa, one of the world’s three most challenging rivers. The toughest stretches are the “Infierno” (22 kilometers / 14 miles, Class III-IV) and the “Terminator” (7 kilometers / 4.2 miles, Class V). The Espolón River is renowned for its fly fishing. Dry land adventures are horseback riding and hiking near town and in Reserva Natural Futaleufú.

Further down the highway you can get another whitewater  fix on the Río Baker’s Class III rapids at Puerto Bertrand.

 

3 – Palena

Reserva Nacional Lago Palena offers horseback riding, fly fishing and a half-dozen hiking trails ranging from four kilometers (2.4 miles) to 13 kilometers (8 miles) in distance. It is also the staging ground for a 65-kilometer (39-mile) stretch of the Sendero de Chile, from Palena to Lago Verde (near La Junta).

 

A waterfall in Queulat National Park.

4 – Puyuhuapi

The delights around Puyuhuapi, a small German settlement on a fiord, never ceases to amaze travelers. After hiking to the hanging glaciers and waterfalls in Parque Nacional Queulat, soak your tired muscles in one of two hot springs near the village.

 

5 – Coyhaique

While you’re restocking on money and other necessary supplies in the Northern Patagonia’s major city, take some time out to explore the three national reserves near town: Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas, Reserva Nacional Río Simpson and Reserva Nacional Coyhaique. On the coast is Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, most known for its boat tours to the glaciers. But it also has several hiking trails, ice climbing (for the experienced and equipped) and camping.

Coyahique is also home to Escuela de Guías de la Patagonia, a school that trains the region’s guides. During the summer, it also teaches travelers camping, rock climbing and other skills to survive Patagonian rigors.

 

Cerro Castillo.

6 – Cerro Castillo

With geological features much like Torres del Paine, Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo has a distinct advantage: It is virtually unvisited. The challenging 45-kilometer (28 mile) Valle de la Lima-Villa Cerro Castillo trek, which takes three to four days, wraps around the base of the mountain, with stunning views of icy lagoons and glaciers. If time is short, you can visit the park on horseback from the village.

 

7 – Bahía Exploradores

The boat tour of Río Tranquilo’s marble caves provides a respite from Chile’s Northern Patagonia’s trekking opportunities. But it’s now time for the next challenge: Hiking out the 59-kilometer (37-mile) road towards Bahía Exploradores, and ice trekking Glaciar Exploradores.

Capilla de Marmól, near Río Capilla.

8 – Cochrane

Besides being the last place along the highway where you can pick up on money and basic supplies, Cochrane has the Reserva Nacional Tamango. Also near town is Laguna Esmeralda with swimming, kayaking and great trout fishing. If you’re ready to roll up the ol’ sleeves and help restore natural habitats for huemul and puma, then volunteer at Valle Chacabuco nature reserve.

 

Caleta Tortel.

9 – Caleta Tortel

The entire village of Caleta Tortel is a hiking experience, with over seven kilometers (4.2 miles) of cypress-wood boardwalks. This is also where the southern sector of Parque Nacional San Rafael and Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins are accessed.  Both have hikes to glaciers. Caleta Tortel is also a prime kayaking destination.

 

10 – Villa O’Higgins

Villa O’Higgins is the last town on Chile’s Carretera Austral. From here, you’ll have to backtrack north to Cochrane or Lago General Carrera to cross over into Argentina. Or you can boat across Lago O’Higgins and hike to El Chaltén, Argentina—what has been called one of the world’s most beautiful border crossings (Paso Dos Lagunas). Before you leave this end-of-the-road town, though, take some time to hike or horseback ride one of the seven trails in the area, including two in the northern sector of Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins.

The highway’s end.

 

Traversing the Carretera Austral once the snows swirl in late autumn provides other ways to get the old adrenaline pumping. The road becomes impassable and many of towns remain isolated for weeks at a time. The best place to use as a base is Coyhaique. You can snowshoe and cross country ski in the three national reserves near that city or in Cerro Castillo just to the south. Coyhaique also has a downhill ski center, Centro de Ski el Fraile.

