Into Chile! San Pedro de Atacama

Published: November 12th 2015
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Main Square San Pedro
Ok so it was time for my final land crossing as I headed from Bolivia into Chile.

The border:

Having already completed the forms on the bus as we got to the border we got off the bus & queued with our passports at the Police control. They stamp your white police form & give it back to you (this is your immigration form). Then all the luggage is unloaded and once the doors open you can go into customs control. You place your bags on the table & hand over your customs form which states you aren't bringing any fruit/veg/animals or their related products into the country. You're then asked to unzip your bags (only the main compartments though?!) & they search them. Exit at the opposite end & get back on the bus.

Other than the compulsory bag searches it was a pretty simple border to cross.

San Pedro:

We were dropped off in a random car park & waved in a random direction before the driver zoomed off. So we all started walking in the direction we thought town was in & hoped for the best. We picked right & ended
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Valle de Luna
up in the towns main square, where there was a tourist information office to pick up a map & ask where our respective hostels were - even if the woman working was pretty grumpy! I set off for my hostel to drop my luggage off & it soon became apparent that it was very hot here & the warm trousers & top I was wearing from the Salt Flats was almost killing me. Luckily my hostel wasn't that far in reality and I soon arrived.

Where I stayed: Mama Tierre hostel on Pachamama street. An excellent hostel but it is $26/night for a 5 bed dorm including breakfast; the showers are hot & you get free shower gel, shampoo, wifi, bottle of water every day, and towels are supplied. There is a decent kitchen with a dining area & sofas to watch the satellite TV & there is also an area for you to be able to do hand washing & dry your clothes (very quick in the Atacama sun!). Also I had to move after my 1st 2 nights because the hostel was fully booked but I was able to use all the hostel facilities on the day I checked out until I felt I needed to move to my other hostel so I only had to sleep there. - Owner spoke excellent English.

My last night was spent at Kirckir Hostel which was about 50m further down the street & just 10,000 pesos /night in a 4-bed dorm. There was an ok kitchen, wifi was strong, bed was comfortable, shower was hot & toilet clean, only problem was there only seemed to be 1 toilet! Good for budget travellers.

Day 1:

So as I arrived middle day I had the whole afternoon to settle in and wander around the town to find some food & get my bearings. It was nice to be back in the warm and to just chill out knowing I wouldn't be moving on for a few days. I got some very traditional food in Pizza (!) they love pizza in south America & found a bank & caught up on the world after being out of Wifi/phone access for a few days including transfer the hundreds of photos from camera to computer. It also took me till the evening to realise that I was living an hour behind as no-one had said that Chile was an hour ahead of Bolivia.

Day 2:

I booked a tour to the Valle de Luna & then took the morning going for a longer walk around the town, going to the outskirts and finding some shops to buy snacks & something for my dinner as I'd be back late from my tour. I also decided to book tours to Laguna Cejar and El Tatio Geysers for tomorrow so I knew I was in for another early start! In total my tours cost me Pesos: 48,000

San Pedro is not a large town so my tour did not take me overly long & I had relaxed lunch in a café on the main square of enchiladas & banana & milk juice. I then returned to the hostel to make use of the strong wifi to upload photos.

My tour started at 4pm & I got picked up from the hostel. Our 1st stop was to pay the entry fee of 5000 to the local communities who manage the reserve. We then headed up to the Salt caves where the water has eroded the salt so you can walk through and then a little bit up on the salt range to get a view of how the salt has formed. It was quite interesting to see the different rates of erosion between the salt & gypsum & the shapes it forms. We then continued to the 3 Marias which are 3 rocks that look like 3 women walking in the same direction, passing some large sand dunes on the way.

After we walked up to a lookout where you can see over all of the moon valley. It was a hard climb up on black sand but the view from the top was amazing especially if you were like me & Craig (a Kiwi on the tour) who quickly out paced the group so just had the 2 of us up there & managed to climb to one of the high points as well. It was extremely windy up there though, so glasses are needed to keep the grit out of your eyes!

After making our way back down we headed to Valley of the dead (Valle de Muerte) - this was originally the mars valley but the locals didn't understand the guy
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Floating on the salt
who named it & therefore the name got changed. Last year there was heavy rainfall & it turned some parts into a lake & now there are still some parts which have water which turns the soil into clay. It was quite an odd sensation to tread on one of these parts as the whole area looks so dry.

Last stop of the day was a drive up to a viewpoint to watch the sunset over the moon valley. Amazing when you see the Andes mountains on the opposite side of the bowl light up in a pink glow as the sun sets behind you. I had found myself a not so windy niche here to watch the sunset & I stood up at one point thinking it was a bit quiet to realise that everyone else had gone to the bus!! Luckily they were sat there waiting for me haha. It was then back to San Pedro, dinner & bed.

