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San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) - Tilcara (Argentina)

We're finally on our way again

View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Seeing the breakfast buffet this morning, I am excited about the apple cake. Thinking I might have a bit more appetite today, I pick up two slices. Halfway through the second one, I am done. Thankfully, David is not only happy to eat the other half of my cake but also three of his own!



I am becoming quite well known at the clinic now, with the nurses bumping fists with me as I arrive. The doctor is pleased with my blood oxygen levels, but wants to know what I am like moving around, so he tells me to go for a walk around the town square and come back. I am pleased to report that I have no pain, no cough and no tightness in my chest on return from my amble.

I have a second visit with the specialist, who discharges me on the condition that I go straight to ER should my SP0² drop below 85%, I have a headache, my fingers or lips turn blue, my nostrils become “like a bull” or I have neck strain. I promise.

We'd already packed the car ready to go, hoping for this outcome, so as soon as I receive my papers for the insurance company, we are on our way.

The scenery along the way is pretty good.





Jama Pass

Although we promised the doctor that we would avoid high altitudes as much as possible, this is one of those unavoidable places, we have to go over this pass at 4,830 metres above sea level. Thankfully, I feel OK and my SP0² remains at 88%, so I am OK.

Gastón has warned us that the border formalities are painfully slow and a bureaucratic nightmare here at the border between Chile and Argentina. He shows us the five copies of the paperwork he has to present to the officials.


There are two official buildings here, and Gastón goes in on his own to the first one, comes out, crosses the road to the other one, re-emerges from there, and returns to the original one. Finally, all three of us have to go into the immigration building in person: at the first window we are stamped out of Chile, I am not sure what the second person does, but after visiting the third counter we are officially in Argentina.

I risk a sneaky picture through the car windscreen

As per my motto: “Never pass a toilet without using it”, I pop into the facilities while I am here. I am glad I did as I seem to not just have the runs, but I am also bleeding. Oh dear, that is not good. Hopefully, it is just the effect of the altitude on the body – I feel somewhat light-headed walking around.

The road is no less spectacular on this side of the border.


Salinas Grandes

Billed as one of Argentina's seven natural wonders, these salt flats are not on the same scale as those in Uyuni, Bolivia, but are very impressive all the same.


There is a large car park here, and local indigenous people have stalls selling handicrafts, many made from salt.



We are still at a reasonably high altitude of 3,450 metres above sea level, so we don't hang around for too long because of my promise to the doctor.


Later, as we travel along the Argentinean National Highway RN52, we see big machinery involved in the harvesting of the salt.




Our first guanacos, another member of the cameloid family

Cuesta de Lipan

Translated as the Lipan Slope, this is the name given to a steep zigzagging section of the RN52, dropping 2000 metres in 33 kilometres. It's an impressive road for sure, with amazing views around every sharp hairpin bend. This is one road we would have missed if we'd stuck to the original itinerary – I would rather look on the bright side, and concentrate on the positives about the new route, rather than wallow in self-pity over the sights we are missing.


Posada de Luz

This charming boutique hotel is located on a dusty side street on the outskirts of the small town of Tilcara, with several low-rise accommodation buildings set in pretty grounds.






We have a lovely split-level suite, with a small living room down a few steps and access to a patio area beyond through double doors.




Gastón kindly arranges for us to have a meal delivered to our room this evening: A thick pumpkin soup, followed by hominy (a dish similar to polenta, made from corn). My appetite seems to have almost completely gone as a result of this chest infection, so I struggle to eat much of the food. I always feel guilty when leaving so much food.



David enjoys a bottle of wine with the meal, whereas I stick to water as I am sure the antibiotics and alcohol don't mix very well.


It feels good to be down at a lower altitude this evening – Tilcara is at 2,457 metres above sea level. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for not just arranging this amazing tour for us, but also re-arranging the route when I became ill.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:26 Archived in Chile Tagged scenery chile argentina border_crossing hospital guanaco san_pedro_de_atacama altitude salt_flats immigration customs tilcara salinas_grandes undiscovered_destinations hairpin_bends room_service high_altitude passport_control chest_infection sp02 blood_oxygen_levels insurance_company bronchitis jama_pass national_highway_rn52 salt_harvest cameloid cuesta_de_lipan lipan_slope zigzag_road posada_de_luz bureaucratic_nightmare apple_tart medical_clinic medical_discharge high_altitude_pass

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That Lipan Slope looks like a road I'd love to drive - or rather, be driven on! It reminds me of some of those Said took us on in Oman :) As well as the benefits of having the support of a good travel company, your experiences also illustrate how essential it is to have good travel insurance!

by ToonSarah

lovely picture of the slope, must be quite an adventure driving on it!

by Ils1976

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