This town is not a tourist destination by any means. In fact the only reason we came here was because it was cheap to rent a car for three nights to travel around Northern Chile to visit a few national parks and beach towns! We arrived into the town after a 12 hour crazy uncomfortable bus ride for 16,000 pesos ($25 USD) from Iquique that I found off the app busbud. This bus ride was the worst one in South America to date for the fact that the seats only reclined two inches back so we had to sleep side to side all night. Also the fun bonus of getting the bus stopped twice, once for a drug dog to smell us and all of our luggage and then a second time to take out all of our luggage to get it scanned and the bus searched. Apparently you can't travel with fruit in this country because they threw away my banana and apple. A big of a bummer but we arrived 9am in Copiapo to plan our epic road trip.
We instantly walked to the main plaza in town and found a café with wifi to research where we would want to go on our road trip and figure out costs. For less than $200 USD with insurance we were covered for three nights to begin our road trip with budget rental cars! We booked it off expedia.com and for a note to anyone that wants to book with expedia for a car rental just wait on booking the insurance until you get to the company. We were charged twice for insurance from expedia and the car company so don't let that happen to you. We walked to pick up our tiny tiny hatchback manual car that Matt had to drive the whole time since I don’t know how to drive manual! Our first stop was to the grocery store to get enough snacks and sandwiches to last us three days and then we were off to our first town, Bahia Inglesa. It was a very small beach town that since it was off season not many people were there. It had a few restaurants along the water and people selling crafts so we just walked around the beach for thirty minutes before heading to a town two hours north called Chanaral. This is the entrance city to the national park Pan de Azucar. We drove into the national park for 30 minutes and found that since it was off season all of the camping spots were completely empty and unsupervised! So we pulled over to one of the empty spots that had a picnic table and covering and we ate our sandwich dinner that concluded with a walk on the beach. I charged my laptop enough before we left so we could spend the nights watching a movie in the car. It rained all night the first night and I slept in the back while matt slept in the passenger seat. You know I will say it was not the most comfortable way to sleep but waking up to a million dollar beach view is more than worth it.
We woke up early the next morning and headed back into Chanaral to start our journey east to another national park but soon discovered…the city flooded. The gas station we were at 15 hours earlier was a few feet underwater and we saw that the road that connected to the main highway called Ruta 5 was gone.. completely submerged. There were 100’s of people all just watching the crazy flooding happening outside of their cars, tour buses and homes and nobody could leave. We were in shock and thought we could try to go back into the same national park to cut out of another way. Except only a few miles further into the park from where we slept the roads were all flooded as well. We were very lucky where we slept we soon realized and couldn't believe we were completely safe when houses were flooded a few miles away. We went back to our spot where we slept the night before wondering what our next move would be. After a few hours we headed back into Chanaral and noticed the water was slowing down but the streets were still flooded.
We found one road to exit the town was open and we had to go over a few huge puddles to reach it but we did it. We didn't want to go north because there were no towns to visit within a few hours from us so we tried to find an alternative way to go east. We went past one highway that was closed off to the public and tried to ride it out but since that road was parallel with an overflowing river there were chunks of the highway that have fallen off and parts that were flooded that our hatchback couldn't get past. I may have gotten out of the car to test and see if the hatchback could maybe ride past it but when the mud went up to my knees we realized that was a bad call. We felt like we were about to give up hope when I finally realized I had an offline GPS app called Maps.me that could help. This app was our LIFESAVER. It showed us all the back dirt roads to take that had only a few cars on them but it finally led us east since there were another national park we wanted to get to. We made it the town of Diego de Almagro and to our surprise the floods hit this town badly as well. We even tried to buy bottled water but many place were completely sold out and we found one place to get soda water.
We didn't want to get stuck in this town over night either and saw another highway that led back to Copiapo that was on the other side of an overflowing river. With courage and trying to find the most shallow part we made it past the river onto the highway! We finally were able to escape! The highway had tons of rocks spread out over it (central chile is mostly desert which makes sense why they weren’t prepared for this much rain) and the drive took a few hours but we made it back to Copiapo and found out they had flooding problems there too.. NOOOO. We tried to see where we could camp and it ended up being a Copec gas station that someone recommended on the offline app iOverlander. It was a pretty good for a gas station in that it had bathrooms we could use and tables we could make our sandwiches on and no flooding in their lot! We spent our night in the car watching another movie on the laptop hoping that tomorrow would go smoother.
The next morning we woke up and were determined to make it to the Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces! We headed east past the damage that was left all over Copiapo and found out that all surrounding roads were flooded. We were going down some dirt roads and tried to zig zag over big holes that were in bad shape from the flooding until a local came over and told us it would be best to stop since the roads were going to be bad the entire way to the national park. Such a failed feeling but since it was a road trip of course we had to keep going! We went through dirt roads to a town right next to the first beach town we visited called Caldera and to our surprise this town had no damage! It was a cute quaint little town that we walked around and found a bar that was playing soccer with tons of local fans cheering on the game! We decided to split a beer between us and pretend we were fans as well! It was a good way to spend time and forget about the many obstacles we had faced in the last 48 hours. Since we never had wifi our whole roadtrip it was thanks to the offline app iOverlander that had recommendations on where to camp in the area. Someone wrote that Bahia Ingles had a parking lot on the beach and that it was free. We parked and watched the sunset and both had teas at one of the restaurants so we could use their bathrooms and wash our faces properly before heading back to our car for one more movie night. We woke up the next morning and headed back to Copiapo. We headed straight to the bus terminal to get tickets for 7,100 pesos($12 USD) for a four hour trip to to La Serena.
To say this road trip was nothing like we planned I feel would be an understatement. I had no idea any of this would happen especially since this part of Northern Chile hasn't seen that much rain in years and were not prepared for it. I would say with a positive problem solving attitude that you should rent your own car and make your own adventures on the road. Even though it was stressful throughout the road trip it was worth it to go on this adventure. The best ones never go perfect and are never as we planned. Those are where the best stories come from. The best memories come when you least expect it.
5) Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Sacred Valley
6) Machu Pichu
1) Copacabana and Isla Del Sol
2) La Paz
1) San Pedro De Atacama
4) La Serena
5) Puerto Iquazu
6) Buenos Aires