A Travellerspoint blog


A quick trip to Santiago

The quickest way out of Calama, Chile

rain 5 °C

Following our 2 bag snatches in Calama, we were unsure as to where to go next, having missed the bus to Santiago in order to report the second theft to the police. That and the bus tickets were in the bag and Chile is the first country to which we have been where you didn't need to supply your name and passport number to catch a bus anywhere. (Therefore meaning the bus company had no record of our purchase our to whom they had sold the tickets.)

Once we had managed to persuade the police to do a report, (goodness only knows why they are always so reluctant,) we had to work out where to go next. We tried to get to Salta, Argentina, as was our original plan, but there were no buses until Friday at the earliest and staying another 5 days in Calama was not an option. The best we could do was Santiago on the Tuesday and then fly across South America to Iguassu Falls.

Monday was spent buying a replacement tablet so we didn't have to visit internet cafés, and researching cameras. We also discovered that £250 had been stolen from Chris' account and so Tuesday morning was filled with once again desperately trying to get the police to file a report. Finally, report in hand, passports around my waist, we caught the 22 hour bus to Santiago, arriving Wednesday at about 11am.

Wednesday and Thursday were bank holidays and so everything was shut. On Wednesday, once we dropped off our bags and showered at the apartment, we headed out to wander the empty streets. I have never seen such a quiet and dead capital city. On Thursday, we visited the zoo, containing a variety of animals, all in cages far too small for your average pet dog let alone a big cat.

After the zoo, we took the funicular railway up to the top of the hill overlooking Santiago, which offered you a better view of the tower blocks.

On Friday, more shops were open and so we decided to go camera shopping. We researched a few options, tried to buy several models, but it appears Chile has no stock. Eventually we managed to get a new compact camera and will try to get a proper camera in Brazil.

Saturday it was incredibly wet and still not much was open. It seems we will have to leave Santiago knowing it as an almost ghost town.

We caught our flight to Asunción at 7.30pm, with a lovely 9 connection in Sao Paulo. At least we save on accommodation right? We were very pleased to get our exit stamps as it had been suggested by the embassy that someone may have misused our passports rendering them useless.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 20:06 Archived in Chile Tagged flight police chile santiago plane passport calama thieves connection report bank_holiday Comments (0)

Off to Chile? Leave your valuables at home.

How the low-life live: off of your stuff like Chilean parasites.

Midnight, Thursday 12th September

Having almost missed the night bus from Iquique to Calama, we kind of wish we had.....

3am we had our first encounter with the police when everyone is kicked off the bus for their bags to be scanned at a random police checkpoint in the middle of nowhere. 30 minutes later we're back on the bus and arrive in Calama at 5.30am. Unfortunately this bus company did not allow us to stay asleep on the bus and so we were turfed out into the freezing cold bus station to wait for our bus to Salta, Argentina at 8am.

At about 7.30am, I thought someone tried to nick my bag by pulling it under the seat, and so I moved it in front of me. We were watching them, when next thing you know, some guy decides to leave his seat from the row in front and go the long way out by pushing past us and treading on Chris. Next thing we know, my bag containing our passports and various valuables such as camera and kindle and a couple of hundred dollars has gone. I couldn't believe I hadn't been wearing the passports as I had been every other day of our trip.

After spending the morning at the police station, we contacted the British embassy who told us we could get a temporary passport, although this would only allow us to visit 5 more countries and we've got about 10 left on our list. You also cannot re-enter a country, which made our route more difficult. It also looked as though we would need to change our flight to Asia to allow us a week in the UK to get new passports. To say we were angry is an understatement. It had made a complete mess of our trip.

We ended up staying in our worst hostel yet which was so depressing, with thread bare sheets, chewing gum on the walls and the dirtiest shared bathrooms. The following night, we managed to book a 5 star hotel for £35 and spent the afternoon at the pool.

Sunday 15th September

We had tickets booked for the bus to Santiago to go to the embassy at 3.30pm. After checking out of our hotel at midday, we decided we would try the police station to see if the bag or anything had been dumped. The first police station just said no. The second police station also told us that nothing had been handed in; however they told us there was a third police station just up the road and to try there.

