Winter has come to the southern hemisphere, and with it… winter holidays! Woo - hoo!
This time you are kindly invited to come with me in a series of seven reports that will take us to some amazing corners of my northern neighbor: PERU!
We'll see stunning views, eat strange things, fly four different airlines - two of them completely new for me - and add a couple of new airports to flight-report.com's data base.
I can almost hear you asking "Are you going to Machu Picchu?" I've been asked the same question every single time I mention that I'm going to Peru.
Well, no! For the umpteenth time, I'm not visiting Cusco or Machu Picchu.
I'll start my tour in Tacna, on the border with Chile. Then I will fly to Lima, and will spend one day in Iquitos, an intriguing town near the point where the Amazon river is born.
Purchasing my ticket
I usually plan my holidays with months in advance, particularly because I try to find the cheapest tickets and accommodation. This time I start my search in February, five months before the trip.
I will take a small bag in the cabin and a larger checked bag for two reasons: First, I'll be visiting different weathers so I'll need light and warm clothes, and second, I know I'll need room for lots of souvenirs!
Even though it's not my favorite airline, I'll give LATAM a try. They deny being an LCC, but still have three different fares: Light, Plus, and Top. The best option this time will be the Plus fare, which will let me carry a checked baggage, and choose a seat free of charge.
Both legs of the trip have the same price: 32,582 CLP (47.5 USD)
After entering my personal information…
…I'm required to choose my seats. 33L it will be.
Then you're given a summary of your itinerario, and the total amount to pay…
…and you have successfully purchased your tickets.
All I have to do now is wait, and wait, and wait, until the long 16 school weeks of the first term come to an end.
The big day comes at last! For logistic reasons I choose TurBus to bring me to the airport today.
The new international terminal at SCL is a work in progress.
In the current terminal I walk to the domestic flights end. The counters in the hall are numbered 1 to 108.
LATAM is in the middle, under a large portrait of Arturo Merino, the pilot that SCL is named after.
The weight of my half-empty bag.
I'm done in a moment.
One of the good things at SCL. Queues might be long sometimes, but it never takes too long to go through safety check, at least on the domestic side.
I wrote to SCL about "knifes" months ago, but the typo is still there. (sigh)
First thing after clearing security check is going to the bathroom. I try one bathroom first but the smell is disgusting. I try the one near gate 20 and it smells much better, but it has two setbacks: First, it's too quiet, and I hate quiet public bathrooms because noise implies some privacy. And second, I can't help but feel a little… in plain sight.
My flight to Arica will leave from gate 30. That means…
…I have to go all the way down from this, the third floor…
…to the second floor…
…to the first (ground) floor, which means I'll be treated to a bus ride around the airport (woo - hoo). If you watch carefully you will notice…
…that most passengers here are men. The reason is that small airlines flying to mining towns in the north of the country use these gates (they park in remote positions, I guess), so most of these passengers are mine workers. And that also means that you can't hear anything around here but bad words, which is getting on my nerves. Thank goodness the queue on the left is my queue. It's time to leave.
LATAM will enforce its baggage policy. You can count on that. But they can't do anything against my small backpack.
No, the bus windows are not fogged. It's barely 5:30 p.m. but the sky over Santiago is foggy and the sunlight is dim and melancholic.
I wonder if that's our plane.
No it's not. One of those two, perhaps?
Yes. The first one, CC-BEF.
CC-BEF is a 3.5-year-old A321…
…that has spent its whole life in LATAM's fleet.
I just wonder why it's in LATAM's former LAN livery. I have to make a special mention of the cabin staff. They are all smiles! Each one of them.
The old, thick, cushy, blue LAN seats were replaced long ago by these ironing boards, the same ones you'll find on JetSmart planes. The only difference is the larger tray table and the head rest.
However, the head rest is a bit too high for me and I haven't found the way to slide it down, so I'm forced to use a sweater as a pillow behind my neck.
The pitch is OK.
The seatback contents include…
…the safety card, BOB menu, sickness bag and a BOB menu addendum.
The BOB menu was updated last May.
Hm… I think I know what I'll order for my once (say ON - ceh)
The new products on the BOB menu.
Some details of the safety card.
Being the merge of a Chilean and a Brazilian arline, instructions are in both Spanish and Portuguese, besides English.
Some additional information about this flight.
We are pushed back at 17:36. The atmosphere in the cabin is animated and lighthearted, with a big group sitting all around me laughing and talking. Then I see a young man in a soldier's uniform taking photos of the group. I can't hide, so I just try to make my best face for the photos.
Later I learn that they are parents of young men who have just finished their military service. They are traveling to Putre (report and tourism bonus here) in order to attend their children's pledge of allegiance to the flag.
We rise into the sky when the winter sun is already setting, painting the Andes with bright pinks, oranges and purples.
This explains the gloomy sky above Santiago. A thick cover of fog and smog, very usual this time of year. It would be beautiful… if it weren't toxic!
And this explains the cloud: The hills between Santiago and the ocean block the wind coming from the sea and prevent it from reaching the inner valley.
The clouds and the fresh air stay on the coast.
The distant mount Aconcagua doesn't seem to care. It's too high.
There should be more snow on the mountains around Satiago by now.
Shortly after takeoff the BOB service is announced and I get ready for my sandwich. However, time passes, my hunger grows, but nothing happens! Finally, I get my sandwich as we fly over Copiapó, more than a hour later.
Cecilio comes out of my waist bag to do his measuring job.
