Luckily for us, the end of our salt flats tour dropped us off at the Chilean border, so instead of heading back to Uyuni, we opted for a few days in Chile to relax after the trip. And boy am I glad we did – our first taste of Chile was wonderful, and I think we’re going to like the country a lot.
Our base for a few days was San Pedro de Atacama, in the heart of the Atacama desert, one of the world’s driest.
First impressions as we arrived mid morning was the change in temperature. Going from sleeping in ALL our clothes to a boiling desert in 1 hour is quite the change! We promptly headed to our hostel to change before finding our first Chilean meal and getting a sense of the town.
As we walked around the small town centre, I couldn’t help but feel we were on the set of an old western film, all was missing were the Cowboys. All single story buildings, flags everywhere, covered in sand, with huge volcanoes as backdrops, was quite magical. We also soon established we were back in the land of ‘menu del dias’ so after sussing out a few options, went for lunch in a beautiful courtyard. Second great impression – menu of the day here comes with wine! We are definitely going to like this country. The typical menu was a soup or salad, followed by a Milanese (basically a schnitzel), and a desert, quite basic but very tasty!
Needless to say our first day consisted of wine and sitting in the hammocks of our hotel with another menu del dia for dinner.
For our second (and last!) day in San Pedro we opted for another bike rental to take us to Valle de Luna, Moon Valley, which we were told was a particular highlight and very unique to Chile’s desert.
I’m not sure when we’ll learn, but cycling bikes in a desert isn’t a good idea. It’s bloody hot and hilly! It was around 20+ km round trip cycle of which we managed about 17 before I gave up cycling uphill in favour of my sanity. Plus the bikes were very very unpadded which meant very sore bums for a good few days. However what we did see of the valley was gorgeous and felt like something from the moon. We saw caves, huge dunes, natural amphitheaters, and very few other people.
The valley used to be water filled, similar to Uyuni salt flats, but evaporated and left a load of salt and lithium (this area apparently contains 30% of the world’s lithium).
We returned the bikes (early!) and had a few hours to kill before we were booked on to a star gazing tour at 9pm. The desert again is one of the best places for star gazing, it’s so dry and cloudless.
After a nice shower, the world’s most expensive laundry (washing clothes is certainly one of the hidden expenses of travelling, this load cost £15!) and yet another menu del dia (vegetable ceviche, yum!), we met with our group for the star gazing.
We bundled into a van that took us to a small plot of land containing a shack and 6 telescopes. What we thought we had signed up for was an evening lying on a sand dune watching stars, but what we got was a 1hr lecture in Spanglish on the universe and what we were about to see followed by searching for specific stars and planets through telescopes.
We could see Mars and Saturn so clearly, and could tell why they call it the red planet! We also saw the tarantula nebula and a large star cluster, and not to forget about 10 shooting stars!
I’d never seen as many stars as that evening, and so clearly, it was so magical! Needless to say when I told my dad about it, he said the Atacama desert is known for being a great place to star gaze.
After a warm up snack of biscuits and hot chocolate, we took pictures of the planets through the main telescope, can you tell what they are?:
Sadly, our San Pedro adventure ends there, as we were booked on a bus to Salta in Argentina for the next morning, but our first taster of Chile has been wonderful and we can’t wait to get back there later this month.
Bye for now x