The valleys and landscape around San Pedro are due to it being sat in a bowl made up of the Andes and surrounding mountains which once housed a giant lake. This lake evaporated (similar to
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Laguna Tebinquinche
Uyuni) & this left the salt range which I visited today, the many lagunas & the salt flats which can all be found in this area.

Day 3:

Another 4am start for my trip to the Geysers - not forgetting to pick up my packaged breakfast which the hostel had supplied & another bus pick-up from the hostel. Luckily the geysers were 1 & 1/2 hours away so I got some more sleep on the bus. We arrived at the geysers & paid a 3000 peso fee to get in before getting an explanation & a walk around. The geysers here are water geysers which explode up to 1m in the air although the steam plumes reach much higher, thankfully these ones didn't smell but it was extremely cold there being about -5C before the sun decided to break over the hills. The mineral deposits by the holes made some unusual shapes and it was interesting to hear that they did try to utilise the geothermal energy here twice but after a failed attempt in the 00's which caused a drop in the water table and for the animals to leave the area they stopped and now the area is protected.

We also had breakfast included in our tour, supplied after our tour of the geysers which was a ham & cheese sandwich, coffee/tea, an egg & a chocolate bar. Then we headed to the "hot springs" which were the coldest bloody hot springs known to man, I was shivering although I don't think it was helped by some guys who were sat almost blocking where the hot water was coming in I think.

After my cold dip I tried to warm up on the bus whilst we headed to the wetlands where we saw some local species including an Andean goose, ducks & some other birds. We continued on to a point where we spotted a type of chinchilla called a Vizcacha - Its a bit like a rabbit with a chinchilla tail & I'd been wanting to see one since being told about it on my salt flats tour so I was happy to finally see it. Also I spotted them before the tour guide (even though I didn't know it was a spot to see them) & got asked "how did you manage to see that?" by the guy opposite me so *smug face* haha.

After we made our way into the village Machuca village to see one of the oldest churches in Chile and try some llama kebabs if we wanted. There were lots of llamas around the village as they farm them using the wool and meat. Once we'd had more food & walked around it was time to head back to San Pedro, where on the way we saw wild donkeys - the people used to use them but now don't so they live in the same areas but in wild herds - vicunas & also an Ostrich like bird called a Nandu. Apparently it is very rare to see one of these birds - our tour guide said she had seen 2/3 times - so we were extremely lucky. In fact we had a pretty good day on the wildlife front seeing plenty of different animals which were as interesting as the Geysers themselves (& much more interesting than yet another small village with the same stuff for sale).

Even with a small bus breakdown we made it back to San Pedro at about midday just in time to get some lunch, chill & then move hostels before my next tour.

My tour to the salt lake started at 4pm & once again I got picked up from the hostel this time in mini-van/bus with just 12 seats so this was going to be a lot smaller tour than the other to. My tour guide was called Victor and he spoke great English unlike the lady who had done my other 2 tours who I'm sure said twice as much in Spanish than she did in English.

It was just a 30min drive to Laguna Cejar where we had to pay 17000 pesos to enter (including our swim in the salt lake). Laguna Cejar is not swimmable but is a nice lake with viewing platforms to see the flamingos & some other birds. A quick change and a we walked to the other lake which has a higher salt density than the dead sea - *Flip flops are definitely needed here as there is quite a walk from the changing rooms & the lake is edged in foot cutting salt!* - it was the weirdest sensation of being able to stand back to the water falling backwards & not going under! It was similar to falling on to your bed but wet haha. We had 1 hour in the lake & I stayed in about 20min but then you start getting cold & the salt starts a stinging sensation on your skin which isn't particularly nice. In fact my skin looked like it had a red rash on it when I got out of the lake :/ & you are absolutely covered in salt so by the time you have walked half way back to the changing rooms you are white all over. *Another reason you want flip-flops because you really don't want salty shoes! It's bad enough having a salty swim suit & towel!*.

After our dip & attempting to dry some of our stuff in the extra 15 mins we had it was time to head on to the next lakes which are 2 pools but instead of being salt water like most in the area they are able to be drunk from. The locals use these to allow the llamas they farm to drink whilst searching for food. After a few minutes to take photos with the mountain back drop we headed to Laguna Tebinquinche to watch the sunset. This lake was huge & the contrast of colours was pretty stunning - it was definitely the most beautiful laguna of the day. We had some time to walk around the lake & get some photos & then we headed back to the van to watch the sunset & get our pisco sours & snacks (crisps/chocolate/cookies). The sunset was pretty but the best was the change in the colours of the mountains across the lake as the sun went down.

We then headed back into town & most of us (bar the Spanish speakers) headed to Barros for dinner & drinks. It was so cheap I would highly recommend! I got a really big lasagne, a Terromoto (Chilean "earthquake" cocktail) & a beer for under £10! They even had some pretty cool music going on, just added to the good atmosphere. We had a great night & I was gutted I was leaving the next day as all the others agreed to meet up the next night again, but my adventure was continuing!

Where next: Calama


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