Campo Grande (Brazil) will be the gathering point for this 2200 miles (3300 Km) trip. The first stop will be in Bonito, which will serve as our base of operation for the next four to six days, as we explore the southern region of the Pantanal, with an ecosystem unique to the Americas. The region of Bonito and the Pantanal has some of the most exuberant and diversified flora and fauna in the world. The isolation of the Pantanal region, home to more than 750 bird, mammal and reptile species, allows for the easy spotting and photographing of the fauna, which has not been driven away into hiding by hordes of tourists. For its part, the small town of Bonito surrounded by hundreds of waterfalls, fluvial caves, and crystal clear lagoons, offers endless opportunities for underwater and landscape photography.
With our time up in Bonito, we will then head, via the Transpantaneria Highway, towards the Brazilian-Bolivian border, which we will cross at Corumba-Puerto Suarez. From Puerto Suarez, we continue our journey to San Jose de Chiquitos, which will be our gateway to the Jesuit missions of Bolivia. We will visit, among others, the missions of San Ignacio de Velasco, Concepcion and San Javier. Unlike their Paraguayan counterparts, destroyed by the Spanish armies during the disbandment of the Jesuit order, the Bolivian misiones are still operating, thus preserving their exquisite mixture of colonial religious architecture.
After visiting the Jesuit missions, we will continue traversing through the Bolivian Chaco region until we reach Santa Cruz de la Sierra. A multifaceted city, Santa Cruz best encapsulates the frontier experience of the region. A modern, vibrant business emporium rises in this city of the Bolivian plains whose historic center is characterized by its peculiar architecture. The city also has an intense nightlife, with numerous discos and pubs. Following the visit to Santa Cruz, we’ll head to Samaipata, home to the mysterious and undecipherable carved rocks. While at Samaipata, we will be able to admire and photograph its many fascinating stone carvings, depicting jaguars, snakes, and other zoomorphic and geometrical figures. Next in the travel plan is the region of Valle Grande, where we will retrace the final steps of the famous guerrilla leader and revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Going up the mountains of the Andes range we will first stop at Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia and a city declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. After a couple of days of walking its cobblestone streets and admiring its colonial splendor, we’ll depart from Sucre to explore another city rich in history: Potosi. Synonymous with silver, every corner of Potosi vividly reminds all visitors of its past splendor, when the city was the largest and, perhaps, the richest in the world.
From Potosi, we will move higher up the mountains until we reach the Bolivian Altiplano Central, or Central Plateau, and the town of Uyuni. From our base in Uyuni, we will spend the next couple of days exploring the region, where desert sands and extinct volcanoes stand in stark contrast next to multicolored lagoons with rare flamingos. The area is dotted with hot springs, fumaroles, geysers, boiling mud pools, and steaming streams, all contributing to create surreal scenery. Wild llamas, vicunas and vizcachas wander graciously through the area, adding to the sense of timelessness and magnificence. The remnant of an ancient, prehistoric lake, the salar is the world’s largest salt mine at 3,660 meters (over 12,000 ft.) above sea level. In the summer, the salar marsh becomes a lake half the size of Belgium; in the winter, the water evaporates leaving a snowy blanket of salt. The importance of salt in the region does not go unnoticed; near Colchani, the Salt Hotel is completely made of salt, furniture and all. Further on, the famous Isla del Pescado (Fish Island) is the largest oasis in the salt flat and has cacti that can reach 8 meters (26 feet) tall. Heading southwest, we will resume our trip towards the Chilean-Bolivian border through a land of unimaginable beauty, with its lagoons, salt-water lakes, and numerous volcanoes, including the Ollague Volcano, topping at 5,865 meters (19,240 ft.).
Once in Chile, we will stop at the small town of San Pedro de Atacama. Despite having a population of only 2500 people, San Pedro has an unmistakable cosmopolitan flair due to the large number of international tourists attracted to the site by its breathtaking views and blue skies. San Pedro is considered to be the archeological capital of Chile. The town is home to a museum collection of close to 400,000 artifacts of various Atacaman cultures discovered over the vast expanse of the Atacama. Using San Pedro as our base, we’ll spend the next days visiting the renowned Valle de la Luna, which, as its name suggests, it’s a veritable replica of the lunar landscape. We will also visit Toconao, the Termas de Puritana and the Ruinas de Tulor. Not far, we will find too the Salar de Atacama with its Chaxa Lagoon, home to thousands of flamingos. We cannot leave San Pedro without visiting the nearby SPACE observatory. During the evening tours, we may observe lunar craters, the rings of Saturn, and many other celestial wonders in the unpolluted night skies of the Atacama Desert.
Our next stop is the Geyser of Tatio and its geothermic camp, located at 4,200 meters (13,780 ft.). An early morning visit will enable us to admire and photograph a fabulous display of steam fumaroles. From the Geyser, we’ll hit the road via the picturesque town of Chiu-Chiu, driving through Calama before reaching our final destination, the city of Antofagasta. Here we can relax for a day or two in the beautiful beaches of the Pacific before catching our flight home.