September 25, 2015
Day 3 – Putre to Colchane via Las Vicuñas National Reserve, Salar (salt flat) de Surire and Volcano Isluga National Park.
Today’s route was mostly on rough dirt roads through the reserve, around the salt flat and on to Colchane. We saw very few other tourists, only a pair of older European women in a Range Rover camper conversion.
Photos can’t begin to capture the beauty and expanse of the ever changing Altiplano, but merely give a sense of the place.
Francisco gave us the option of bypassing the towns of Ancuta and Guallatire listed on the itinerary and instead visit this canyon which I believe is named Marca de Diablo. He let us off near the top and we walked past the canyon and down a hill to meet him and the truck further down the road.
This detour also allowed us to avoid traveling behind one of the many big trucks that use the main road between Salar de Surire and the borax plant outside of Arica.
The Salar de Surire was one of the most amazing places we saw on our travels through the Altiplano. Even more amazing was that we saw no other tourists our entire way around the 40 kilometer lake.
A section of the salt flat is reserved for borax production while the rest is a national natural monument.
Lots of wildlife can be seen around the lake – flamingos, vicuñas, llamas, alpacas and suri, a large flightless bird.
On the southwestern edge of the lake are the Polloquere Thermal Baths and picnic area.
The pretty pools look inviting but be aware that you’ll sink into the bottom which is a thick fine mud that is supposed to be good for your skin and whatever ails you.
This particular day was beautiful but windy. We had a quick picnic lunch that Francisco had arranged to have packed for us at Kuchu Marka in Putre consisting of chicken with potatoes and bread and a choice of fruit or jello. He had also picked up some juice boxes and a small bottle of wine.
Past the salt flat we traveled another 90 kilometers on rough roads through Volcano Isluga National Park. The landscape continued to change and impress.
Short stops at:
A bofedal – Atliplano wetlands where llamas and alpacas feed.
Small churches including the Iglesia de Isluga.
Spent the night at the Hotel Isluga, the only hotel in Colchane. If it weren’t for the snowcapped volcano in the background you might think you were in West Texas.
The hotel is an odd structure with high ceilings and crown molding. Our room had windows that opened onto the hall.
The room was reasonably clean and comfortable. The hot water, however, ran out in the shower. Electricity is on from 7PM to midnight only. No safe or hair dryer in the room, but there is an electric heater that works fine when the electricity is on.
Dinner was very basic, choice of meat with potatoes and a side of rice or quinoa.
Breakfast consisted of warm bread and scrambled eggs served with the usual cheese, a type of bologna, jam, margarine, coffee, etc.