El Alto El Loa is considered a green sector within the Atacama desert and can be visited from San Pedro de Atacama on a full day tour. It is characterized by its villages that keep the Aymara influence alive, its orchards on terraces, huge bofedales and important archaeological remains that remain intact until today.
Alto El Loa is located more than 160 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama and 50 kilometers from Calama. It is a green valley where plantations of carrots, maize and betarragas that are watered by tributaries of the river Loa abound. In some towns like Caspana, you can find flowers of all colors, which are sold in Calama.
Caspana is located 85 kilometers from Calama, but can also be reached from San Pedro de Atacama. Animals abound like flames, sheep that are quietly grazing. Herbs and alfalfa abound and the houses are built of stone mixed with mud and thatched roofs. The church dates back to XVII and the archaeological museum can learn more about the history of the Andean Atacama peoples.
There is also the town of Ayquina, renowned for its carnival, a feast in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe de Ayquina on September 7 and 8. More than 7 thousand tourists come from different parts of Chile to witness dances and colorful costumes that are used there. At any time of the year, no more than 50 people live in the village.
Very close to Ayquina, at the foot of the Paniri volcano is a green boxed valley, where potatoes, beans and onions are grown on terraces. In addition you can see an immensity of cactus of more than 5 meters of height.
Alto El Loa is also characterized by its multi-colored bofedales, which are a refuge for various birds that come to feed. All this, surrounded by snowy volcanoes like San Pablo, San Pedro, Toconce and Paniri.
Closer to Calama we find the town of Lasana, but it is better known because it is the Pukará de Lasana, a pre-Hispanic fortress, believed to be the oldest in Chile, dating from the 12th century. It was declared Historic Monument and is a set of united stone buildings. On the other side of the fort, you can see a green valley where there are orchards of herbs and vegetables. For archaeological tourism lovers, you can find carved rock carvings.
The typical gastronomy of the area is characterized by its abundant vegetables that are accompanied by quinoa and sweet rosquetes. It is possible to find in some local quinoa cebiches and for dessert apple with mint.
How to get there
You can know Alto El Loa from Calama or San Pedro de Atacama.
Plane from Santiago to Calama, and then from Calama are 50 kilometers from the start of Alto El Loa. We must consider that the roads are solitary, there is not much connectivity between the towns, so it is advisable to take a tour from San Pedro de Atacama.
We recommend you that you schedule your flight to Calama to arrive in the morning so you are able to participate in the scheduled activities without affecting the itinerary.
This place has a desertic weather and it’s also some meters above sea levels, which means that throughout the year there is a very large temperature oscillation between day and night. The average annual temperature is between 14° C and 3 ° C.
Many of the excursions and tours that are done include visiting places that are in the Chilean plateau, 3,500 above sea levels. This means that people may experience altitude sickness. It is important that people drink lots of water so they keep their body well hydrated. People shouldn’t make sudden or harsh movements, and let their body get used to the heights and the altitude.
There are few ATMs in San Pedro de Atacama. You have to consider that the demand for these ATMs is high, so they don’t always have money. We advise you to bring some cash with you.
Stores in rural areas are open all day, but they close between 13.00 and 15.00. We advise you to carry local currency (Chilean pesos), since it isn’t possible to pay with debit or credit cards in kiosks and rural stores.
Do not throw garbage on the beaches, parks or streets. To take care of our environment is everyone's responsibility. Avoid fines by following the rules.