The Most Amazing iPhone Photography in Atacama

The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest place on Earth. On a recent trip with Yampu Tours and Awasi Atacama, I explored some of the most amazing landscapes I had ever seen. While Atacama is a photographer’s dream destination, its breathtaking beauty can be captured with no special equipment too. From parched deserts, expansive salt fields, and star studies skies, to local wildlife, here are some of the unedited photos I took with my iPhone 6.

Valle de la Luna AtacamaThat’s me overlooking Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) in Atacama. There was nothing but rocks and sand as far as my eyes can see. The soil here is rich in gypsum and clay, which gives it red-orange colors.

Atacama salt fieldsMy guide from Awasi Atacama took me to off the tourist paths in the Moon Valley, where we could see giant crystals of salt intact. They looked like snowflakes but when I got closer, they were rock solid!

Atacama desertThis is to give you an idea of how dry the land actually is, allowing nothing but a few bushes of Rica Rica to grow. The locals use leaves from this bush to make tea and desserts.

Atacama vegetationIn a land where nothing grows, there are 17 agricultural oasis such as these. The water is diverted through a canal/ drip system. I saw trees of oranges, lemons, quince, and pomegranate sustaining few people and their livestock in these areas.

Atacama sunset

A beautiful sunset in the high plateau of the Atacama desert, located close to Laskar (5th most active in Chile). The colors of the sky changed from blue to orange, yellow, pink, red, blue and then black, as temperatures dropped from 60s to 0F in just matter of minutes.

Atacama petrocliffsDriving up to see the petroglyphs from 10,000 years ago at Yerbas Buenas. I hiked down into the valley to find over a thousand prehistoric petroglyphs well intact depicting llamas and people.

Atacama salt fields

Salar de Atacama (salt fields) located an hour away from San Pedro. There are lots of lagunas (lakes) in the area where you can see salt and flamingoes, with the background of mountains and picture perfect sunsets.

Atacama sunsetBecause of the thin atmosphere and high UV rays, the cloud cover in the Atacama is an ever changing dance show. This one looks like a UFO, doesn’t it?

San Pedro De AtacamaThe village of San Pedro De Atacama has a population of 2,500 but is the main spot for tourists to stay, eat, and book tours from in this area. It is centrally located to major attractions, while still offering a small desert town feel.

Atacama llama

While I saw many llamas all over Chile, this one stood out. He wanted to come very close to my camera, while his mom photobombed the portrait. Taken at the town of Toconao, in the background is the famous Laskar volcano.

Got some iPhone photography tips? Do share below…

Chilean Vegan Pisco Sour Recipe

Pisco Sour is the house drink in Chile. Pisco is a popular brandy produced in Chile by distilling grapes, mainly of Muscat, Torontel and Pedro Jiménez varieties. Just like wine, the color, aroma and flavor of pisco can be described as fruity, clean, sweet, refreshing, woody and bold, depending on it’s variety.
There are four main classifications of pisco:
  • Pisco Corriente o Tradicional, 30% to 35% (60 to 70 proof).
  • Pisco Especial, 35% to 40% (70 to 80 proof).
  • Pisco Reservado, 40% (80 proof).
  • Gran Pisco, 43% or more (86 or more proof).
Did you know? Annual pisco production in 2013 reached 30 million litres in Chile and 9.5 million litres in Peru.
I got a chance to learn how to make this cocktail from an expert bartender. Luis Mariano Cerda Monsalve is a mixologist and author of “Recetario – Pisqueria De Chile.” He has worked at the bars of the Ritz Carlton in Santiago, Cumbres Puerto Varas and now at Hotel Vira Vira in Pucon.
 pisco bartender in chile
When you ask Monsalve for a pisco sour, his question is “what flavor?” I didn’t know that there were any until he pointed out that he makes it in mango, pineapple, cucumber-ginger, and several other flavors.
“Let’s try them all!” I had a pisco sour tasting hour at the hotel’s modern bar and Monsalve happily shared his recipe with me.
Vegan Pisco Sour Recipe
Serves 4
Ingredients:
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
2 stems of rosemary + additional for garnish
1 cup lime juice
1 cup simple syrup
3 cups Gran pisco
Pour all ingredients into a blender and mix well on high speed for 1-2 minutes. Strain through a cocktail sieve.
Pour the liquid into a cocktail shaker and add crushed ice till its three-fourth full. Shake well and pour into flute glasses. Garnish with a rosemary stem and say cheers!
*Unlike the Peruvian pisco sour, Monsalve’s does not contain eggs so it is perfect for vegans.
 chilean pisco sour recipe
Monsalve is also well versed with his wines too. Ask him about any winery and he will pull out a map to educate you about the different wine regions of Chile.

Monsalve’s other favorite pisco drink is Piscola, which is just pisco and coke.
Do you know the difference between Peruvian and Chilean pisco sour? If yes, please share below… 

Top 10 Must Eat Food and Drink in Chile

I have to say, I had very little knowledge of Chilean food before going there. Though Chilean wines have found their fame in international markets, authentic Chilean restaurants are hard to come by. During my two-week trip around Chile with Yampu Tours, I ate at many great hotels, restaurants, and cafes.

One thing I concluded was that chefs in Chile are hugely influenced by European cuisine. Not only do they use French cooking techniques, many focus entire menus on French, Italian and Mediterranean dishes.

