From Valparaiso we continued driving further North and returned our car in La Serena, where we boarded a night bus to San Pedro de Atacama, a village built in the heart of an oasis lost in the middle of the Atacama desert. At an altitude of 2500m, San Pedro de Atacama is a magical little town; its roads are mainly unpaved and the center (consisting of 3 streets tops) is full of restaurants, bars, craft shops and tour agencies. Even though the town has become very touristic over the years, it has a lot of charm and a bohemian warm-hearted lively atmosphere.
The first day we rented bikes and visited Valle de la Luna, a 12.5 km long moon-landscape valley at 5 km South-East of San Pedro de Atacama. We were told it’s an easy ride from the village but unfortunately we had to put up with extreme headwind to get there, blowing sand in hour mouth eyes and ears! The valley is beautiful and offers spectacular views on weird-shaped rocks and multi-storey building high dunes. With the wind in our backs, the ride back to town was a piece of cake.
The second day we went on a tour to the Salar de Tara, 130 km from San Pedro de Atacama and at an altitude of 4800m! This day was our first encounter with the high-altitudes (as there are many more to come) and we can confirm altitude sickness is not an urban legend! Although we didn’t have it that bad (headaches, little nausea and immediate shortness of breath) compared to some other people. However bad it is, Hoja de Coca is the solution!
Despite the altitude, our experience in the Salar de Tara was absolutely amazing. We left in the early morning in a 4×4 jeep who raced through the desert alongside rocks chiselled by the wind, lagunas with pink flamencos, deserted plains as far as you can see and then finally the Salar de Tara, a salt plain of 750 km2 at the base of the Catedrales de Tara (a vertical wall of red rocks) with flamencos and dozens of other bird species to observe. The altiplano in all its glory! No roads, houses or even trails kilometres around; they say that even with a GPS you can get lost here so we were very grateful to have our guide who knew the area like the back of his hand. We got back to San Pedro in the early evening.
The third day we opted for a chill day as we would leave for a 3-day trek to Bolivia the next day: sleeping late in the morning and Termas de Puritama in the afternoon, finally a bath!! At 28 km of San Pedro de Atacama, the Termas form natural hot-water pools and waterfalls, the highest pools closest to the source being the hottest ones, and the pools lower down a bit cooler (from 38 to 28⁰C). There were not a lot of people here so we chose our own private pool and soaked for the whole afternoon.
Next stop: 3-day trek from Atacama (Chile) – Uyuni (Bolivia)!
- Tour Agency Maxims with Guide Tim (we absolutely recommend him!). He is also starting his own tour agency: Voyages Atacama
- Chiloe Hostel
- Adobe Restaurant