Video: Patagonia – in the land of mountains and dulce de leche

Patagonia is the southern region of South America. Located in Argentina and Chile, it comprises the southernmost portion of the Andes mountains to the west and south, and plateaux and low plains to the east. It is a spectacular place. I visited there in May and unfortunately it was impossible to travel further south for me due to the cold (winter time).

So I spent four days at the "top" of Patagonia – San Carlos de Bariloche, usually known as Bariloche. The city is situated at the foothills of the Andes, surrounded by lakes (Nahuel Huapi, Gutiérrez Lake, Moreno Lake and Mascardi Lake) and mountains (Tronador, Cerro Catedral, Cerro López). It is famous for skiing but also known for sight-seeing, water sports, trekking and climbing.

Bariloche is also famous for its chocolate – but I spent most of my time there eating the famous and delicious Argentinian Dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is similar to caramel and made by adding sugar to milk and cooking it, is used on nearly all desserts, including facturas (pastries eaten for breakfast or tea) and alfajores (traditional cookies that consist of tiny biscuits stuck together), and many other Argentine desserts. I love it 🙂

Salta, Argentina

Arriving in the warm and sunny Salta climate after the Bolivian Altiplano was a huge relief. It felt like re-entering Europe after a trip to the moon.

Salta, Argentina

Salta’s a medium-sized town in North West Argentina (View map) with about 500,000 inhabitants. It lies in the Lerma Valley, 1,152 meters above sea level, at the foothills of the Andes mountains. Salta was founded on April 16 1582 by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Lerma, and has in recent years been nicknamed Salta la Linda (“Salta the Fair”). It has now become a major tourist destination due to its old, colonial architecture and the natural scenery of the countryside and valleys to the West.

Here’s a couple of random examples of some very creative street art I saw whilst walking around the backstreets of Salta:

Street Art in Salta, Argentina

Street Art in Salta, Argentina

Uyuni: A freezing desert city

Uyuni is a freezing cold desert city. The city, which has an altitude of 3675m, is described the following way by the Lonely Planet: “This climatically challenged otherworldly and isolated community today seems to exist only for the tourist hoards who venture out to the extraordinary salares.”

Most tourist come here to book a tour to the Salar de Uyuni and are usually “forced” to spend the night before heading off. It is also the cheapest place to book a tour due to the fierce competition.

I arrived with a big group of people on the bus and we were able to book a Salar de Uyuni trip (3 days, 2 nights) for 550 Bolivians per person.

We all stayed at Hostal Tati- Laura. The rooms were okay, but freezing cold. And the female owner promised us that we would have 24 hours hot water when in fact she locked the shower cabin at all hours except 7-9 in the morning. This meant that when we returned VERY dirty from our Salar de Uyuni trip (not having washed for 3 days) we had to argue with her to get access to a shower.

The days in Uyuni were so cold that the water in the yard of the guest house (used for washing yourself and your dirty clothes) froze completely.

However, if you do stay in Uyuni, go to the local market on Thursday and Sunday. It is a really great place to stock up with wool socks, hats, legwarmers, and gloves before setting out on the Salar de Uyuni trip. And try the potato balls food they sell in the street…very delicious.

Good journey and stay warm 🙂

Sucre: the most beautiful Bolivian city

Sucre is without doubt the most beautiful Bolivian city. Well in fact it is one of the most beautiful cities I have visted in central and South America. The stunning city of Sucre has a rich colonial heritage, evident in its buildings, streetscapes and numerous churches. In 1991 it was declared a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site.

The city has many amazing flowery plazas, good restaurants, indigenous markets and is really a fantastic place to spend at least a few days. Do go to the food market and tast the amazing fruit salats…they are divine and cost hardly anything.

I really find it a shame that La Paz became the governmental capital. Sucre is a much more beautiful place and hence gives a lot better image of Bolivia.

If you visit Bolivia I definitely recommend you to reserve at least three days for Sucre. You will not regret it 🙂

San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

The Atacama Desert is a virtually rainless plateau in South America, covering a 1,000 km strip of land on the Pacific coast of South America, west of the Andes mountains. The Atacama desert is, according to NASA, National Geographic and many other publications, the driest place on earth (50 times drier than Death Valley in California). Scientists recently duplicated the tests used by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 Mars landers to detect life, and were unable to detect any signs in Atacama Desert soil. The region may be unique on Earth in this regard and is being used by NASA to test instruments for future Mars missions.

San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

On the final day of our Bolivian Salt Flats Tour, we descended from nearly 5000 metres altitude, to San Pedro at 2,400 metres down one unbelievably straight road that seemed to go on forever. It was wonderful arriving in San Pedro after the Bolivian Altiplano due to the increased breathing ability, and the warm sunny climate.

I used San Pedro de Atacama as a pit-stop, spending a total of 24 hours in Chile before making my way to Salta in Argentina. This was partly due to the fact that there were only two ATMs in the town, one was broken and the other only accepted Mastercard, and partly due to the fact that there were only 2-3 buses a week from San Pedro to Salta in Argentina (with a company called Gem’s), and one happened to be leaving the next day.

Samaipata – A tourist chill-out place in Bolivia

Samaipata - A beautiful village in Bolivia
Samaipata - A beautiful village in Bolivia

Samaipata is a beautiful village (1650m) 2.5 hours from Santa Cruz. The Bolivians use it as a weekend get-away, but tourist are slowly but surely discovering it as well. This peaceful village in the foothills of the Cordillera Oriental has lots of nice foreign-run, stylish hostels and restaurants.

I stayed in Hotel Paola which has a nice balcony overlooking the beautiful plaza and spent my days reading, going to the used clothes and vegetable market. I also went to visit El Fuerte – the ancient mystical site.

If you’re coming from the lowlands, it’s also a good place to begin altitude acclimatization by degrees.

Very recommended for a relaxing time.

La Paz: A cement jungle with witch-craft shops

La Paz is overwhelming in many aspects, not just because of the altitude of 3660m. From a distance, the city looks like a cement jungle (as on the picture above), but when you move around inside it actually has many beautiful neighbourhoods.

The suburbs are posh, with skyscrapers, colonial houses, and modern glass constructions. But most of the commerce and daily activity takes place further up in the centre of the city where a mass of irregular-shaped steep streets and alleys wind their way skywards. Here you will see lots of street-sellers, neighbourhoods divided into different commerce and witch-craft shops selling llama fetuses.

The sky-high altitude means that warm clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses are essential. I enjoyed the city due to its many faces.