I need advice on what to see while traveling between Santiago and Lima.
I'll be studying in Valparaiso for six weeks beginning June 10th after which I'll have 6 1/2 weeks to travel to Lima for my flight home to the U.S. Any suggestions for an itinerary? Or in the very least, what should I not
The Atacama desert is cool.
Pop over to Bolivia if you can. It's like nothing else - La Paz, Salar de Uyuni, and Cochabamba are really nice. Lago Titicaca on the Peru/Bolivia border is awesome. Apparently the Nazca lines in Peru are pretty cool too.
If you end up flying from one city to another, I recommend going with LAN Airlines.
While you're studying in Valpo, you will probably be going to Con Con, Viña del Mar, and Santiago on the weekends. If there's a long weekend, try and visit La Serena or Concepción.
You shouldnt miss a few things. #1- La Serena is on the way to Lima dont visit when living in Valpo. Instead take a long weekend to mendoza Argentina. See el Portillo Ski resort, if not to ski for the scenery alone. Termas Colina in Cajon de Maipo is an incredible place- where else in the world is there hot springs at the base of 18,000 foot mountains?
On the way to Lima theres so many thing to see... the coastline is spoectacular all the way up. Everytime I have been to chile and all of my Chilean friends rant and rave about the desert north of Chile. Even the die hard mountain guides in Patagonia and Torres del Paine talk about the desert north with affection!
Dont miss the following in Chile(in order from Valpo to Lima!)- La Serena and Elqui Valley; If you like forests dont miss FrayJorge Reserve; Near Copiapo theres a coastal town called Caldera-just south is fantastic protected beaches and coastline near Bahia Ingles; the coastal National Park of Pan de Azucar near Chanaral has fantastic desert islands in a turquoise sea, Mina Escondida(largest production open pit copper mine in the world; The well known tourist sites near San Pedro de Atamaca(east of Antofagasta) are worth several days of your time; and maybe the best part of the North- the one everyone talks about- is east of Arica near the town of Putre: Lauca National Park, Las Vicunas reserve, Volcan Parinacota, Chungara.
the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is like another world, but considerably off the track to Lima and involving international crossings, transfers, altitude changes and guides. from the sound of your schedule its not worth it- theres plenty to see in Chile and Peru.
In Peru- Dont miss Colca canyon and Arequipa. Cuzco is technically on the way! machu Picchu is definitely doable in your time frame and probably worth skipping some chilean sites to have enough time to see Macchu Pichu(just dont miss Putre/Prinacota/Elqui valley/Escondida Mine). Glaciers are mountains on par with anything in the himilayas or Alaska or patagonia can be found in Peru at Ausangate NP which is just outside Cusco. Huascaran NP near Huaraz( a town a few hours northwest of Lima) is possibly the most spectacular natural place in Peru- 19,000 foot mountains, hundreds of alpine lakes and glacial valleys, huge glaciers, etc...
hope this helps!