A couple of weeks ago we took a long weekend trip to San Pedro De Atacama, a desert town in the North known for its beautiful and bizarre landscapes, clear night skies, and for being in the most arid desert in the world.
On a Thursday night we were talking and realized that Lindsay would be leaving really soon, and we had still not explored the North or South of Chile much. So we decided we would check out San Pedro, which was recommended to us by friends, and we booked a flight to Calama (just an hour and a half shuttle ride away from San Pedro) for the following day.
The town is pretty small, and the streets are filled with tourists popping in and out of the many tour agencies, restaurants and gift shops.
The Church in the plaza is beautiful, and very old.
We spotted this meter that gauged the level of intensity of the sun, and listed precautions you should take if you have light or dark skin. You can see here the current level was at “extreme”.
They have a very nice little museum that walks you through the history of the land and people in and around San Pedro.
We ate at some very good restaurants while we were there that had a very good selection of vegetarian dishes, namely La Estaka, La Estrella Negra, and Casa de Piedra Atacameña.
We stayed at two different hostals because it’s all we could book that was available. This was at Hostal Rural — a very interestingly decorated party hostal that was thankfully pretty quite and mellow.
The night sky was amazingly bright and clear. We took a stargazing tour that brought us to the roof of an astronomy building where a guide explained some of the constellations and some science behind the stars. He also had a couple of enormous telescopes that we could look through.
The first tour we took was a moto-tour. A tour through the desert on ATVs. It was really great because it ended up being just us, one other tourist from California, and the tour guide.
We rode around for about three hours or so and didn’t see anyone else the whole time.
Lindsay and I shared our ATV, so we switched off between riding on the front and back.
Every now-and-then we would stop for a break to take in the landscape and grab a drink of water — it was very hot, and very dry.
The landscapes seemed to get more bizarre the further we went. We were riding through the desert to an area that was one of the largest salt flats in the world. All of the salt deposits that covered the ground look just like snow, and the backdrop of sand dunes and desert rocks seemed like such a weird combination.
A salt crystal, close-up.
We rode out to a spot that used to be some sort of mine, and found some traces of human life — like this big old bus.
I had never ridden on an ATV before, so I was really have a blast!
The scenery really started to remind me of how mars was depicted in old sci-fi movies, or the Twilight Zone.
The dirt and sand that was being kicked up into the air by our vehicles as we plowed through the desert covered us from head-to-foot by the end of the tour.
We finished off the tour by watching the sunset over the salty desert.
This is what usually happens when we have someone take our photo with a manual focus film camera.
The next day we woke up really early to start a tour at 4:30 AM. We got on a bus and drove for about an hour or so to check out some geysers called “Geiser del Tatio”.
We didn’t realize that they were pretty high up in altitude though, and it was actually very cold. We were not prepared.
There was also a hot spring there that you could swim in, so I gave it a try.
It was really warm compared to the freezing, morning mountain air, but it wasn’t exactly “hot”. I waded around in the water for a while, trying to find spots that were particularly hot.
The steam that it created was a really cool sight.
A view of the steam shooting up into the air from the many geysers, from a distance.
On the way back we stopped at a little mountain oasis village to stretch our legs, use the bathroom, and get a snack.
An animal skull and cross on top of one of the roofs.
The houses were really short.
There was a little church on top of a hill that overlooked the town.
I stopped for an empanada.
We saw some flamingos on our way back to San Pedro.
After getting back to San Pedro, eating some food, and taking a nap, we headed out on another tour. This one took us to Laguna Cejar, Laguna Piedra, and to the salt flats.
The salt from the lake would dry on your skin and clothes, making them stiff and crunchy.
This is Laguna Piedra (rocky lake), a very salt-dense lake that makes you float on top of the water.
I think it was one of the weirdest things we’ve experienced, and we couldn’t help but laugh pretty much the whole time. It was a lot of fun though, and I highly recommend it.
This is Laguna Cejar (“the floating lake”). The lumpy salt mounds that surround it crunch a little beneath your feet as you walk through them, and it feels sort of like walking through densely packed snow.
We got on our tour bus again and drove out to a pair of swimming holes to take some photos and walk around.
We finished our tour out in the middle of the salt flats, surrounded by mountains that were being covered in the warm light of the setting sun.
We couldn’t get over how weird it was to walk around in the snow-like salt-covered desert.
As the sun began to set over the horizon our tour group enjoyed some snacks, juice, and pisco sour, and talked about where they were from and what tours they had gone on.
The final day we rented some bikes in town and rode out to Valle de la Luna (“Valley of the Moon”).
On our way out of town a dog, whom we started calling “Sal” (salt), followed us. He ran alongside us as we rode, and stopped to rest with us when we needed a break. We were worried about him because it was so hot out, and we ended up riding for about 20km, but we made sure to give him water whenever we stopped. He turned out to be a very nice friend.
The landscapes we saw there were even more mars-like, and really quite amazing.
The scenery was overwhelming expansive, and we really felt very tiny in comparison to giant dunes and rocks that surrounded us.
Lindsay rests in a natural chair before we head off to explore some caverns.
Sal led the way.
The caverns offered a much appreciated cold and shady shelter, so we took advantage of it.
We rode back into town, Sal still trotting by our side, but clearly tired, thirsty, and hungry. When we got back the first the we did was stop at a tienda and pick up some dog food so we could feed Sal. We gave him his food and some more water, and then as he was preoccupied with eating we quietly left to return out bikes. We were afraid that he would continue to follow us and make it even harder to leave when the time came.
We had a really great time in San Pedro, and definitely recommend visiting if you’re in Chile, but I’m glad we made it a short stay. We were there for four days, which seemed to be the perfect amount of time to thoroughly explore the town as well as go on a good amount of tours.