During my first visit to Chile in 2002, I spent only a couple of days in Santiago.
During my second visit to Chile in 2013, I drove around the northern parts of Chile for 10 days.
Traffic conditions are generally light, except for Santiago. The major problem was road construction. North-east of Antofagasta, the road was under construction for almost 200 km (120 miles). In several places, there was only one lane available, traffic was alternated between the two directions, which once meant a wait of almost ½ hour, before I could pass the 7 km (4.3 miles) one-lane stretch.
The worst single traffic problem was just north of La Serena on the main highway. An accident had completely blocked the road. I waited for 5 hours. The line of waiting cars was probably 20 km (12 miles) long. After 5 hours waiting, I decided to take a detour around the area on a road through the mountains. It was marked on the map as an unpaved road, but it turned out to be hardly more than a track. This was quite an adventure, since I had a regular passenger car, no 4WD.
One of the big impressions in Chile are the mining operations. Mines are everywhere, they are a big part of the economy. Even when talking with local people over a beer, the subject of mines came up. The Mina Escondida is the largest copper mine in the world. It is taking down whole mountains.
The other significant industry in Chile are the astronomical observatories. Because of ideal atmospheric conditions in the high Andes, but still close proximity to transportation infrastructure, there are many observatories in Chile. I drove by several of them to take a picture, and visited the one at La Silla.
Santiago with the Andes in the background from Cerro San Cristóbal. (258k) Bird of prey flying over Santiago. (181k) View of Santiago south from Cerro San Cristóbal. (316k) Virgin Mary statue on Cerro San Cristóbal. (157k) Street sign in Santiago, addressing pedestrians as Señor Peaton. (374k)
Towns and Villages
Some pictures from smaller towns and villages. There were many old churches in these small villages.
Downtown La Serena. (805k) Sculpture on the Plaza de Armas in La Serena. (924k) Iglesia San Francisco, build in the late 16th century. (826k) Japanese Garden in La Serena. (1.5M) Tree in the Japanese Garden. (1260k) Weeds growing in the gravel decoration in the Japanese Garden. This would never happen in Japan. (1.5M) Solar cells on a house in Machuca, a small village north of San Pedro de Atacama. (880k) Wind turbines. There were quite a few of these in several areas. (547k) Worship area along the road. (994k) Abandoned church. (985k) The old church in Machuca, north of San Pedro de Atacama on the Altiplano. (1108k) The old church in Machuca. (1011k) The church in Socaire, built in colonial times. (1075k) Interior of the church in Socaire. (760k) The bell tower of the church in Toconao, dating from 1750. (890k) Old Inca farming terraces. (1029k) Vineyards near Rivadavia, east of La Serena. This is the area where they make the Pisco, distilled from fermented grapes. (1424k)
Some pictures of items in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. This is a very interesting museum with a lot of information about the pre-Columbian history of Chile.
Mummy from the Atacama desert in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. (884k) Large ceramic pot in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. (773k) A dinghy made from sea-lion hide in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. (720k) Wood carvings from Easter Island in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. (852k) Wood carvings in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. (762k) Figurines in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. (736k) Pottery in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. (680k) Pottery in the Museo Arqueológico de La Serena. (788k)
On the Road
Road conditions around Santiago are very good. Further away there was a lot of construction, with frequent long delays around parts of the road that were only passable in one direction at a time. In the northern part there were quite a few unpaved roads, but they were mostly in very good shape, no need for 4WD.
Road in the Altiplano desert. (730k) Coastal fog somewhere south of Copiapó. When I got into the fog bank, the visibility dropped to almost zero. I could only drive 20 km/h (12 mph). (442k) Sandstorm near Antofagasta. (484k) Visibility was greatly reduced in the sandstorm. (443k) The fence catches the garbage that is blown around by the storms. (597k) Road work in San Pedro de Atacama. All the roads were dirt roads in the town. They just broke up the old surface, and then planed it again with a roller. It didn't take long to fix the road. (1041k) Trucks on a dirt road heading for each other. (844k) There is frequently fog in this area. If you can see two chevrons, maximum speed is 60 km/h, if you can see only one chevron, the speed limit is 40 km/h (25 mph). The next picture shows what is meant. (583k) These are the chevrons on the road to determine how fast you can go. If the visibility is so low that you can see only one chevron, your speed limit is 40 km/h (25 mph). (633k) Next gas station is 440 km (273 miles) away. That is quite a distance between gas stations, especially since the sign was already about 20 km (12 miles) from the previous gas station. (617k) Dirt road to Laguna Santa Rosa in the Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces. (810k) This is the line of cars and trucks in which I got stuck. The road ahead was closed, I waited 5 hours before I turned around and took a wild detour on a track through the mountains. (1083k)
Mining is the most important industry in Chile. Some of the mines are enormous. The Mina Escondida in the Atacama desert is currently the highest producing copper mine in the world. Recently, the Lithium mines have become very important, since Lithium is now used extensively in batteries. There are several huge Lithium mining operations in the Atacama desert, south of San Pedro de Atacama.
