Posts Tagged 'unesco'

Torres del Paine

torres del paine

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is located 112km north of Puerto Natales.  The park’s famous centerpiece is the Paine Massif, a small mountain system completely independent from the Patagonian Andes Range.  There are magnificent views to be had throughout the park including turquoise lakes, glaciers, icebergs, the towers of Paine and the horns of Paine.  The sights are dramatic and ever-changing.  One minute it’s sunny and brilliant, and the next it’s overcast and ominous.  It snowed the morning of our visit to the park and for much of the day the sky was grey and draped in a heavy layer of clouds and fog, making it impossible to view the classic Torres del Paine panoramas.




A few days in Santiago began to eat into our budget so we packed up and headed 120km northwest of the city to Valparaíso.  A Unesco World Heritage Site and the cultural capital of Chile, Valparaíso is beautiful from a distance.  An old port city built on the edge of the water with hills of brightly painted houses running right into the ocean.  Up close the city is slightly less attractive with tangled wires, debris and a congested center detracting from it’s charm.grafitti 1  Valparaíso has fifteen funiculars, or wooden elevators, that connect the residential hills to the lower downtown area.  Built between 1883-1914 they are still in use today.  Graffiti is everywhere, some of it very impressive.  Our second day in Valparaíso we walked 9km along the coast to the beach resort of Viña del Mar.  A popular summer and weekend destination for Santiago residents, Viña del Mar’s palm-fringed boulevards, manicured gardens, grand mansions and high-rise buildings contrast sharply with neighboring Valparaíso.



Cerro Rico, Potosí, Bolivia

At 4090m Potosí is the world’s highest city and a Unesco World Heritage site since 1987.  Its impressive colonial architecture is set against the backdrop of the Cerro Rico, or rich mountain.  Potosí was founded in 1545 following the discovery of ore deposits in the mountain.  From 1556 to 1783 45,000 tons of pure silver were mined from Cerro Rico by  millions of indigenous and slave laborers who were forced to work in the mines.  By the end of the 18th century the city had grown into the largest and wealthiest city in Latin America.  After 1800 the silver mines were depleted leading to a slow economic decline. 

Today Potosí is severely polluted and thousands of men and boys continue to work in the mines to extract minerals.  Working practices are medieval, safety provisions nearly nonexistent and the mines lack proper ventilation.  Work is done by hand with basic tools such as pickaxes and shovels.  Temperatures in the mines range from below freezing to more than 100 degrees F.  Silica dust in the air causes silicosis pneumonia, and most mineros die within 10-20 years after starting work in the mines.  The Cerro Rico has been mined continuously for 400 years.  With hundreds of tunnels running through it experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before it collapses.

The miners who enter the mountain each day, some as young as 10 years of age, work the mine as a cooperative venture, with each miner selling his ore to a smelter through the cooperative.  The mines are dangerous and nightmarish places with unexpected explosions, falling rocks and runaway trolleys all resulting in frequent injuries and deaths.  Potosí’s ever expanding cemetery is a testament to this fact.  To protect themselves from ‘The Mountain That Eats Men’ the miners worship their devil, Tio, a wooden figure housed deep inside the mine.  They visit him regularly with offerings of coca leaves, alcohol and cigarettes in an attempt to ensure their own safety. 

Tours of the working mines are popular among foreign visitors to Potosí.  Tours begin at the miners’ street market buying gifts for the miners, continue through the mines scrambling and crawling in low, narrow and dirty mine shafts, and end with tour participants holding lit sticks of dynamite.  Tour companies advertise the tours as, “an opportunity to crawl around inside the terrifying but awe-inspiring labyrinth in which over 200 miners are working.” Participants and tour operators alike will swear that the tours are not exploitative.  Unfortunately, the money generated by running the tours, around $10 per participant and more than many miners make from an entire day’s work, only benefits the tour companies.  

