A quick stop at a customs office just outside San Pedro de Atacama and we were now officially back in Chile. I’m not entirely sure at what moment we officially left Argentina (no signs) but the scenery on the drive from Salta was beautiful. At our highest point we reached close to 4000m before descending back down the mountain range and arriving in San Pedro de Atacama where we were still at 2,438m above sea level.
As we walked the dusty streets of San Pedro de Atacama the air was dry and it took a moment to catch our breath. The Atacama Desert is considered the most arid desert in the world and we guzzled down water like it was going out of fashion. The whole town blends in to its vast surroundings – white and sand-coloured buildings line the streets with roofs made of clay and hay. Stepping inside the storefronts it is quite the contrast with various textiles and souvenirs of the brightest colours filling the buildings.We had a 4:00am start on our second morning with a visit to Tatio Geysers, the highest geyser field in the world at 4320m above sea level. With temperatures below zero at dawn, you can see the flow of vapor from the geysers, reaching as high as 10 metres! We had been warned of how cold it could be and dressed accordingly – I had 3 pairs of pants and about 5 layers on top however as we stepped out of the bus and began walking around the geysers we were all still frozen to the bone!We huddled around the geysers, watching them bubble away and catching just a little relief from the cold as the warm vapors sizzled out. As the sun rose it began to get warmer and we continued exploring the geyser field. At one stage, we decided to jump for a photo only to realize that exerting that kind of energy at over 4000m above sea level makes you all kinds of dizzy and we definitely didn’t try that again! With the darkness fading it was time for breakfast and we enjoyed hard boiled eggs and coffee – heated straight from the geysers! At first no one was eating their eggs, rather using them as a device to thaw out their frozen fingers.We braved the cold and stripped down to our bathers for a quick swim in a geyser fed pool before continuing to Machuca, a small, almost uninhabited town located near the geysers. We had a quick look around and tried some llama kebabs which were surprisingly quite tasty! The town is close to a small wetland area where families of flamingoes, ducks and seagulls live, as well as the odd llama or two who always manage to entertain me (yes, from eating them to watching them)!The Atacama region being a desert, has next to no rainfall (or clouds) making it great conditions for stargazing. We went on a night trip to an observatory located out from the town where our guide showed us various constellations in the sky with his incredibly strong (and illegal) laser. After our introduction to the millions of objects in the sky, we were left with time to view various points through a number of different telescopes. We took photos of the moon through one telescope and through another we could see Saturn which looked amazing with its rings (I tried to get a photo of that but it wasn’t as easy)!Finishing off our time in the Atacama Desert we took a half day trip to another “Valle de la Luna” (Valley of the Moon). The various rock formations date back up to 22 million years and with the absence of any animals or vegetation, it really does feel like you are on another planet. We continued through the valley, stopping to look at rock formations such as the Three Marias and the Dinosaur head (our favourite). We walked past the Amphitheatre rock formation before climbing a hill to watch the rocks change colours as the sun set. We really enjoyed the little town, it’s like no town we’d ever seen before. Not necessarily pretty, but unique – especially when compared to the many colonial cities we had visited so far.
You can see more photos from San Pedro de Atacama here.