From Arica to Putre

From Arica to Putre

Chile’s Route 11 winds for 190km through countless climatic zones from the Panamerican Highway at sea level to the dizzying heights of the Bolivian border at 4,500m. It is one the main accesses to this enclaved country and heavy truck traffic is observed.

For the first few kilometers the road passes along the green floor of the Lluta Valley. Soon, though, hairpin bends lead up through sand-coated, pillowy mountains. The road almost chops off the tips of the barren peaks as it twists back and forth in a series of hairpin bends, eventually reaching a pale badlands that, in turn open out into a brief plateau. It’s a welcome relief from the intense curves but don’t relax too much. From this barren, taupe landscape, Route 11 ascends further into snow-capped volcanic peaks and a whole other world that teems with wildlife.  The road continues to climb until it reaches its zenith, in terms of both altitude and vistas, in Parque Nacional Lauca. Without a doubt, Route 11 is one of the best scenic drives in the world.

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Places depicted in this post

Arica is a port city with a population of 200.000 located almost at the border with Peru. Arica is known as the driest inhabited place on Earth, at least as measured by rainfall. Average annual precipitation is 0.76 mm. Not much to see in Arica except for the old Iglesia San Marcos built by Gustave Eiffel in 1875. The former Customs House (Aduana) also from Eiffel is also worth a quick stop. These metallic structures resisted earthquakes frequent in the region.

Leaving Arica in the direction of the airport to the north and then inland, we begin our journey on Route 11 and enter the Lluta Valle. Immediately after the Lluta Valle is the small village of Poconchile with an interesting church and cemetery. Further up, 40 km before Putre, is the village of Socorama at an elevation of 3.200m. It portrays a nicely restored thatched roof church and terrace cultivation.

135 km from the Panamerican Highway and 3,500m above sea level, the small town of Putre is the ideal place to break the journey for a night or two and acclimatize to altitude. Putre is a charming, if earthquake prone, Aymara village, nestled below the mountain peaks. The center of the village boasts colonial architecture and friendly inhabitants in traditional dress.