If you plan your trip only around the plants, it should take 8 days.
we started our journey in Santiago, taking the Pan Am 5 highway heading north-west. Our first stop was La Compana National Park, were you can head out for some long and difficult walks, surrounded by the lush, tangled vegetation. On the sides of the road leading to and from the park you will notice different kinds of Eulychina and Bromeliads. We spent our first night in Los Villos.
DAY 2| Still on the roads driving slowly along and enjoying the views and the quiet. Along the road you can spot theTrichocereus chilensis with a mass of Tristerix aphyllus flowers emerging from it. We ended up spending the day at the friendly town of Ovalle, were we rested and stacked up on all we needed for the rest of our journey.
DAY3|Today we begin our journey to Vallenar, which is where we will see our first Copiapoa, GPS location: S28°06’57” W71°05’55”
Later that day on the Husaco Vallenar road, about 19 km. west of Vallenar, we will come across the Thelocephala. location given to us by Petr Pavelka.
DAY 4| We are on the Vallenar Caldera route. Entered the Llanos Park from road 5N, drove through the park and exited towards Carizal Bajo- a park which welcomed us with a pair of Guanaco and tons of Copiapoas. On the 40th km of the park you will come across massive flowering Copiapoas.
We left Carizal Bajo on the new road leading towards Totoral, came across the C. Delabata and at GPS coordinate S25°58’35” W71°06’58” found a crest. In any direction you may look you will see numerous Copiapoas of different kinds.
DAY 5| On our way from Caldera to Chanaral and Pan De Azucar . The roads run along a mountainous landscape of giant boulders, forming wonderful statuesque forms with the ocean as a backdrop in the west.
Exiting road 5N we spotted a C. Calderana. This is the point where we actually begin the route of map number 1 in Schulz’s book. All the GPS coordinates mentioned by Schulz proved accurate and we found all the plants he mentioned, and even more: C.serpentisulcata,C. cinerascens, C.calumna-alba. At GPS coordinates S27°58’35” W71°06’58” we came across another crest.
DAY 6| The way from Chanaral to Tal Tal . We tried to reach the coordinates in Ismaralda, came across some what looked as Maya ruins and were nearly stranded on the treacherous roads- but the sought after Copiapoa was not to be found. We gave up and made our way towards Cifuncho, where our luck changed and we were able to locate the different Copiapoa according to map 2: C. columa- alba, C. longistaminea, c. desertorum, C. sp.(cifuncho).. Approximately 2 km. before Tal Tal, on a hill above a small shack village where seaweed is processed, we came across a marvelous natural rock garden of Euphorbia and C.Tenbrosa Unfortunately this treasure was littered with much junk and trash.
At the area of Taltal in the San Ramon Valley we found a private garden with a huge variety of Copiapoa and bush. along the sea shore in Taltal you can observe hundreds of Pelicans, and at every direction you turn your head you will see Copiapoa.
Tal Tal to Paposo, DAY 7 | following map number 3 and part of map 4. By the 20th km north of Paposo we had come across all the Copiapoa listed:C. cinerea, C. tenebrosa, c. albispina, C. gigantea, C. haseltoniana, apart from the C. Krainziana, which required an additional 7 km walk through the mountains heading east.along the road east and west you could see plants constantly, The plants on the beach looked better since they were not covered with dust from the road. About half a km north of Paposo we came across another crest, GPS coordinates S24°59’56” W70°27’56”
The road from Paposo to El Cobre is bad and difficult to drive, so we decided to pass. We were hoping that on our way back from the north we could still stop somewhere near El Cobre, and perhaps see some plants we had yet to have seen.
DAY 8| A whole day driving from Tal Tal to San Pedro De Atacama . We arrived in the afternoon, just in time to visit the Valle De La Luna, where you can witness the magnificent creations of nature, formed in the salt beds by powerful winds.
We watched the sunset over the magnificent formations : salt caves, massive dunes, the Amphitheater and the Three Maries.
DAY 9| We head towards the big salt desert where flocks of Flamingos can be spotted. The Bonus: on our way back north, towards Puritama, where natural hot springs can be found, we came across the Cardon cacti, known to be the largest Cacti in the world. We also saw Lamas, goats, sheep and donkeys.
DAYS 10-13|Back to Santiago. On the way back we re-visited our favorite places to shoot a few more photos and enjoy their beauty once more. As we had promised ourselves, we stopped near El Cobre. After a narrow, winding, slightly frightening 50 km drive we finally reached the Solaris Copiapoa, which unfortunately was quite dead.
Things to consider when planning a cacti trip to Chile:
We rented a 4X4 car from a very reliable and price competative company “United Rent-A-Car Chile”WW
* Everything is closed on Sunday! Especially in small towns, where you won’t even be able to find an open restaurant. Plan your days accordingly.
* Money cannot be exchanged in regular banks, only at Money Exchanges or hotels, where the rates are lower than at the Exchanges. It is best to use the ATM’s which can be found in almost every big city and at gas stations.
Stores open at 10:00, so if you are planning to pack your meals and eat on the go, it will be best to stock up the day before.