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CHILE

It's the height of contradictions

Despite inhospitable terrain, the Atacama Desert lures visitors with its stark beauty.

May 22, 2011|Laura Fraser

After we met his aunts, we took a shepherd's path down a river valley. We passed enclosures made of cactus wood to keep in llamas, and clusters of grasses that are used to thatch the roofs of the stone houses. The hike, which was about 10 miles, was the route Colque took each week to go to the closest town with a school.

He told us that when he first walked to the school in Rio Grande, at age 7, he was shocked by how many people were there; he'd never seen a car or electric lights. "My friends were the animals," he said. "I knew the habits of the snakes and llamas but not of other boys."

We walked all day without seeing another soul, only a guanaco -- the wild animal from which the llama was domesticated. We stopped for lunch at another cluster of buildings that belonged to Colque's family and were now abandoned. The climate had become too dry to support the terraced farming that the family had subsisted on forever. Colque said that although many hotels had offered to buy the gorgeous canyon, the family would never sell.

"This is wealth," he said, gesturing at the vast empty land, the volcanoes and the wide-open sky. "This is all you need."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, May 25, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Atacama Desert: In the May 22 Travel section, a photo caption with an article on travel in Chile's Atacama Desert referred to guide Joel Colque as Jose Colque.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 29, 2011 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Travel Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Atacama Desert: A photo caption with a May 22 article on travel in Chile's Atacama Desert incorrectly referred to guide Joel Colque as Jose Colque.

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travel@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

If you go

THE BEST WAY TO SANTIAGO, CHILE

From LAX, LAN Airlines and COPA offer direct service (stop, no change of plane), and LAN, COPA. American and Delta offer connecting service (change of plane). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $839, excluding taxes and fees. LAN offers connecting service to Calama. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $1,059, excluding taxes and fees.

TELEPHONES

To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 56 (country code for Chile) and the local number.

WHERE TO STAY

Alto Atacama desert lodge & spa, Camino Pukara, San Pedro de Atacama; www.altoatacama.com. The rate for a five-night, six-day stay at this luxury eco-resort starts at $2,009 a person, double occupancy, including airport transportation, guided excursions and all meals, snacks, beverages and cocktails.

TO LEARN MORE

San Pedro de Atacama travel and tourism: www.sanpedrochile.com/en

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