The Carretera Austral can be accessed by several border crossings from Argentina, or by boats arriving at Chaitén, Puerto Chacabuco (near Coyhaique) and other villages.

There are many other towns along the Carretera Austral that provide many other delights. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Three Towns in Chile Anyone Will Love

When travelers plan their trips to Chile, usually Santiago, Valparaiso and the wine country are at the top of their lists. But other parts of the country offer towns that anyone will love, places full of history, culinary delights and cultural diversity. Three cities that are often overlooked are Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir. V!VA Travel Guides Chile can help you explore the many facets of these places.

 

In the extreme north of Chile, just mere kilometers from the Peruvian border, is Arica. Among this city’s many distinctions are the world’s shortest railroad (from Arica to Tacna, Peru) and the oldest mummies (over 10,000 years old). It is a city steeped in history. This once-important Spanish colonial port was a major battleground during the War of the Pacific. It also was wiped out twice by tsunamis in the 19th century. Several structures by Gustave Eiffel decorate downtown.

Arica offers nature lovers bird watching at the Lluta River Mouth wetlands and boat tours along the coast to the Humboldt penguin colony at Caleta de Camarones. Adrenaline junkies can hit some of the world’s most challenging surf or go kitesurfing. And of course, the miles of beaches and Isla del Alacrán offer a bit of something for everyone.

Eiffel's cathedral in Arica.

On the cultural front, the city has several museums, like the Museo del Mar and El Morro hill with the Museo Histórico y de Armas. On any given day, you can see Aymara or African-descendent dance troupes dancing down the 21 de Mayo pedestrian street. This is also a favorite venue for the medieval-esque tuna music groups. Culinary delights include empanadas de jaiba-queso (crab and cheese pies) and sopa marinera (seafood soup).

Two river valley oases hug Arica. To the north is Valle de Lluta, with many small Andean villages with colonial churches and the Eco-Truly yoga spa. Valle de Azapa, which is famous for its olives, begins south of the city. Along the road are dozens of geoglyphs, or designs etched into the hillsides, tombs and a pre-Columbian pukará fortress. The Museo de San Miguel has ancient mummies and fine textiles.

Arica is also a good jumping off point for trips to the Pre-Cordillera de Belén, where a dozen Aymara villages and ancient ruins nestle into the folds of the Andean foothills, Putre and Parque Nacional Lauca near the Bolivian border.

Riding the surf in Arica.

South of Santiago is Valdivia, in the heart of Chile’s famed Lake District. This city at the confluence of three rivers also has a fascinating history. In the dawn of the 17th century, the Mapuche indigenous forced the Spanish to abandon the port which was later occupied by Dutch pirates. In their efforts to reconquer their Pearl of the Pacific, the Spaniards built the America’s second largest fortress system, covering over 18 kilometers (11 miles). During the 19th century, thousands of Germans immigrated here. In 1960, the largest earthquake in modern history destroyed the city.

The Mapuche festival in Valdivia.

Today, Valdivia is a culturally and ethnically vibrant city. It has a full slate of museums covering everything from natural history to art, as well as a half-dozen performance art centers. The city’s ethnic diversity is celebrated with several festivals: Bierfest (January 29-February 1), Fiesta de las Tradiciones (September 17-21) and Expoarte y Cultura Mapuche (November 28-30).

 Visitors to Valdivia can join the national rowing team sculling the rivers. You can also spend a day boating towards the sea to visit the Spanish fortresses at Isla Mancera, Corral and Niebla, or upstream to Punucapa and the Cuello Negro brewery. Kunstmann, famous throughout Chile for its beer, also is headquartered near Valdivia.

A Spanish fortress.

At the end of a day of exploring Valdivia and its region, try some of its famous seafood or a crudo, a dish of its German origin. Of course, accompany any repast with one of the local beers (Café las Gringas serves all of Chile’s microbrews) and end it with some delectable chocolate.

Valdivia is a good point to launch any hiking expedition into the Lake District’s many national parks, like Villarrica, near Pucón, with a volcano to climb, or Puyehue, with an active volcano. Hot springs, fishing and other nature diversions spot the countryside around the Seven Lakes. The entire region is perfumed by the Mapuche and German cultures.