As for us, we opted not to take a tour of the mines, though we talked to several people who had and they all had the same response, “Eye opening, terrifying and unforgettable, but never again.”  Instead, we attended a screening of the documentary film The Devil’s Miner.  Produced in 2005 the film accurately depicts life in the mines and tells the heartbreaking story of a 14 year old miner.  It’s a must see for anyone interested in learning more about the horrific conditions of the mines, the plight of the workers, their fascinating traditions and beliefs, and the extreme poverty and desperation that plagues Bolivia’s indigenous majority.



Designated a Unesco Cultural Heritage site in 1991, the city of Sucre, with its whitewashed buildings and red terracotta rooftops is quite possibly the most beautiful city in all of Bolivia.  After visting the impressive Museo de Arte Indígena, a collection of traditional clothing, weavings and musical instruments from the surrounding towns, we ventured out of the city twice.  Once to the indigenous market at Tarabuco and again to see the dinosaur tracks at the Cal Orcko cement quarry just outside of town.

tracks 1tracks 2

Arequipa’s anniversary celebration

arequipa celebration

Surrounded by active volcanoes, high-altitude deserts and some of the deepest canyons in the world, Peru’s second largest city of Arequipa, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is  a popular stop en route to Cusco.  Nicknamed the white city for its distinctive light-colored volcanic stonework called sillar which glistens against the backdrop of three snow-capped volcanoes, Arequipa is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in all of Peru.  Adding to the city’s appeal is its climate.  Arequipeños enjoy more than 300 days of sun and clear skies each year.

We were fortunate enough to be in town on August 15th, the day the city celebrates the anniversary of its founding.  Beginning in the days and weeks leading up to the holiday are a series of parades, festivals and fireworks.  The main event is a giant parade through the center of the city that lasts for nearly 10 hours complete with marching bands, floats and lots of traditional costumes, music and dancing.  After which, the city continues to celebrate in various ways throughout the remainder of the month. 

Here are a few photos of my favorite performances from the parade:

parade 1

parade 2






parade 3parade 4






Be sure to check out the rest of my photos on flickr!

Nasca Lines

nasca plane

In 1939 North American scientist Paul Kosok flew across the desert and stumbled upon one of ancient Peru’s most impressive and mysterious achievements – the Nasca Lines, now a Unesco World Heritage Site.  Spread across 500 sq km the Nasca Lines form a network of over 800 lines, 300 geoglyphs and 70 biomorphs.  The lines were made by removing sun-darkened stones from the surface of the desert to expose the lighter soil below.  It is theororized that the lines were created by the Paracas and Nasca cultures between 900 BC and AD 600, though no one really knows for sure.  The lines and figures are so large and spread out that they can only be properly viewed and appreciated from the air.  We took an overflight tour of the lines in a small aircraft.  For Carlos who’s always dreamed of being a pilot, the flight itself was the highlight of the tour, especially since he was fortunate enough to be seated up front next to the pilot.  Viewing the lines was just an added bonus.  These are a couple of the photos I took from the air:


If you look closely you can see the outline of a monkey with a spiraling tail.


And this design is called the condor.

La Ruta Chimú

chan chan

In the north of Peru the Chimú and Moche cultures constructed fascinating adobe brick cities in the middle of the desert.  Built around A.D. 1300, Chan Chan is the largest mud brick city in the world.  At the height of the Chimú empire it consisted of approximately 10,000 structures with walls that stood over 10m high.  The central Palacio Nik-An remains a fascinating site to tour and in 1986 all of Chan Chan was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.  Other interesting stops along the Chimú route include the stepped-platform adobe temple of la Huaca Esmeralda and la Huaca Arco Iris.  Translating to  Rainbow Temple, la Huaca Arco Iris is one of the best preserved Chimú temples and gets its name from the repeated rainbow designs that cover its slightly pyramidal walls.  Peruvian hairless dogs can be spotted around la Huaca Esmeralda and la Huaca Arco Iris.  With unusually high body temperatures, they have traditionally been used to treat people with arthritis.