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The Atacama: High & Dry

high dry ok

With unclear route signage, ghastly road conditions, lack of cell phone signal and sheer isolation combined with acute altitude sickness and solar radiation, the placid terrain surrounding the Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama is more threatening than it appears. The small 15th century mining settlement lies 7,900 feet above sea level and is part of the Atacama plateau, reportedly the most arid place on our planet – but thanks to bus connections to both Calama in Chile and Salta in Argentina, San Pedro acts as a gateway to the regions spectacular landforms; lunar valleys and vast salt flats, perhaps only comparable in beauty to those found around the Himalayas.

The Hotel Altiplanico lies on the outskirts of town but is still within walking distance of everything worth walking to. It also faces the Licancabur Volcano; a majestic work of nature, which by the way, is still pretty active. The 29 rooms are arranged in three semi circles around manicured gardens. The buildings, designed to reflect the regions native Indian heritage, have been constructed with thick earthen walls, straw lined ceilings and small windows to keep the indoor temperature stable. Although there are daytime lows of 65 in winter and highs of 85 in summer, the thermometer frequently drops below freezing through the night. There are plenty of cheap and cheerful cafés scattered around the village but otherwise the Altiplanico has a delightful daily changing menu influenced by Peruvian and Chilean cuisine, with local staple ingredients including quinoa, scallops, blue potatoes and the syrupy chanar fruit.

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This is paradise for landscape lovers; the Valle de la Luna (5 miles south east), Salar de Atacama (34 miles south) and El Tatio geyser field (62 miles north) are all focus attractions and plenty of tour operators in San Pedro organize daily visits to these sites. The Salar de Atacama is the second largest salt flat in the world; a mesmerizing expanse of whiteness peppered with pink flamingos that thrive in the saline environment.  At night the lack of light pollution allows for the clearest views of the starry skies – so be sure to pack a proper camera and no iPhone nonsense.

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Every new year brings a wave of articles encouraging travelers to make this the year that they travel greener. Now, more than ever, most of us are more conscious and conscientious of the ways our travel impacts the world around us. But, clearly, there is still work to be done. Here are five simple ways to travel greener in 2020 and beyond.
Use a Portable Water Purifier
Almost one million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute. While more developed countries recycle some of that waste, it’s often burned or discarded with regular trash in less developed areas of the world. In case it’s not obvious, relying on filtered, rather than bottled, water is a great way to reduce your footprint at home and while traveling. Most portable water purifiers are compact, USB-rechargeable, and effective at killing 99.9% percent of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Pair one with the water bottle you’re already using at home, and you have an almost limitless supply of fresh, clean water to drink no matter where you go. To seriously up your hydration game, check out the self-cleaning water bottle from Larq.

Skip the Single-Use Plastics
Most of us appreciate the benefits of ditching single-use water bottles in favor of reusable alternatives. For all the same reasons, travelers can go a step further by ditching plastic straws and stirrers on planes and at hotels and resorts. Pack a washable silicone or metal straw instead. Likewise, reusable flatware kits (with at least a fork, spoon, and knife) are inexpensive and help further eliminate plastic waste while on the road.
Cut Back on Air Travel
For most of us, eliminating air travel altogether isn’t realistic. For domestic trips, consider traveling by train or car whenever possible, even if it’s just one trip per year. Driving and rail travel are two of the greatest ways to see the U.S. and beyond. They force you to slow down and experience your surroundings in a way that flying just can’t match. They’re also much, much better for the environment. According to the BBC, gas emissions from domestic air travel add up to roughly 254 grams per passenger per kilometer traveled. Travel by car or train is significantly less at 43 grams and 41 grams, respectively.

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How to Spend 36 Hours in Santiago, Chile
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Whether you are traveling to South America and have a layover that can be extended in Santiago or you are just visiting the capital of Chile, there are a few things you just can't miss in this lovely city. From specific neighborhoods to restaurant options to must-see tourist attractions, our guide is meant to provide you with some solid options as well as inspire you to spend some time in Santiago.

Saturated with colonial architecture blended with steel skyscrapers —  like the Gran Torre Santiago, Latin America’s tallest building — Santiago sits in a valley of the Andes Mountains surrounded by snow-capped peaks. Home to approximately 5.6 million, a third of the entire country’s population, Santiago’s diversity is clearly distinguished with the different barrios (neighborhoods) located within the capital city.

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British Airways Unveils Gin Engineered for High-Altitude Cocktails
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A decent cocktail might be the only thing that makes air travel tolerable these days, but thanks to a dulling of our taste buds at high altitudes, even a premium gin or bourbon can taste surprisingly bland. British Airways is working to solve that problem with an exclusive, high-potency gin designed to bring the sexy back to mid-flight G&Ts.

The British airline recently teamed up with makers at Edinburgh’s Pickering’s Gin to engineer a unique 10-botanical blend. The goal for the new Pickering’s British Airways Centenary Gin was to develop a flavor profile that eliminated so-called airplane "taste blindness" — one that worked equally well at high altitudes and on the ground. After numerous rounds of taste testing, they discovered lemon myrtle was vital to the recipe, adding the perfect amount of bold citrus and sweet. The blend also includes juniper, rose petals, and Scottish heather, plus some of Pickering’s signature botanicals like lemon, lime, cardamom, and cinnamon.

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