Katarpe, Devils canyon mountain biking and caving

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Blog

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San Pedro is an oasis at the head of the great Sala de Atacama. The Sala was was a great lake bed tween 2 mountain ranges the andes on the east and another on the west ( i forgot the name) but some time about 6000 yrs ago there was a massive drought that dried up most of the lake leaving salts thus the sala.

Anyways we'd decided we wanted to do a couple of things. Mountain biking, climb a volcano, see the famed but seldom visited sala de tara, see the taito geysers and of course see the valle de luna. I had initially left enough time to do the round trip to the sala de uuyni but after all our adventures we were beginning to tire and the idea of sitting on our butts for hours on end did not appeal to us at all. That would have to be left for another trip.

We decided to start off with mountain biking to the Quitor de Pukor to see the old fortifications on a hill then on to Devils canyon and finally to Katarpe partly to sightsee and partly to acclimitise for our impending climb up a volcano.

The ride was relatively flat so before we'd known it we'd accidentally ridden past the Pukor fortifications and hit a river. The map from the bike shop where we'd rented the bikes didn't really indicate which way to go but fortuitously we met an old farmer and after much hand gesturing and emphasizing the words 'Diablo' we finally figured that we'd have to cross the shallow river before we'd get there. By this time we'd also picked up a dog along the way. We had passed a village and he'd come chasing after us.

Initally we thought he was out to bite us but he was friendly enough and just wanted someone to play with.

The water was cold and in the process of crossing we got our shoes wet. But due to the aridness and sun and wind they dried out pretty fast.

The entrance to Devils canyon is non descript aside for a small road marker. But it led to a canyon of about 6km. It looked like a river had once run through the canyon creating fantastical shapes. It was fun to ride up the canyon and explore it's tributaries but even more fun riding back down on essentially a single track narrowly missing stony outcrops and skidding around on the sand.

Our next stop with our new pet was Katarpe. It's an old Inca settlement up on the slopes overlooking the river.

All that are left are segments of wall built with riverrock and sealed with mud. It was eerily quite except for the wind up on the hillside overlooking the riverine farmland below. You could almost imagine the previous occupants making a daily walk down to the farms below and coming back in the evenings to the relative safety of village up on the hill. Of course this was not to be with the invasion of the Spanish all that was to change. And all that was left was the fragments of wall standing in silent testimony to the settlement that once was.

We headed back toward Pukor with the intent of climbing up to the fortifications but it didn't look like much and besides there was a small entry fee. Instead we headed up a small track to a small plaza with a large tree.

We sat under the tree and before long started to talk to a middle aged french lady. Seems she'd been to san pedro a number of times and soon was recommeding that we visit the sala de tara. This cemented our desire to head there.

As we rested by the tree we noticed an interesting arch with stone carvings and decided to cycle up there and see what was beyond. Before long the passages got more narrow and we left our bikes and continued on foot with our loyal pooch. The passage further narrowed and soon we were in a crack in the face of the cliffs. The further we proceeded in the darker it got but fortuntely we had our torches. What had begun as a simple walk was turning into a caving expedition. The cave extended deeper into the mountain side and it was not easy going.

On and off there would be beams of light penetrating from fissures above but inbetween we were plunged into darkness. Surprisingly the pooch continued to follow us as we climbered among the darkness and rocks.

After about 50-60m we broke out into an open air cavern . It was the end of the passage. It was amazing to stand there with the sheer walls of the cavern rising about 100m around us. It felt really special to be there.

The return was not so easy and we had to help the pooch down from some of the ledges.

The ride back to town was uneventful and we spent the afternoon booking the rest of our trips. It was going to be a volcano climb tomorrow to el torro at 5600m, a day trip to the sala de tara the next day and both the tatio geysers and valle de lune on the day after that.

Dinner was at a vegetarian restaurant which was surprisingly good and filling for a rather reasonable price. We decided to avoid alcohol as the climb up the volcano was going to be at altitude.

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the cave
the cave
the chamber
the chamber
finding our way to devils canyon
finding our way to devils canyon
our faithful companion
our faithful companion
San Pedro de Atacama
photo by: eefab