So San Pedro de Atacama, an interesting place in the middle of nowhere. To get there we took a flight to Calama from Santiago and then a transfer bus to San Pedro. Bus took a few hours and was pretty straightforward.
We had booked an Airbnb here as well but man it was a drop down from the one we had just been in! This one was basically out the back of someone’s tin shed, but to be fair it was actually ok, just a stark difference from where we had just been.
San Pedro is up at 2000m above sea level, and this was the lowest we would be for a good few weeks now, so we had to start acclimatising. First thing we noticed though was that even walking was tricky at altitude. We weren’t even cracking a light jog, let alone a Chris Acabuse sprint, and we were puffing away. We realised (well definitely me) we would have to lose our London walking pace for a few weeks. We felt like the unfittest lumps ever!
While we were here we had decided that we would hit a few of the main sites, as this place was mega touristy and we were only really here to get to Uyuni Bolivia, and to start acclimatising. That is what 90% of people there are doing too.
We headed out the first day to start our mission of finding decent tour operators for our trips. They all offer pretty much the same thing, so we decided to go to a few, get some prices, then basically try and haggle with the one that looked the most competent. We had some success and went and booked everything that day. We sorted a star gazing tour for that evening, and then booked everything else with one company (Towanda tours), as they gave us a bulk discount, and they were a well established company. With them we booked the hot springs tour, the Valle de Luna tour, and the geyser tour. We also booked our main 3 day trip to Uyuni with them.
The first tour was the star gazing tour. This was pretty good, as there is a good view of the stars from the desert. We didn’t go super far out of town so there was still light pollution getting in the way, but it was still a good evening. We learnt how to use the southern cross to find south, and went through the constilations. There was also a glass of wine in there too, so can’t complain. The guide also showed us some stars and Jupiter through the telescope, and then we had a photo.
I tried to take one of the stars. Came out really well I think!
You could make your very own of this by taking a picture with your thumb completely over the lense of your camera.
Termas de Puritama
Next day was the pools at Termas de Puritama. Thsse were half natural, half man made. They had dammed up parts of this river in the ravine to make the pools. The water flowing through them was still from the natural source, and there was still lots of stones and plants in the pools, which was nice. The pools were fairly warm, but as soon as you got out to go to another one, that’s when the ice dude from the incredibles was back! You had to do an awkward chilly shuffle to the next pool. For this, we had climbed up to around 3600m, and really helpfully there was a fairly steep slope down to the pools which we of course had to walk back up. We were like two puffing snails getting back up there! I think we were there for about 4 hours in total. A good afternoon indeed. Just for reference, the pool’s entrance fee is 15000 before 1pm and 9000 after 1pm
Money exchange and Valle de Luna tour
Next day’s activities was to exchange some money into Bolivianos and then go on a tour at 4pm. I stayed true to my roots and made a spreadsheet to help me determine the most competitive exchange rate in the desert. Unfortunately, mid way I realised I got my row and column headers mixed up. So I stood in the middle of the desert town fixing up my spreadsheet and got quotes of rates for 5 places before making a decision! Kumu just laughed at me taking it so seriously… once I’d done my bill gates wolf of wall Street bit, we then stumbled upon this restaurant called jallalal. They offered a 3 course meal with a drink for 7000 pesos! We had octupus ceviche and mashed pumpkin with potato, layered with mashed avocado and topped with shrimps as our entree! For main we had salmon with potatoes and salad and a quinoa salad. Dessert was ice cream and the drink was really good!! It was a sweet white wine mixed with blueberries! This place was such a delicious surprise to our already overblown budget for the day (tours are quite expensive in San Pedro).
4pm rolled round and it was time for Valle de Luna (moon valley). This was a good one where we actually went to a few sights along the way. We had Lu as Our tour guide and she was great! Our first stop was to see some rock formations- tres marinas ( three ladies). Now only 2 because a tourist tried to climb one and it broke. Must have been a pretty fat tourist… It’s of a woman standing and praying and another kneeling and praying. It was formed probably through wind and rain erosion. It’s also believed to protect the miners who use to live right next to it.
Second stop was a walk up sand dunes to have a view of the mountains and volcanos – liskabar, lascar. Lu also talked about the ALMA observatory, which is the largest in the world when all the radio wave telescopes are working together as one massive telescope. Here we experienced some small spots of rain and saw a mini rainbow in the desert!!
Third stop was the salt caves which you can only visit during the dry season, and we could! Off season (wet season) they are full of water, and impassable. The rock formations were awesome, it’s made from the water going through the caves and carving out its path in the salt. We also tasted the salt (basically licked the wall). It was salty.
The final stop was the sunset over moon valley, at mirador coyote, which was ok. There was just so many people there. I managed to get them out of these photos but it kind of took the charm away from the place really. Lu our guide also said we were in the quiet season, so I’d hate to visit during peak season.
Tatio geysers tour
4am, yes, 4am the next morning we were up ready to go on our Tatio geysers tour. It is bloody freezing at that time of the morning in the Atacama. We had Lu as our tour guide again, and we set off on an hour and a half mini bus ride. We tried to sleep on the bus but it was pretty cramped and the heating was like sitting next to a match, so we only really got the odd doze. It was pitch black out the windows anyway so sleeping was the best option. When got there it was still very dark and very cold, which was perfect for these geysers, as they are not mega hot, so they need the cold temperatures to give off a lot of steam. Our camera was struggling with all the steam and dark so the pictures didn’t come out great.
The sun then started to come up and it was amazing the difference it made to the temperature. Finally, warm toes!! We could then start to see how many geysers there were. There was an old thermal energy machine that was now defunct because the geysers didn’t hold enough thermal energy to power anything of significance. I managed to get some time in one of the hot springs there, which was majorly welcomed, as I’d just about lost all feeling in my toes that morning. It wasn’t mega hot, but it did the trick, although getting out was a bit of a funny spectacle watching the everyone hurry round trying to put their clothes on quickly. I was one of those spectacles….
On the way back home, we stopped by these guys and saw this little canyon/valley. I forget the name of it….
San Pedro de Atacama verdict
Overall we had a fairly packed few days in San Pedro, which was good, but we both agreed it wasn’t really our sort of place. Overpriced and heavily based on tourism, but the tours were good fun. No real character to the town itself to be honest.
Next stop, Uyuni via the salt flats! Here’s a sneak preview….