The second most popular cuisine in Chile is German, specially in the southern part. In the cities of Fruitillar and Puerto Varas, you can find traditional German bakeries selling all kinds of kuchen, and restaurants specializing in German style sandwiches. There is also the popular Kunstmann brewery in the town of Valdivia, where German settlers arrived first in early 1800’s.

So what exactly is Chilean cuisine?

There are few traditional dishes that the Chilean people still enjoy for casual meals and at home. As a tourist, I felt I had to seek out for these places. Most tour companies feel that they are too rustic to take international visitors to. But what good is visiting another country if you haven’t tried the local food?

  1. Empanadas – Chilean empanadas are 6-8 inch long rectangular doughy pastries, stuffed with mainly beef, onions, raisins, and boiled eggs. These are baked in traditional brick ovens and known as Empanada de Orno. Fried empanadas are also common, and stuffed with cheese or meat. When cooked well, the crust is flaky and crisp, while not too greasy. Try it with ají verde (green chili pepper sauce).

Where to eat empanadas: Marmoni restaurant in Pucon, Quillay outside Santiago.

Chilean empanadas2. Pisco Sour – The Chilean version of pisco sour generally doesn’t contains eggs, due to salmonella contamination. There is some excellent quality pisco that is produced in the northern region of Chile. You can order your pisco sour in different flavors such as mango, pineapple, cucumber-ginger, etc.

Where to drink pisco: Vira Vira Hotel in Pucon. The bartender, Luis Mariano Cerda Monsalve is a well known mixologist who has published his recipe book on cocktails, as well as written about extensively.

3. Sopaipillas – There are two versions of this deep fried bread that is often served as an appetizer. The first one is made with white flour, animal fat and water, and another in which pureed pumpkin is mixed to the dough. In each version, the dough is formed as disks and then deep fried. It can be eaten sweet, with icing sugar or a sweet caramel sauce, or as a salty snack, topped with a chili sauce or mustard.

Where to eat Sopaipillas – Marmoni restaurant in Pucon and Hotel Casona at Matetic Winery.
 Sopaipillas at Hotel Casona at Matetic Winery.
4. Cazuela – If there was a national dish of Chile, this would be it! The rustic stew is simmered for hours with chicken or beef broth, corn, rice, potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, green beans. It is served piping hot in a clay pot, and is the best comfort food on a cool evening.
Where to eat Cazuela: Galindo Bar Restaurant in Santiago is a good place to try authentic Chilean food. It is always packed with locals and they don’t accept reservations.
Casuela: Galindo Bar Restaurant in Santiago
5. Humitas – Similar to Mexican tamale, Humitas in Chile are prepared with fresh corn, onion, basil, and butter, wrapped in corn husks, and baked or boiled. They can be made savory, sweet, or sweet and sour, served with added sugar, chile pepper, salt, tomato, olive and paprika.
6. Pastel Del Choclo – Chilean version of the Shepherd’s pie, this corn pudding is layered with beef, chicken, whole olives, onions and hard boiled eggs. The dish is delicious but also heavy in calories.
Where to eat Casuela: Galindo Bar Restaurant in Santiago.
Pastel Del Choclo
7. Quinoa – Harvesting quinoa in northern Chile dates back 7,000 years. These protein packed seeds are integral to survival of the Mapuche people. It is still used to make drinks, sides and desserts.
Where to eat quinoa: Awasi Atacama hotel serves a delicious vegetarian quinoa dish with tomato sauce and baby vegetables for lunch.
Quinoa dish at Awasi Atacama
8. Seafood – Chile’s long coastline is abundant with species of fish, mollusks, crustaceans and algae. Local seafood that I tried during the Fall season included abalone, hake, corvina, salmon, reineta, congrio, giant mussels and razor clams. The fish is simply prepared on the grill, with very little seasoning.
Where to eat seafood: Ibis Restaurant in Puerto Varas with a great view overlooking Lake Llanquihue, and Hotel Casona at Matetic Winery.
Locos at Hotel Casona at Matetic Winery
9. Asado – BBQ parties are a favorite pastime of Chileans over the weekends. Friends and families gather in backyards, drinking wine, grilling meats, talking and enjoying the beautiful weather. While beef and pork are common, the Chilean speciality is cordero al palo (whole roast lamb) grilled for 5 hours and accompanied with pebre, a local condiment made from pureed herbs, garlic, and hot peppers; in many ways similar to chimichurri. The dish is typical of southern Chile and is served hot accompanied by salads.
10. Dulce de Leche desserts – My sweet tooth went on a field trip once I discovered the different desserts made with caramel across the town of Pucon. Brazo de Reina is a Swiss cake roll layered with homemade dulce de leche. Torta de Mil Hojas is a Napolean style flaky pastry with a big chunk of dulce de leche. Alfajores are chocolate discs filled with caramel, similar to moon pies. Of course, the Kuchen (German cakes) are amazing too!
Where to eat Dulce desserts: Pasteleria Mamacelia is a hole in the wall bakery next to a gas station, where the locals go to eat empanadas and pastries. Other sit down sweet shops are Suiza Pasteleria and Cassis in Pucon. Winkler Family Kuchenladen in Frutillar is a must stop for German cakes.
Torta Mieloja
This is no way the complete guide to Chilean cuisine. They are just some of the dishes I ate and highly recommend you do it!
Do you have a Chilean recipe you really like? If so, share with our readers below…