A strangely and beautifully blooming desert. Four girls that just wanna have fun. A pit stop on the way up north to see penguins and sea lions. Photo shoots in endless fields of flowers. Cruising the open, sunny road in a rented car with the music booming and the mouths moving with conversation that never seems to run out. And chips, too many chips… because who doesn’t munch on chips in the car?
Well, that’s a quick snyopsis of my most recent girls getaway. It was great. But then again, when isn’t a girls getaway great?
So anyways, there’s a climate phenomenon this year that has turned the World’s Driest Desert into a diverse and gorgeous flower garden. Normally, the desert gets less than a 1/2 inch (12mm) of rain a year. Some parts have even never had rain. This year, however, we’ve had unprescendented rainfall that has meant dormant seeds buried deep down under the dusty land have been germinated. From other things I’ve read, there’s been coincidentally other conditions such as the right amount of sunny and cloudy days, the El Niño effect, etc, that has caused this historic blooming.
Naturally, my girlfriends and I wanted to see this sight with the whites of our own eyes so we decided to take the midnight bus from Santiago to La Serena. This way, we could get some shut eye during the 300 mile (475km) trip and be ready to roll upon our 7am arrival. The original plan was to get in, get a coffee and some breakfast, then head to our rental car at 9:30. However, as very typical Chile outside Santiago, we arrive and nothing is open. We walk for a good hour and all the cafes open at 9:30. Yes, process that. The coffee is available at 9:30. I can feel your eyes opening wider as you read that. Anyways, after walking half the city, we gave up on the food and beverage. Thankfully, Marcela, was more prepared and whipped out a cheese sandwich for each of us. Points for Marcela. We hopped on a bus and told the driver where we needed to go pick up our car, and after about 10 minutes, he stopped on in the middle of nowhere, pointed across a field, and said, “that’s where you need to go.” A little confused we got out, but soon realized we couldn’t cross the field. Chile loves fences, so that happens if there’s a fence on the other side and we have to walk all the way back? So we ended up walking behind the bus that had left us for at least 1/2 hour, making a big U to finally end up at our rental car. Sigh.
We get our rental car (which by the way is stick shift because no one here uses automatic) and headed about 2 hours north, destination Vallenar. It was a gorgeous drive up the coast and we detoured a few hours across rocky, bumpy dirt roads to get to a little town of about 300 people called Punta de Choros. This hidden gem is a the starting point for a boat ride filled with wildlife. We saw penguins, sea lions, otters and many species of birds. During summertime, there are dolphins and even orcas too! This is an area where they fish a lot of seafood, like scallops and different kinds of clams, and are therefore famous for making fried cheese and seafood empanadas. They are so good, you don’t even remember what calories are. We took the boatride, which included dropping us off at a small island for an hour “Isla de Damas”, where we walked around, laid on the beach, and soaked in the sun, which felt very necessary with the brisk sea breeze. The water on this island, well, in this entire area, is incredible. Some parts are a celeste blue, others parts turquoise, other parts completely clear… and white sand beaches. Just lovely.
Three hours later we get back to the town and continue our journey to Vallenar, which is where we rented our cabin. We could see the beginning off the “Flowering Desert” as there were many more green bushes than normal and random patches of flowers everywhere. Once we got to Vallenar, we stopped at a cool, open space pizza and beer joint for dinner, which had beautiful murals of iconic artists painted on the walls.
Our cabin was just outside town, so it had such a great “country” feel, with barns and animals and all. Just perfect for feeling like really, this was a long weekend getaway. The next day, Saturday, we woke up at a little early and had a leisurely breakfast, coffee and chats with the windows open and the sun shining in. The we hopped in the car and headed towards the coast and the national park, “Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe”, where we’d spend the entire day driving- stopping- laying in flower fields- flower pictures- photoshoot- repeat a million times. In one stop, there was a whole herd of motorcyclists and we stopped and sure caused a ruckus haha. We took pictures with the motorcycles, and all the motorcyclists wanted pictures with all of us, we laughed and joked and it was a fun little shared moment.
It surprised me how diverse the flowers were, there were so many different colors and so many different species. Yellow, Orange, White, Purple, Violet and in the full range of shades. We ended up driving probably around 10 hours that day, but hadn’t brought food, other than munchies, because we thought we’d find a little dive/local restaurant joint on the coast to have lunch. We were very wrong. The little towns were so small, there literally was just a few spatterings of homes. We joked that we were the only girls to go to the coast and find no seafood haha. So basically, we ate doritos, peanuts, ramitas, cheddar “snack pack” with various bad for you munchies all in the same bag…. oh, and thankfully, we had purchased a few bananas, mandarin oranges and apples.
In one really densly populated flower field, we parked and laid in the middle with all our snacks and a cracked open beer for each of us. It was so utterly gratifying to lay there, chat, munch, feel the sun, smell the flowers and sip a beer…. all with my girls <3
Heading out of the park at the end of a long day, we saw a gorgeous sunset over the beach, in the middle of the desert. Chile has such a unique geography that this visual and emotional experience is possible.
On the way back, we finally stopped for our seafood and a beer in Huasco, which is a really cute and colorful little town. Back at the cabin, we chatted the night way, munching more chips (haha) and sipping more beers. Oh, and my friend Liz gets a special mention because we went to open a bottle of wine, but the screw broke off in the cork. She very diligently worked on that cork with a knife, even sacrificing a cut on her finger, for the good of the team :)
The next day we had another really leisure morning and then headed the couple hours back to La Serena, to give the car back at 2:30 and then catch our 7 hour bus ride back to Santiago at 3:30. It was a truly beautiful weekend and we were blessed with perfect weather. The energy of the desert is already so magical and powerful, that being able to experience it in a such a special, temporary state all filled with colors and flowers is and was such a gift.
Chile is such a beautiful country and weekends like this remind me that weekend getaways are not only so necessary, but so possible! Thousands of great spots are just a bus ride or short (and affordable) plane ride away, and these are the moments that put the pep back in your step.