Our travel window was closing and it was closing fast. With just one week left in Chile on our South America trip, we’d hit a bit of a snag. We had planned to take the 12-hour bus ride up through the Atacama Desert from Santiago to Copiapó to visit the aqua waters of Playa la Virgen and Bahía Inglesa – only problem was the buses weren’t running. With only first class flights left, there was just one other option – a good old-fashioned road trip.
Despite its massive coastline, Chile is not a country known for its beaches. Playa la Virgen and Bahía Inglesa may be two of the most beautiful beaches in the country, but most city folk haven’t even heard of them. When people in Santiago take a drive, they head down south to the lakes where the country is lush and green. Now lakes are cool if that’s what you’re into, but it’s not every day you get to drive across a desert in search of a tropical paradise. So with our hire car loaded with snacks and our destination programmed into the GPS, we were on our way.
Within a few hours, the city outskirts were replaced with dramatic stretches of coastline where rocky cliffs met the dry, arid mountainous land. The further we got, the harder it was to concentrate on the road. With birds of prey circling overhead, roadside shrines complete with concrete floors and paved roofs scattering the highway, tiny whirlwinds whipping around the car and locals selling everything from olives, cheese and bread, to whole goat carcasses lining the side of the road – the Atacama Desert turned out to be just as much of a destination as the beaches we were on our way to visit.