Get ready to hear [well, read…] all about our incredible adventure around Atacama Desert and Uyuni saltflat.
After 5 extraordinary weeks in Taltal, we headed north to reach San Pedro de Atacama. This little charming touristic town has mainly hostels, restaurants and tourist agencies. We quickly understood why San Perdro was such a touristic hub, when we saw all the natural wonders we could visit in the area. Vale de la Luna, Piedras Rojas, Lagunas Escondidas, and many other unique spots that blew our minds, not to mention the 4 days trip on a 4×4 through Bolivia to get to the amazing Salt Flats!
San Pedro de Atacama
If you are planning to go to Atacam desert, San Pedro is the place for you! Although the whole desert area is amazing and we had a great time knowing it in Taltal during our volunteering (read the full article about Taltal), it is around San Pedro that you have the highest concentration of magical landscapes.
The city center of San Pedro is cute and 100% pedestrian (free wifi in the main Plaza). Its little non pavement streets can get really busy during the day as all the tourist agencies and restaurants are there, so if you want to have a little more tranquility you might want to book a hotel outside the city center (in any case you won’t be further than 10 min walking from it… as we said it is a small town!). If you do so, we can recommend the hostel Casa San Marcos 663, it was quite nice and very cheap compared to others.
Day 1 – Lagunas Escondidas
There are 2 sides in this story:
The good one: On our first day in San Pedro we went directly to the Lagunas Escondidas – 7 salted lakes. During the tour, we could swim in 2 of those and as the salt concentration was 5 times higher than the Dead Sea, we could only float… quite interesting as an experience and definitely a lot of fun! Moreover the landscape got even more beautiful at sunset.
The bad one: On our way in, the bus driver drove like Fernando Alonso on a huge stone and broke a fuel pipe, resulting on a 2 hours delay. The tourist agency called 2 extra buses and some bottles of Pisco Souer to calm us down on a hot day stuck in the middle of the desert. When we finally arrived, the park was closing. We found a way to get into the Lagunas but everything else closed regardless of our presence there – such as showers. Now, coming back home from the beach when you are full of salt from the water is already uncomfortable, now imagine if u swam where the water has (x more salt than the dead sea… It get almost petrified once you dry, not a fun experience I must say!
Plus, in the desert you have very hot days and very cold nights… as we were out of schedule, our sunset picnic became an evening one, leaving us petrified, salty and about to freeze… no amount of Pisco Souer was making us feel better this time.
Day 2 – Vale de la Luna & Astronomic tour
After taking a good shower to remove all the salt from the previous evening, we were full of energy and ready to discover one of the most famous place around San Pedro, the Moon Valley. We booked a tour that took us first inside the valley to discover its wonders: the 3 Marias, the Amphiteatro, the Caverna, and more.
At the end of the afternoon, the bus took us up the hill were we had a stunning view on the whole valley and could admire the sunset (same place we were supposed to be for our picnic the previous night, but much better without all the salt and cold). Check this out:
Even if our day was already tiring, we decided to join the famous astronomic tour by night. If you want to see stars and have a little introduction to astronomy, we highly recommend it. It’s important to know that Atacama Desert is one of the best spot on earth to admire our galaxy and the biggest telescopes of the world are in the region (we visited the VLT when staying in Taltal). So if you are there, you need to take some time at night to just look at the stars, be it with a tour or by yourself. That being said, the tour has the advantage of giving you some notions about astronomy (how to read a sky map, how to observe a sky object, etc…). As a bonus, you get to take an astral picture at the end which is pretty cool. If we are blurred on the picture is because we needed to stay still with our smiling faces for 30 seconds :p
Day 3 – Piedras Rojas
The Piedras Rojas tour was our favorite one in San Pedro, definitely on our top 5 spots so far. We left quite early in the morning (around 7 am) and went straight to the Laguna Chaxa where we saw some not so pink flamingos in the Lagoon (very very cold!) There we went for a walk around the lake and had a delicious breakfast staring pan con palta (bread with avocado) and Manjar (milk jam)… Lovely!
Being feed, we kept on our way directly to the famous Piedras Rojas. As pictures can sometimes tell more than words, here is what you can find there:
After taking a thousand of pictures in this magical place we moved to the impressive lagunas atliplanicas.
Million years ago, the 2 lakes were actually just one, but due to a gigantic volcanic explosion, the landscape has totally changed and the lake is now 2. During this explosion the volcano lost more than 2000m of its altitude!!!
After this wonderful day, we stopped for lunch on the way and also at the Capricorn Tropic to take some pictures.
If you are planning to do the 3 days tour to the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia like we did, 3 days in San Pedro should be time enough to see it all without paying to see things you will see on your 3 days tour. If not you should take at least 1 extra day to know the geisers del Tatio.
We did everything with agency tours, which was a really good and comfortable option, but you should know that renting a bike or a car is also an option and you’ll be able to join the places by yourself. It can be cheaper and give you more flexibility but also less safe in case you get lost or have an incident and less educational as local guides always know so much about the places they are in. When talking about the driest desert in the world, we decided to play it safe.
Day 4, 5 and 6 – Uyuni Salflat Tour
After 3 full days in San Pedro de Atacama, we left for our adventure on the Uyuni Salt Flats. The tour is usually 3 days to go all the way from San Pedro, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia (count 1 extra day if you plan to come back to San Pedro) and costs around 90.000 Chilean Pesos per person (+/- 120€). As you are changing countries, always make sure to have your visas all figured out – Brazilians and French do not need if staying less than 90 days. Even though it sounds a little bit expensive and it is very tiring, you have meals and accommodations included (everything very simple, of course) and you get to see so many wonderful things that not doing it would be a huge mistake.
We won’t spoil you with too many details as this is the kind of experience you need to live and not read about, so we will just give some few tips about it in case you’re planning on doing it (and we hope you are):
- Get ready to be really cold (especially at night) and maybe get a little sick: most of the tour happens at around 5km altitude which is both cold and poor of oxygene. Coca leaves help a lot for altitude sickness and you can legally buy them in both countries.
- Get ready to be really warm: during the day the sun strikes hard and it gets hot, but still pretty windy.
- Get ready not to sleep much: Comfort is not always an option during this trip but it’s part of the adventure
- Get ready to take A LOT of pictures: ~1000 for us!
Talking about pictures here are some:
After 6 wonderful days between Chile in Bolivia we arrived at Uyuni where we got the amazing surprise of meeting some old friends that volunteered with us at the Rupanco farm – Michael, a friendly Polish guy who bought a cool yellow van and named it Margarita to travel all the way from Patagonia to Alaska, joined by Ben from Seattle and Sara from Denmark (along with their new friends from the road that we met at this encounter). It was as surprising as it was heartwarming to see them again. We wish them great experiences for the rest of their trip and their lives!
As for us, we took a flight to La Paz from the Uyuni City to know the north west of Bolivia and Peru, but we’ll keep this story for another article…