San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Blog

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We arrived at San Pedro de Atacama from Bolivia around lunch time. The customs at the edge of town was a lot more official than from Peru to Bolivia. Our bags were searched and then we were driven into town.

The first priority for us when we arrived was to get a bus ticket to Salta in Argentina because we had researched that they sell out quickly and there is no other simple way to get there. We went to the first of the two known ticket offices but they were already sold out, and when we went to the second place their booking system had been down all day. It all looked a bit hopeless with my Plan B to get to Central America involving a huge additional expense and a lot more travelling time.

We looked into getting private transport to Salta but it looked like we were going to have to pay well over $US100 to do it, which was getting pretty ridiculous. By luck we then saw a sign outside another travel agency advertising a new bus to Salta. We walked in and booked the first seats on the bus. Since it was only the fourth time the bus has run the word has clearly yet to get out.

With our bus ticket in tow we found a cheap hostel where I got a dorm room that had two girls already in it. After dropping off my bag we went and had a quick lunch at a cafe, then I came back and had a much needed shower from going around the salt flats for three days without one. By this time I was getting really tired from the early start so I slept a couple of hours in my room.

With a bit of sleep behind me, and it still being my birthday, it was time to get drinking! Ryan, Liz and myself found an outdoor cafe where we sat in the sun having some beers until it got dark. We went back to the hostel and ran into John, who we had met earlier also trying to find a bus ticket to Salta. He was up for a night out so we came along with us to dinner.

We went to a classy restaurant that was recommended to us by the travel agent who sold us the bus ticket, and it was really good. John had gone to another travel agent to book his way to Mendoza instead of Salta and had organised to take him out for a beer for his troubles, so after dinner we found the travel agent Daniel and went back to the place that I had had lunch to have some drinks. The middle of the cafe is a lower square area with a couple of steps down and a big open fire in the middle. We sat on the steps and drank quite a few beers until the place closed at 1am.

After that things got a bit out of control... that story will remain between myself and the rest of the group (!).

The next day I woke up mid-morning with a gigantic hangover, and I really couldn't stand to spend the day sick in a busy dorm room, so we decided to move hotels. We walked a few streets across to a much nicer place where I got a room to myself with a ridiculously comfortable bed. It was pricey but it was so worth it. I proceeded to spend the whole day feeling sorry for myself in bed.

On our final day in San Pedro de Atacama we decided to do an afternoon/evening tour of some valleys in the Atacama Desert not far from town. We booked it in the morning and then hung around the hotel for a few hours waiting for it to start. I loaded up one of my two memory cards with all the videos I had taken and gave it to Ryan to take home to Australia and upload on the net for backup.

The tour started around late afternoon in a really odd bus that looked sort of like a converted truck. The first thing I tried to do when I saw it was take a photo, but when I turned my camera on I realised that I had forgotten to put my other memory card back in to my camera, so I was essentially camera-less. It was a damn shame because we saw some fantastic landscapes on the tour.

We got the bus first out to the Valley of Death (Valle de la Muerte). There was a bit of a basic hike up to this view down into the valley where there were these amazing jagged rock formations that were caused by tectonic shifts.

We walked further around the ridge and came to the top of some sand dunes. We were at the top of a fairly big one and the guide said we were going down. He explained you could either run down straight or zig-zag slowly instead. I figured by run he meant slowly jog but then he said he would demonstrate and we could follow as we pleased. Next thing he turns around and just sprints as fast as he could straight down the sand dune. It was very unexpected so we were all laughing and also were kind of shocked at how fast he had gone. Ryan, Liz and I were keen so we decided to go down that way. We started at a medium pace but it was feeling safe and the downhill momentum of running down made you just go faster and faster. Soon enough we were also sprinting down, up to the point I was trying to slow myself down as my legs were barely keeping up! We got down safely though and were pretty happy with our heroics.

The bottom of that sand dune was actually the start of the next one down, but it wasn't really safe at the bottom to run down that one so we just made our way down the side. We walked down the road a bit and came to the bus where the driver was setting up a table of beers. We happily sat in the Valley of Death and drank a beer.

After our beverage we got back into the bus and drove to the other valley on the tour - the Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna). This place had a bit of resemblance to the salt flats in that a lot of the ground was white or patches of white. The difference is that the Bolivian salt flats are salt in the traditional sense, which is sodium chloride. The white ground here was potassium chloride. I asked the guide about why potassium was so prevalent here and he explained that it gets to the surface from lava flows, and then doesn't get washed away because of the lack of rain and because the valley keeps it localised. The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world so the lack of rain is plainly evident.

We walked around at ground level for a while before climbing up a rocky hill to watch the sunset. Up at the top it was ridiculously windy, probably some of the strongest wind I have ever been in. The views out over the valley were fantastic. It is aptly named the Valley of the Moon because of its resemblance to the surface of the moon. The potassium on the ground gives it a gray quality and over a very long time the wind has eroded many hills into strange shapes. We watched the sunset and walked back down to the bus and headed back to town.

That night we went out to a late dinner at the cafe we had gone to on my birthday. Ryan had run into Dave and Kim from the Inca Trail at Valle del Luna so they came along and we had a good chat about what we had been up to since the trail.

Our short time in Chile had come to an end as the next day we were off to Argentina.
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San Pedro de Atacama
photo by: eefab