Lithium mining operation in the Salar de Atacama. (1025k) Lithium mine tailings. (862k) Dumping lithium mine tailings. (898k) Mina Escondida, one of the largest copper mines in the world. They are removing a whole mountain. (805k) Front loader in the Mina Escondida. Compare it to the size of the trucks, it is huge. (705k) Truck for hauling mining material. It is as big as a two-story house. (783k) The tires of a mining truck. (829k) Transporting the loading bucket of a mining truck. The trucks on which they are loaded are themselves big, but they are dwarfed by the bucket of the mining truck. (533k) These 4x4 pickup trucks are everywhere. They are used in all the mining operations by the thousands. (988k)
Some of the best astronomical observatories in the world are in the Chilean Andes. The atmospheric conditions there are ideal because of the high altitude and extremely dry air. The logistical conditions are also very good because of close proximity of major roads to any part of the Chilean Andes.
I visited La Silla Observatory on a tour provided by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). I saw the ESO 3.6 m Telescope and the ESO New Technology Telescope (NTT), also with a 3.6 m mirror.
ESO 3.6 m Telescope
The only instrument currently in use on the ESO 3.6 m Telescope is HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher. It is dedicated to the discovery of extra-solar planets. It is a fiber-fed high resolution echelle spectrograph. The light from the Cassegrain focus of the telescope is sent to the instrument through optical fibers. The instrument itself is housed in a specially air conditioned room that keeps the instrument as stable as possible to be able to detect minute changes in the stars radial velocity. Nobody is allowed to enter the room in which the HARPS instrument is located, to prevent any disturbances of the instrument. The keys to the room are only available to management personnel from ESO on special permission from ESO Headquarters.
ESO New Technology Telescope (NTT)
On the ESO NTT, there are currently two major instruments, SofI and EFOSC2. They are installed on the two sides of the Nasmyth focus.
SofI ("Son of ISAAC") is a near infrared camera and low-resolution spectrograph, with polarimetric and high-time resolution modes, at the Nasmyth A focus. Its largest field of view is 4.92 arcmin, and it covers the 0.9-2.5 micron wavelength range with spectral resolution from 600 to 2200.
EFOSC2, or the ESO Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera (v.2) a visible light camera and low-resolution spectrograph, with multi-object spectroscopy, polarimetry and coronography modes, at the Nasmyth B focus. The instrument has multi mode capability including normal/polarimetric imaging/spectroscopy (several submodes in each), multi-object spectroscopy and coronography.
Observatory on Cerro Tololo, near La Serena. (651k) The Very Large Telescope on Cerro Paranal, south of Antofagasta. (803k) The observatory at Las Campanas, north of La Serena. (685k) Closer view of two telescope domes at Las Campanas, north of La Serena. (655k) View of the observatory at La Silla, north of La Serena. (678k) Closer view of the observatory at La Silla, north of La Serena. (959k) Domes of the ESO 3.6 m telescope on right and the ESO 3.6 m New Technology Telescope (NTT) on the left. (792k) Three domes at La Silla. (678k) Close-up view of the dome of the ESO 3.6 m telescope. (777k) Close-up view of the dome of the ESO 3.6 m telescope. Notice the size of the catwalk at the top. This is a BIG dome. (677k) Dome of the ESO 3.6 m New Technology Telescope (NTT). (771k) The Swedish-ESO Submillimeter Telescope (SEST), 15-meter diameter dish, now decommissioned. The dome of the ESO 3.6 m telescope in the background. (524k) ESO telescope control room. (633k) View of the 3.6 m NTT. (605k) Mirror mount of the 3.6 m NTT with four fans to help with equalizing the mirror temperature. (538k) Mirror of the 3.6 m NTT. (394k) SofI, a near infrared camera and low-resolution spectrograph, with polarimetric and high-time resolution modes, at the Nasmyth A focus of the NTT. (725k) EFOSC2, a visible light camera and low-resolution spectrograph, with multi-object spectroscopy, polarimetry and coronography modes, at the Nasmyth B focus of the NTT. (535k) View of the ESO 3.6 m telescope. (635k) View of the ESO 3.6 m telescope. The fiber optics cables (not visible) go from the Cassegrain Focus in the light blue cage to the HARPS instrument one floor down in the special air conditioned room. (596k)