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The Wilderness Beyond: Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego & the Chilean Fjords 2014

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Pre-trip: Chile's Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest place on Earth. Still, people have lived here for thousands of years, dwelling in oasis towns like San Pedro. On this extension, we'll explore the landscape and meet local people, while also discovering Chile's capital, Santiago.

It's Included:
Roundtrip airfare between Santiago and Calama & airfare from Santiago to Buenos Aires
Accommodations for 2 nights in Santiago and 3 nights in San Pedro de Atacama
9 meals—5 breakfasts, 1 lunch, and 3 dinners, including 1 Home-Hosted Lunch
4 small group activities
Services of our own resident OAT Trip leader, who speaks English and the native language
All transfers
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    Depart the U.S. this evening for your overnight flight to Santiago.

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    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    Arrive this morning in Santiago, Chile. An OAT representative meets you at the airport and helps you transfer to the hotel. Join your Trip Leader and fellow travelers in the afternoon for an orientation walk to acquaint you with the neighborhood near your hotel. Then get to know each other better at a Welcome Dinner.

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    Early this morning, we board a flight to Calama, a copper-mining town that serves as a gateway to the Atacama Desert. From Calama, we’ll travel overland to San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis town of narrow streets and adobe houses. En route, we’ll stop to visit the Rainbow Valley, where we’ll have the opportunity to examine petroglyphs carved centuries ago in the surrounding mountains and boulders. Then we’ll join a local family for a Home-Hosted Lunch. As we dine on local specialties, we’ll learn more about daily life in the Atacama Desert.

    The Atacama is the driest desert on Earth because the flow of atmospheric moisture to it is blocked on both sides by tall mountain ranges—the Andes to the east and coastal mountains to the west. In spite of the harshness of this environment, cultural relics and artifacts uncovered by archaeologists (including perfectly-preserved mummies) show that humans have been living in the Atacama for more than 10,000 years. The early atacameños—as the indigenous people of this area are called—settled in oasis towns like San Pedro, where they pioneered agricultural techniques such as terrace farming (using artificial methods of irrigation and fertilizing crops with llama guano). The first European to venture into the desert, the Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro, arrived in 1537, and although colonists began slowly settling in the area, the Atacama remained largely forgotten until the 19th century, when the discovery of vast deposits of sodium nitrate made the area economically desirable.

    Upon arriving in San Pedro this afternoon, we check into our hotel. Tonight we enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Today’s discoveries begin with a walking tour of San Pedro. We’ll visit the Padre Le Paige Archaeological Museum, which chronicles the evolution of atacameño culture. Founded in 1957 by Father Gustavo Le Paige, a Jesuit priest, the museum’s exhibits include gold artifacts, handcrafted weapons, ceramics, and textiles covering a span of nearly 11,000 years.

    After lunch on your own, we’ll pay a visit to nearby Toconao. This colonial town is notable in that all of its buildings—including a church and its bell tower—are built entirely from liparita, a volcanic stone mined from a nearby quarry. From Toconao, we’ll continue to the impressive Salar de Atacama, or Salt Flats, a shallow body of water encrusted with a thick mantle of salt and minerals. With a surface area in excess of 1,100 square miles (and measuring more than 6 miles long and nearly 40 miles wide at its central part), it’s the third-largest salt flat in the world. Rich in minerals, including borax and lithium, it’s also home to various species of birds, most notably the pink Andean flamingo. We’ll have the opportunity to get a close-up look at these flamingoes—and other indigenous flora and fauna—at the Chaxa Lagoon, our destination in the salt flats. Afterwards, we return to San Pedro, where dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Early this morning, join our optional tour to the Tatio Geysers, an area with more than 80 geysers located at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Or relax in San Pedro and explore on your own.

    Late in the afternoon, we’ll head to the Valley of the Moon. Here we’ll observe a surreal landscape of salt peaks formed by uplifted lake sediments that have been shaped into dramatic formations by wind erosion. We’ll watch the setting sun infuse the lunar-like landscape with a kaleidoscope of colors after we celebrate our discoveries with a toast. Tonight we’ll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

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    • Meals included:
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    After an early breakfast, we'll depart San Pedro for Calama. We fly from Calama to Santiago, arriving in the late morning. Lunch and dinner are on your own in Santiago today.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, we fly to Buenos Aires to begin our The Wilderness Beyond: Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego & the Chilean Fjords adventure.