We went in and saw two red passports. As they got them out, we saw they were new British ones. Unbelievably, they were ours! We were so ecstatic, we headed to the internet café to let our family know we had found them.....

And then somehow, some other Chilean scumbag managed to nick our other rucksack and ruin our great mood. He'd used some foreign currency to distract Chris, who went to take it up to the desk and one of the men ran off with the bag. We actually couldn't believe it. We'd been so careful, attaching our bags to anything we could but were obviously caught off our guard in our good mood from getting the passports back.

We headed back to the police station to file another report, which the police were very reluctant to do?

And so we missed the bus and ended up staying in this thriving hole of a town for another 2 days until we could catch the next bus.

By the end of Sunday, we were still very pleased to get our passports back but disbelieving that we had no valuables left. To top it off, they withdrew £250 cash on a credit card that had not been used for 18 months and the credit card company didn't know we were in Chile/South America. It flagged up their fraud thing, yet not enough for them to block the transaction. Brilliant, what's the point in flagging it up?

But we have our passports and will be leaving Chile for Paraguay on Saturday and man I cannot wait.....

At least we have no valuables left for them to steal, just a note in my bag (in Spanish) saying 'haha scumbags, this bag was for you and has nothing of any value. Enjoy!' (Just some snacks and drinks!)

Posted by Roaming Rolts 16:50 Archived in Chile Tagged chile stolen passports thieves scum Comments (1)

Chile - yet it's the warmest place we've been?

Our five day mini-break to northern Chile

After our Uyuni salt flats tour, we took a transfer to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile,

San Pedro de Atacama
Sunday 8th September

San Pedro de Atacama is a small town in the dessert. It is hot and dusty. Our hostel had a really lovely patio area with hammocks. The town is set amongst the dirt roads, with discreet wooden signs for all the shops and banks. In the main square, there is a church, which from the outside looks a little neglected, but inside has the usual ornate display of the virgin Mary and Jesus. This church is different to the others we have seen as its roof is exposed, showing that it has been made using cactus. Dried cactus wood without the pins makes for an alternate long grain pattern on the wood.

Monday 9th September

Calama sits 100km towards the coast from San Pedro de Atacama and is a reasonable sized town with a proper shopping high street. This is the closest we have been to what we would consider a normal shopping town in the last month. Even Chris didn't seem to mind browsing the shops for some chinos. He was even more impressed when his chinos turned out to be a quarter of the advertised price, costing approximately £4.

After lunch, we went on a free tour of the copper mine Chiquimata, which is about 30 minutes from Calama. The tour takes you around the ghost town of Chiquimata, deserted by the last miner family in February 2008. This ghost town feels very strange as everything is still in a reasonable condition, and you completely expect the streets to be full of people.

The mine itself is an absolutely huge terraced pit in the ground. The majority of this tour is viewed from the comfort and safety of the bus; however you still have to wear a hi-vis jacket and a hard hat. Part way down the terraces, there are a couple of viewpoints where you can have a better look at what's going on. You can see these gigantic trucks, capable of carrying up to 400 tons swamping the standard sized cars they pass and making our 50 seater coach look like a toy.

After the mine tour, we still had a good 6 hours to kill before our bus at midnight to Iquique, and so went to the cinema and got some dinner, which took us nicely to the departure time of the bus.

Tuesday 10th September

The bus arrived into Iquique at 5am; however we were allowed to stay asleep on the buys until half 7, which was brilliant as nothing was open at 5, it was freezing cold, and dark until 7.

We dropped off our bags at the hostel, had a shower and headed out. The centre of Iquique has a western feel to it with most of the properties having a decked veranda with railing made out of wood and a matching balcony across whole front section of their wooden house. It is a costal town with good sea for surfers and sandy beaches which I'm sure get pretty busy during the summer months.

We had hoped to hire a car, but they turned our to be a lot more expensive than we had expected, with one company not understanding why we needed to know the excess in case of an accident. They then went on to suggest we hired the car with a driver for 50,000 pesos, however we still had to pay fuel, making it another 40 odd on top. In the end, we found a taxi driver who was more than happy to do it go 50,000 all in.

