Antofagasta, Chile. A place of raw beauty. A secret oasis in a country spotted with tourism. The city stretches out long and thin like a lazy cat along the sun drenched coast of the South Pacific Ocean. The name Antofagasta translates as The Northern Pearl, which seems the perfect name for this unique coastal city.
I have the pleasure of being hosted by Leandro and his family. Staying with local people in each area is my favorite way to travel since it allows an inside perspective on the place and the culture. Leandro graciously picks me up from the tiny airport in his towering Toyota 4×4 truck. The side of the truck reads “The Wild Side Adventures”. That and the boyish grin of the driver tells me immediately that this is going to be an adventure. Leandro and his two friends, Max and Enzo are in the business of creating specialized adventures for those looking to take their vacations out of the box. You can customize a package of your choice; off roading on desert sand dunes and mountains, camping under millions of brilliant stars, rock climbing and repelling, hiking snow capped mountains, or even just relaxing on a remote beach paradise.
My first evening with Leandro took us to La Portada, which is a postcard picture of bleached white cliffs dropping starkly into white tipped turquoise waters below. The following day Leandro, Enzo and his wife Maria Jesus all piled into the truck and we drove through a tan and barren landscape stretching out as dunes and sandstone mountains. As you approach the mountains the tan details itself in rich colors of red and brown speckled amongst the tan. At one point a small rocky path to the right interests the boys and we decide to explore. The truck twists and bounces its way over large rocks to the crest of the mountain, stopping at the very edge of a cliff. The view of ocean below takes your breath and you feel as if you have found an undiscovered land. Countless pictures later we find our way down from the edge and the truck picks its way across sand dunes. We end at a remote beach hidden by cliffs behind and rocky waters in front. Our own personal paradise. Leandro builds a coal fire and prepares a fantastic bbq meal that we share under the lean to tent, listening to the gentle waves lap the sand.
When the sun starts to set, we head back up the mountains. But this time Leandro takes a detour off road and onto the rolling sand dunes. My hands clutch the seat and my adrenaline pumps as he slides the truck up one dune and down another. Turning expertly to keep us safe but fast enough to cause my heart to pump vigorously. “It is most definitely a ride on The Wild Side” I thought, peering over the edge of another cliff.
Leandro and his friends will make you feel cared for and welcome as you share hours of laughter and adrenaline pumping memories. I can only imagine the fun some of their other options offer. For a unique and amazing South American adventure, I can’t help but whole heartedly suggest a ride on The Wild Side.