1 June 2018 by Emma Sanger-Horwell
Wexas Travel destination specialist Emma Sanger-Horwell discovers the delights of Chile and Peru, ending at the iconic Machu Picchu, on a cruise on Silversea's luxury ship, Silver Explorer.
Day 1: Valparaiso, Chile
After a transatlantic flight and a transfer from Santiago to Valparaiso on Chile's Pacific coast, I embarked the Silver Explorer and departed on my exciting Silversea Expedition – 'Lands of the Humboldt Current'. It all started in the spectacular setting of Valparaiso, named the “Pearl of the Pacific”, where I explored its historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Later, we were introduced to our Expedition Team, made up of marine biologists, naturists and general boffins! Then, we had the evening free to meet fellow guests and enjoy the delights of a specially prepared menu in The Restaurant...not to mention a birthday surprise for me, and later, I got even more cake in my cabin!
Day 2: Coquimbo, Chile
I enjoyed a morning in the hot tub before we headed south to La Herradura Bay and strolled along its stunning 1.2 mile long beach. Then, we headed north to La Serena, Chile’s second-oldest city. The coastal avenue lead to a famous landmark of the region, a lighthouse that was built in the mid 20th century, and as we drove along the Francisco de Aguirre Boulevard – named after the second founder of the city – we saw many reproductions of ancient statues. The Main Plaza and the Recova Market were both set in a picturesque patio, with the famous blue semi-precious lapis lazuli, pottery, ceramics and alpaca wool clothing on offer. Then, it was back to the pier, where we joined the ship again and enjoyed the captain's cocktail party.
Day 3: Isla Pan de Azucar, Chile
We had the morning at leisure today and managed to spot some fin whales, but I unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me! In the afternoon, we explored the rugged shores of Isla Pan de Azucar (or Sugarloaf Island) by Zodiac. The island is home to Humboldt penguins, and we also saw kelp gulls, turkey vultures, blackish oystercatchers, Peruvian boobies, pelicans, sea lions and the reclusive South American marine otter. As we sailed away, we even came across a super pod of over 200 dolphins – it was a fantastic day all in all!
Day 4-5: Antofagasta, Chile
On our first day in Antofagasta, we took the chance to explore the city. Antofagasta is a refined blend of a traditional Chilean town and a British colonial city – we explored the Huanchaca Ruins and took a walking tour, during which we visited the Plaza Colón and the Regional Museum, getting an overview of the saltpetre industry and how it affected the region. The final destination was La Portada, an enormous rock caressed by the sea and sand, forming a giant arch. Then, we headed back to Silver Explorer for a delicious lunch on deck, followed by an afternoon in the hot tub.
On our second day here we ventured inland to explore the otherworldly Atacama Desert – one of the driest places on earth. We departed early for the five-hour drive to the charming adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, and once there we explored the small church which is actually a historic monument. Then, we set off to visit the 740 km sq Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos in the extensive Atacama Salt Flat, the third-largest salt flat in the world. During our drive to the epic Chaxa lagoon, we saw avocets, sandpipers, and Chilean and Andean flamingos. The latter actually migrate between Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, and use this area as one of their most important breeding grounds. Finally, we headed into the moon-like Valle de la Luna. In this unique lunar landscape, we saw numerous rock formations jutting out of the sand, eroded by wind into incredible shapes, interspersed with rippling sand dunes and snaking caves. After a long but amazing day, we headed back to Antofagasta to a warm welcome from the staff and joined the ship once more for a fun evening.
Day 6: At sea
We gathered in the Explorer Lounge today to hear fascinating tales of adventure and to learn about the region’s wildlife and remarkable nature. Due to the presence of the very nutrient-rich Humboldt Current, the waters along the Chilean coast are incredibly rich in wildlife and today I spotted many marine animals again, spending a lot of time on deck. I managed to spot seals, whales, hammerhead sharks, and the finale was a small pod of dolphins riding along with us!
Day 7: Arica, Chile
We departed early today for our visit to the stunning Lauca National Park. This was a challenging excursion, taking us to an altitude of 4,500 metres and I didn't feel my best. From the pier, we drove to the Copaquilla Pukara, a pre-Incan defensive settlement, then driving past Putre to reach Chungará Lake, the mountains beautifully reflected in the lake – though the rain rather affected optimum viewing! During our time at the lake we saw many local bird species, among them the Chilean flamingo and Andean goose, as well as spotting alpacas and vicuñas.
Day 8-9: At sea
Today we were due to sail to Matarani in Peru, but a large swell meant this was impossible, so we instead set sail for our next port of call. I had a relaxed day as yesterday’s altitude sickness really took its toll, but I did manage to spot whales, dolphins and sea lions. There were a wealth of onboard activities on offer on the ship, I took part in a few more fascinating discussions and activities led by the Expedition Team, and the staff put on a talent show for us which was great fun – who knew Silversea had such talented crew?!
Day 10: Paracas, Peru
Today we had a special Silversea Expedition excursion to see the famous Nazca Lines from the air, the Nazca Desert revealing the series of famous geoglyphs that stretch for miles along the Pacific coast. Dating back to an era between 200BC and 700AD, these mysterious figures and geometric patterns are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Afterwards, we enjoyed a stroll around Paracas town, looking at the birds and tiny shops that line the promenade. It was sadly my last night on board tonight, so we enjoyed a farewell dinner with our fellow passengers and crew.
Day 11: Callao and Cusco
Following breakfast, I disembarked Silver Explorer for the next part of this amazing trip. After a short flight from Lima, I arrived in Cusco and transferred to the stunning Belmond Monasterio Hotel, a timeless retreat in the heart of the city and my home for the next two nights. I took it easy upon my arrival as I didn’t want a reoccurrence of my altitude problem, so just enjoyed a short stroll to Plaza de Armas before having an early night in my Junior Suite.
Day 12: Machu Picchu
After a very early start I was driven from Cusco to the train station at Ollantaytambo; a stunning drive as we passed the snow-capped mountains and verdant slopes. Then, I boarded the Vistadome train for the two-hour train ride to Aguas Calientes; again the scenery was stunning as the train followed the river through the Gorges. The final leg up to Machu Picchu was a 30-minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes, and it was the first day in three months it hadn't rained – I got very lucky and the weather made it even more perfect as I reached the epic Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views. Its exact former use remains a mystery, making it even more intriguing. After a few hours of exploring the ruins, I descended, and after a great meal, boarded the train and made it back to Cusco that evening. The next day, after my last breakfast in Cusco, I enjoyed a short stroll around the wonderful cobbles, tiny shops and winding alleys of the city before my flight back to the UK.