November 26 – December 2, 2017

Leaving Atacama desert behind; Mostly

Antofagasta Chile – what another surprise. Dave and I are beginning to really like the coastal cities in the far north of Chile.

Antofagasta is similar to Iquique but its location isn’t set against such a towering sand dune like Iquique. It is, however, like Iquique set between the coastal range and the Pacific Ocean. Antofagasta is slightly bigger population-wise; both are major seaports servicing primarily the minerals being mined in the Atacama region for export, both have wonderful seaside malecóns, both have high rise condominiums and apartments scattered throughout their cities, both have interesting historic centers relating to the colonial exploitation of the Chile’s mineral wealth, and both have an arid climate with temperatures in mid 70’s and both are foggy in the mornings clearing by noon.

On the 26th, we wandered south along the Antofagasta malecón to a municipal beach and watched the Chilean families enjoying a variety of water activities and sunbathing. I became engrossed in watching one novice kayaker who spilled into the water trying to regain his seat in the kayak. No luck, he finally had to swim to shore towing the kayak.

Antofagasta’s shorline
Antofagsta’s public beach
Reminds me of Pacifica where you put on a jacket when going to the beach.
Antofagasta at night

The 27th found us wandering in the northern direction along the malecón and into the downtown historic area to the Plaza de Armas.

In the evening we made arrangements to take an astronomy tour to do some star watching since Northern Chile has almost ideal observing conditions to watch the stars and Chile has a number of international observatories scattered through the Atacama Region. Minimal water vapor in the atmosphere, little cloud cover, sparse light pollution and high peaks for stationing the observatories make for some of Earth’s best viewing of the stars.

I thought our tour was to an actual observatory; instead it was an astronomer phd. instructor and his student who drove us up to one of the peaks south of Antofagasta, set up his large professional telescope and ‘lectured’ us on what we were seeing. Interesting fact: the telescopes are now aligned using gps. He was knowledgeable and didn’t make it too technical so we could understand him and he spoke good English. So even though not what I was expecting, it turned out to be a good evening even when the almost full moon cast so much light it started to blur the stars and planets.

Sunset at our star gazing site

On the 28th we left the Coast briefly on Highway 5 to drive to Chañaral. But on the way we stopped at the El Mano del Desierto ‘weird’ sculpture set out in the middle of the windswept desert and a second even odder stop – an old huge abandoned historic cemetery for the mining company – Oficina Chile. After arriving in Chañaral, we boondocked at one of their oceanside parking lots above some docks.

Mano del Desierto
Oficina Chile Cementario

We have noticed, and there are big government billboards making the announcements, Chile is in a big infrastructure municipal projects boom. We have seen work on town boat ramps to service their fishing and tourist industries, bridges on small roads across, mostly in this area, dry streams and river beds, seawalls, roads of course, public housing, water canals, town central plazas, seaside malecóns and art projects. All for “Todos por Chile”.

On Nov. 29th we drove north from Chañaral to the Pan de Azúcar. This coastal nature reserve abuts the ocean and climbs over the coastal range so it has several different habitats for plants and animals. One of the islands offshore is a Humboldt penguin nesting ground. But they were not in evidence at this time of the year.

The dirt road leading to the reserve is in good shape but when we tried to take the side spur to the Mirador, it quickly became worse. So after a short while we returned to Caleta Pan de Azúcar and boondocked in one of their parking lots. And watched the bus loads of children and teens come through. After the buses left, it was quiet even if windy.

Pan de Azucar

The 30th found us back on the road to Bahía Inglesa and Caldera.

The Caldera fishing fleet

The most unusual stop during this mostly coastal road drive was the Santuario de la Naturaleza Granito Orbicular.

“The orbicular granite, also known as orbicular rock or orbiculite, is an unusual rare plutonic igneous rock usually of granitic composition in a general sense. These rocks have a unique appearance of “orbiculos” (concentric layers of spheroidal structure) probably formed by nucleation around a growth nucleus (mineral grain or strange rock) in a cooling magma chamber. On the beach there is a geological outcrop consisting of granite rocks with these elliptical orbits. (

Orbicular rock

In Caldera we visited the main square and had lunch at a restaurant in the fish market before driving to Bahía Inglesa where we boondocked in their new beach parking lot; quite a project with paved walking paths and covered awnings.

Boondocking in Bahia Inglesa

After another quiet night with only the sounds of the shorebirds, we left Bahía Inglesa on Friday Dec. 1 and turned inland. Only when we got closer to Copiapó and along the Rio Copiapó did vineyards and other farming areas start dotting the valley.

We made a stop at the Museo Minera de Tierra Amarilla just outside Copiapó but what a disappointment. The outside exhibits had limited signage so the numerous displays just looked like chunks of rock and the interior rooms weren’t even open. I had wanted to see the capsule that brought the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010 up to the surface. Later we learned that the Chilean President delayed their release for several hours so he could get there for the photo op. Politicians are the same everywhere. (Speaking of that politician, he just won re-election on the 17th.)

What was interesting was when we continued west on C-411 back to Ruta 5 we discovered miles of vineyards covering the valleys’ floors and partially up the otherwise brown dry hillsides.

After driving for some time on Ruta 5, we turned west at Vallenar and followed the verdant Rio Huasco orchard valley filled with olive trees to the port town of Huasco. Where we boondocked in one of their beach parking lots after exploring the center on foot.

The desert in bloom along Ruta 5

Dec. 2nd we drove from Huasco to La Serena or more precisely Coquimbo, a beach community on the southern end of Serena to the campsite Turismo El Huerto. After ascertaining that we would fit into the individualized parking slots, we put up the roof and the vent cover just nudged up the net awning over each of the slots.

Coquimbo at night

An unusual campground in that each of the parking spots had not only their own table, benches, BBQ pit and shelving, each one had their own locked individualized bathroom with hot water showers. Was extremely handy to leave toiletries in your ‘own’ bathroom.

More on La Serena in the next entry.