That afternoon, we visited the replica of the Esmeralda boat, which is moored at the port. This boat is set up as it was the day it sank in May 1830. We were given a guided tour, explaining what life was like on the boat. the boat seemed bright and airy; however I'm sure once you stuck 200 men on it for a few months it was anything but. We enjoyed this exhibition as it's not your usual run of the mill museum, and clearly showed the lives of the crew members on board, depending on their rank.

Wednesday 11th September

The next day, our taxi arrived and he loved being a tour guide, pointing out various sights along the way. Whenever we stopped, he enjoyed telling the locals he was tour guiding. We had decided to do the same tour offered by most the agencies but in reverse so as to miss the crowds. It made a nice change for it to be just the two of us on the excursion.


Our first stop was Pica, a small town with some thermal baths which they had carved into the rocks. These were not the warmest of waters, but still considerably warmer than your average pool. There were 2 caves at one end which created natural stream rooms. Through the floor in a couple of places, you could feel the water coming up from the ground.

Afterwards, we had one if their infamous natural fruit juices before heading to Matilla.


Matilla is a small village with a strange museum which is basically someone's front room full of old fashioned furniture. there is also a church containing a display of Jesus and his disciples having their last meal, during which, Jesus looks incredibly stoned.

La Tirana

La Tirana is another small village with a main square and a church but with a difference. The outside of this church is made entirely of corrugated metal. The bottom half resembles a painted pig sty, whereas the top had all the usual features of a church with its clock and bell towers. Having been won over by the metal exterior of the church, we were expecting the usual within. How wrong were we! The interior of the church was all a deep midnight blue with hundreds of gold stars stuck on the ceiling. The edges of the room were painted gold and there were artistic paintings on most of the walls. I don't think I have ever seen such a colourful church.


The highlight of this tour is the ghost town of Humberstone, abandoned in 1960 when they finished mining the nitrate. This town had previously been almost left to ruin and although it has been a tourist attraction for some time, it was not particularly well maintained. Since 2005, it has been a UNESCO world heritage site and with the funding from that, they have been able to restore a lot of the town to how it once was.

Humberstone is fascinating and take hours to walk around. As you come into the town, there is a row of terrace houses which has each been turned into a miniature museum showing things like the toys the with which the children would play, the tools they used to use and one was set up as an example of a typical home.

Another thing which made Humberstone more pleasurable to visit was the fact that there were no museum guides watching your every move. Unfortunately this was clearly too much freedom for some people as the place was sadly covered in people's names carved into the wood.

You can wander around the former industrial warehouses which house some absolutely massive machinery. Back in the main town, there are a few more houses representing the workers' lives depending on how high up they were within the mining hierarchy. In the middle of all the houses was the main square, off of which were the various town amenities, including a large and recently restored theatre, school with about 10 large classrooms, complete with desks, shops, market, hotel and swimming pool, not forgetting the free hospital, which had been state of the art in its day. I had hoped there would still be a ward set up within the hospital but sadly it was just empty rooms.

There was also a rather strange museum exhibiting examples of doors and windows from Humberstone, even though you had seen plenty of examples throughout the town. This room was very long and contained hundreds of doors and windows.

Just before you leave the town, there is one final building which has been lovingly restored and inside is set up to be a home and also show before and after pictures of the work that has been done on various properties but mainly this one, which had only been completed a year ago.

Santa Laura

Final stop for the day with our taxi chauffeur was another former mining town Santa Laura, which is across the road from Humberstone.

This town was a lot smaller with only approximately 500 inhabitants. The main feature of this town is its impressive industrial machine which sits in the middle with a tall chimney behind it. This picture is iconic to the local area.

Thursday 12th September

We hired bikes today and went for a cycle along the coast, stopping for lunch on the beach. As mentioned previously, Iquique is good for surfing and has nice sand beaches. We spent the afternoon reading on the beach and I went for a paddle in the sea. There were a few crazy people who were actually swimming in the sea, despite it not being a particularly warm day and the sea being freezing to the point where it made you numb.

At 11 pm, we caught the night bus to Calama, ready to catch the 12 hour bus to Salta, Argentina the following morning.....or so we thought...

To be continued.... (When I get round to writing the next blog!)

Posted by Roaming Rolts 12:50 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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