We had originally intended to spend a few weeks travelling through Chile from Santiago to the North but since we ended up in the northwest of Argentina we only ended up visiting one place, right at the top of Chile: San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro is a proper tourist town in the middle of the Atacama desert. It has one of the most amazing backdrops I have ever seen – a giant snowcapped volcano – but, other than that, the town is just a collection of craft shops, hotels, restaurants and tour agents. The exciting things about San Pedro is all the amazing things you can see and do from this base.
We ended up staying 5 nights in San Pedro. This gave us plenty of time to do tours, relax (cause travelling for 4 months is hard work) and acclimatise a bit to the altitude before we head into the Andes.
The first tour we took was the Valle de la Luna (moon valley) tour. We did this on our first afternoon because we were anxious to see the desert and this seemed our best chance.
The tour started at ‘Cayote rock’ (named after the coyote/road runner cartoon) overlooking the Valle de la Luna. I think you’re supposed to take the photo so that it looks like the person is suspended on a single rock high above the valley but I didn’t quite get it.
We then went to see the death valley (it was actually supposed to be called mars valley – because it is red – but the words for mars and death sound similar in Spanish and death valley has stuck.) On the way back we were hit by strong winds sweeping sand in our faces. Chris did well to avoid it! I need to learn from his adventuring skills. At least we can say that we have survived a proper desert storm. (I’m sure that’s as bad as it gets….)
We then went into Valle de la Luna proper. It was a very odd landscape (hence the name). Our lovely guide, Carolina, assured us that Neil Armstrong never went anywhere near the moon and was actually just in the Atacama desert. In true South American style, our tour had to include some rocks named after things. This time we went to the ‘Tres Marias’ – three rocks that are apparently Mary in different poses. As our guide put it Necesita una imaginación. Sadly, we cannot say whether we could visualise all 3 Marias because a British tourist had (some time ago, not Chris) knocked down one of the Marias while posing for a photo. The remaining two are still a key part of this desert tour.
The highlight of the excursion was climbing a sand dune in the desert to watch the sun set and then watch the full moon rise over the moon valley (how appropriate!)