Black-neck Swans.

At the far end of Chile, on the eastern shore of the Magellan Strait, is our last destination: Porvenir. This town on the island of Tierra del Fuego also has a deep history and culture. It was where Selk’nam wandered and fished, Croats and Chilotes came looking for gold at the end of the rainbow and Chilean cinema was born.

Follow the rainbow to Porvenir.

Although the indigenous peoples of this land are long gone, you can learn about their culture at the Museo Provincial Fernando Cordero Rusque. Porvenir’s modern history began with a gold rush in the late 19th century. By following the Circuito Histórico Cultural into the mountains near Porvenir, you will find men still panning the chill streams for gold nuggets. This historic circuit also wends to the old sheep ranch Estancia Caleta Josefina and Onaisín.

The shores of Porvenir’s bay is a great place to learn about the town’s history and to birdwatch. Another refuge for avifauna is Monumento Nacional de los Cisnes. Out in the hinterlands of the island are Lago Blanco, a trout angler’s Paradise, and the Cordillera de Darwin, the ultimate adventure for trekkers.

Porvenir is accesible by ferry from Punta Arenas, or by private vehicle the Argentine cities Ushuaia and Río Gallegos. To visit sites in the countryside around Porvenir, rent a car in any of the major cities, hire a driver in Porvenir, go on tour or bicycle out. As in other parts of Chile, seafood is superb here. Porvenir is the best place to try centolla, or king crab.

 

Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir are all easy to get to from the neighboring countries. If you’re needing a break from Peru or Argentina, head over the border for the multi-faceted pleasures these three towns guarantee. Pack along V!VA’s other guidebooks to help you navigate into the lesser-known corners of all these countries.

The Elves of El Bolsón, Argentina: Mythical or Magical?

Most people come to El Bolsón, in Argentina’s Lake District, for its spectacular mountain scenery, wooded hiking trails, holistic spas and bohemian spirit. What many don’t know is that a trip to El Bolsón may mean sleeping among the famous duendes, or goblins, which are said to inhabit the forests around the small village—or at least being entertained by stories of duende sightings over a glass of locally brewed beer at the bar.

"El Bolsón Río Azul lupines," by MiguelVierira, 2011: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miguelvieira/6349893047/

It is no secret within town that a large population of elves lives in this area. Artists and creative types, who have called El Bolsón home since the 1960s, have cited the inspiration of these supernatural beings in their imaginative works.  It is commonly believed that there is a secret record of all the elves that live here, along with the names of some special guests who have visited them. This cherished list is known as the “Omsimitaica Honimac,” and can only be accessed by those who have had chance encounters with the duendes.

"El Bolson 2," by Pablo Arinci, 2009: http://www.flickr.com/photos/polfoto/3228235335/in/photostream

However, it has been an ongoing process of determining the truth in the stories told about run-ins with these gnomes. One thing is for sure: the duendes are nocturnal, sleeping in hidden spaces until sundown, when they gather for all-night revelry. Speculation points to a few major spots where these elves are thought to congregate, including at the foothills of Mount Piltriquiron, around the “Cabeza del Indio” (Indian’s Head), at the Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden), in the “Bosque Tallado” (Carved Forest) and in the area around the “Cajón de Azul.”

"Bosque Tallado," by missgis, 2009: http://www.flickr.com/photos/missgis/3517049417/

The goblins are supposedly very happy, playful creatures, and are unafraid to interact with humans. When visitors happen upon one of their meeting places, they are said to welcome their guests with sweet elixir and strawberries. Three of the gnomes then present the traveler with three tiny clay pots filled with a pinch of stars, which is then planted in the visitor’s soul. After this ritual, the elves begin to recite ancient legends to the guest.

Many campers have reported incidents of duende activity on their campsites, shocked to find their trashed tent areas from the night before completely clean come morning. Some local residents have even mentioned finding passed out elves on their front lawns.

Although duendes are commonly associated with European mythology, enough evidence points to the existence of these magical creatures in the woods of El Bolsón, Argentina. However, whether you choose to believe in the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque nature of this place or not is up to you.