Not bad, really! Almost 20cm of warm…
…crunchy marraqueta bread…
…with generous beef slices, melted cheese, and sweet, fried onion. It tastes and smells better than the mess you see here.
But then… disaster strikes! I have placed Cecilio on the tray table, and as I contort to get the best angles for the photos… Cecilio slides off the table and falls into the deep darkness under my seat. I can't see him!!
Luckily, the passenger behind me finds my poor snail and gives it back to me. Phew! But he looks shocked after the experience.
Flying above the desert at night means zero sights of anything. I must say, though, that I never expected to see so many lights in the desert. There are not many towns around here, but many mines and mining camps. This makes the desert look more populated by night than by day! Too bad the lights are so faint that I was unable to get a good photo.
But I do get a recognizable view of Antofagasta, though. I visited this port city not long ago. You can find my reports on ANF and tourism bonuses here and here.
Flying over Antofagasta means that we'll soon see the lights of…
…Mejillones, where I tried that delicious fish called cabrilla. The town is only the lowest triangle. The rest are mining port facilities.
Some time later we descend into ARI, with a view of the city. The dark shadow extending from the right towards the center of the photo is a hill, and its tip is a large rock called El Morro. It has some historical significance.
Welcome to ARI, aka Chacalluta Airport, the northernmost airport in Chile…
…only meters from the border wirh Peru.
Arica is known as La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera (The City of Neverending Spring)…
…and tonight's wonderful weather confirms that. The breeze coming from the sea is not cold nor hot. Just perfect.
We have to go to the entrance behind that palm tree…
…to baggage claim.
ARI is supposed to be an international airport - hence the PDI (Policía de Investigaciones) booth - but I don't know of any international flights departing from here at the moment.
Arrival is very simple. The exit is there on the right. You buy your transfer ticket here, inside baggage claim, and the vans are waiting right outside. You don't need to walk more than ten meters to the vans.
The ticket is 4000 CLP (5.8 USD) which is too expensive in my opinion, because the city is just 7km away, while transfer vans in Valdivia charge the same for a 35km trip!
I ask the driver to drop me at the international bus station in Arica, which is a horrendous, shameful, ugly and decadent place from where buses and shared taxis depart to Tacna, a Peruvian city right north of the border.
The checkpoint at the border is integrated, meaning that authorities from both countries work together. This makes migration easier because all the paperwork needed to go out of one country and into the other is made in the same room. This checkpoint is open until midnight. The price of public transportation between both cities can be as low as 2000 CLP (2.4 USD) on a Peruvian bus. Peruvian transportation is cheaper than Chilean transportation. In fact, something that really impressed me in Peru is how inexpensive food and transportation is!!
I make it to my airbnb in Tacna about two hours after arriving at ARI. Let's go for a walk the day after.
Tourism Bonus - Tacna
Once upon a time, the map of Chile and its neighboring countries looked like this.
It turns out that the south of Peru and the Bolivian area on the Pacific Ocean were rich in minerals. So, well… Chile took them. End of the story. If you want to learn more about the War of the Pacific you can follow this link.
The thing is, both Arica and Tacna used to be Peruvian cities. After the war, Arica was granted to Chile and Tacna remained in Peru.
Nowadays, Tacna is a free zone and it's frequented by Chileans, though tourism is not an important business yet. Nevertheless, they take much care of their parks. This the park on Bolognesi Avenue, for example.
Tacna is a safe city. You see guards everywhere. But I felt a bit scared at first because I suddenly found myself surrounded by a crowd insisting that I should fix my teeth…
……or have my eyes checked.
It turns out that dental, eye, and plastic surgery clinics are big business in Tacna. Just look at the photo below! Chileans pour into these clinics because of the low prices. I have seen the occasional news report about unwanted, disastrous results of these low-priced interventions.
Anyway, few of these "pitchmen" will stick around if you reply with a kind but firm "Gracias. No vine al dentista ni al oculista." In fact, I had to repeat it like a mantra as I walked along the avenue.
There's a park called Municipal Forest. Well, from the point of view of someone living in the middle of the desert, some hedges clipped into African animals might be a forest.
Lovers can have their photo taken in a romantic setting.
The Paseo Cívico in downtown Tacna…
…lies by the local cathedral…
…and hosts a nice fountain…
…and Tacna's most important monument, The Parabolic Arch, aka Monumento a los Héroes.
It was built in memory of the heroes that fought the War of the Pacific…
…like Francisco Bolognesi (left) and Miguel Grau (right)
One piece of advice before we board our flight to Lima:
Be careful. Traffic in Peru is insane!
Santiago - SCL
Arica - ARI
I'm not a big fan of LATAM, I must say. Being such an old airline, they always were a classy airline in Chile, and never showed any interest in bringing air travel to the common John Doe until they saw theselves cornered by low cost airline Sky, and more recently JetSmart. Just have a look at their fares to Easter Island, for example, a route where they have a monopoly. And their catering service has never been outstanding, either.
Their current business model has taken much from the low cost model. They have three different fares, and if you want to choose your seat or carry checked baggage you have to either pay for a more expensive fare, or buy it as an additional service.
No free catering, though their BOB service is OK. It hasn't changed much in years, though.
Their seats are the same ironing board style you'll find in LCC airlines like JetSmart, but with a headrest and can be reclined. Sky Airline's seats are better.
Single class cabins in domestic flights.
In a nutshell, I think that adopting an LCC-like fare model was an act of honesty from their part, because the only time they offered more than an LCC was when they used to give you a free bag of peanuts.
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