- Valparaiso – San Pedro de Atacama
- Valle de la Luna
- Piedras Rojas and Lagoonas Altiplanacas
- Taito Geisers
Twenty five and a half hours after leaving Valparaiso, with only one stop at 16 hours when we physically forced ourselves off the bus, we finally arrived in the town of San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro is the main base for tourists and tours out in to the Atacama Desert; the driest desert in the world, at altitudes of 3200-5000m.
I lugged my things to Hostal Rural, where I was staying, and coincidentally where Floss, Letti and Willa from my Valparaiso hostel were all staying too. The evening was fairly unexciting due to our long bus journey so after a shower and dinner, everyone was in bed.
The next morning I got to see how cool this hostel actually was. There were hammocks all around, a ping pong table, little cubby holes for socialising, a chilled bar and a balcony area. Although it was a tad more expensive than any of my other hostels (due to San Pedro being a completely tourist town), it was worth the extra money.
My plan for the day was to go tour shopping. Literally any and every shop was a tour agency so the opportunity to bargain down prices was present. I’m not one for negotiating so well but cash was tight so it was important to do. After 6 or 7 visits to various agencies, I finally booked to do the Valle de la Luna sunset tour (Moon Valley), Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks) and Taito Geisers (Geysers) over the coming days.
The girls had a similar plan for the day which meant we were all hanging around the hostel at similar times and meant I got to have some hilarious conversations with them. All 3 were 19 and it really was like I’d stepped back to my freshers year and was reliving all these hilarious stories when I spoke to them. I don’t think I stopped laughing very much when in their company!
Come 4pm, us 4 girls, 3 other Irish girls from our hostel (Eileen, Cerrell and Caitlyn) and a few odd Spanish guys, hopped on a minibus out to the Moon Valley. It’s known as Moon Valley because of its topography and geology matching that of the moon. The minerals in the rocks, salts and lack of water are so representative of the moon environment that NASA regularly test space vehicles and perform research in the area. And I have to say, it really was like being on another planet:
Our girl heavy group made for some very funny, girly conversations along the way so that when we got to Sunset Point, everyone was in great spirits. We set up a little group seating location and watched the sunset over the Andes Mountains, along with a thousand other tourists (kind of spoiling the tranquility – especially the guy flying the drone). Nevertheless, it was still pretty spectacular.
That evening the girls had invited a few school friends over to our hostel for a make-shift dinner and drinks. They asked me to join them so I took my place and joined in with pre-uni chat, at times feeling my age, but mostly laughing at how they’d refer to last year as “back in the day”. There was a small food crisis in that their rice dish barely served 4 and some last minute shopping needed to be done! But eventually, we had a lovely meal of ginger and vegetable rice, salami and tomato pasta, salad and crisps, accompanied with a glass or two of red wine. A travellers cuisine to die for!
Knowing I had a 6am start for the Red Rocks tour the next day, I took myself off to bed about midnight, leaving the youth to it. It still didn’t make the early morning any easier but at least I wasn’t hungover. I was picked up from my hostel at 7am and whisked off (sadly, unromantically) in to the mountains.
The first few stops were out to the Lagoonas Altiplanacas some 120km from San Pedro, around 3800m altitude. Here we saw rabbits, alpacas and various Andean birds but I have to say that the most incredible animal I saw that day HAD to be wild flamingoes. I love a flamingo and it was so surreal to have them flying around us.
Following the lagoon stops and a lovely breakfast cooked in one of the local towns, we finally headed to the Piedras Rojas area. This is a beautifully turquoise lagoon set in amoungst a salt flat, with the red rocks surrounding the pools and a beautiful backdrop of the snow-topped mountains. The altitude here was 4000m.
The day ended with lunch back at the same restaurant we had been at for breakfast. I underestimated how meat-heavy this would be but the food was absolutely scrumptious! We had a feast of some kind of meat stew/broth followed by a sort of roast chicken and rice dish and accompanying salad. The desert had sure delivered food-wise so far.
I finally got back to the hostel at 6pm after an extremely long and tiring day, made even more tiring by the altitude. I didn’t have dinner considering the late lunch and had planned for a few drinks with the girls. However, either dodgy food or altitude sickness had other ideas for me and my 9pm “nap” soon turned in to a full 12 hour sleep!
For my third day in San Pedro, I chose to just chill out. In hindsight a great idea as I still wasn’t particularly well, but also it was great to just do not much for a day and know I wasn’t missing out on anything. I spent my morning laughing at the girls drunk stories from the previous night and then purchased some lunch supplies with Floss. Following lunch, we went for a wonder around the streets of San Pedro where the girls officially enrolled me in to their little group by buying me a matching necklace like theirs. Bless!
That afternoon, the girls caught up with some other school friends. One of those happened to be a cousin of The Knight’s. I straight away messaged Soph to tell her the good news that I was spending my afternoon with her cousin! We had coffee and read our books and chatted and generally mulled around the hostel but it was a nice day to end my time with these girls. I spent my evening chatting with Leesa and Michael from Oz, about anything and everything but I had to get to bed early as I had a 4.30am pick-up the next morning (!!!). I also had to say a sad, but fond, farewell to the lovely ladies who’d provided me with so much 19-year old me entertainment.
The odd thing about San Pedro tours is that they seem to occur at all hours of the night, rather than day. The guy on the bunk above me arrived home from his stargazing tour just 15 minutes before I was up for my geyser tour. At least no one gets angry about being woken up though, other than me when I wake up at the ungodly hour of 4am.
I slept my way up to the geysers since it was an hour and a half journey. We still arrived before dawn and got to see the sun rise through the steam of the hot springs and over the snowy mountain tops, which was quite beautiful. After wondering around the geyser field for some time, our tour guide had prepared breakfast for us which we ate overlooking the geothermal waters. I had underestimate just how cold it would be at 6.30am and 4500m high, but nothing that a cup of coffee couldn’t fix.
The next stop was to the geothermal pool that we could actually swim in. The prospect of warming up got me somewhat excited and I was first in that pool from my bus! Following mutual amusement at a very pasty, middle-aged, speedo-clad man waving hysterically at someone across the pool, I met Emma and her boyfriend from New Zealand, and spent the next 20 minutes chatting to them. My tour had many older people and couples on it so it was nice to have some time talking to people more my age.
The last few stops before coming back to San Pedro were at various protected wildlife spots, creeks and a tiny little town housing just 150 people. All in all, it had been a lovely morning, regardless of how tiring it was. Leesa and Michael were back at the hostel for lunch so I filled them in on my morning and cooked myself some food too. Ben, who I’d met in Valparaiso, was also kicking around the hostel so we had a bit of a chinwag before I settled down with my book for an hour or so that afternoon.
- Changing money in to Bolivianos
- Getting snacks and water for the tour
- Purchasing a woolly hat if it was going to be as cold as the geyser morning was!
As such, I packed up and got all my things together that night too and then set myself up in a hammock to watch a film. San Pedro had been the perfect place to relax and regain my health (although ironically I was quite ill here), and I genuinely loved the place.
So, 134 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and I’m feeling mighty relaxed, despite the early mornings and ready to continue the hiking!