San Pedro de Atacama, the driest place on earth
We took our first Chilean overnight bus from La Serena to San Pedro de Atacama and we were pleasantly surprised once again with the service from Turbus, the buses were far superior than any we took in Brazil or Argentina, and slightly cheaper (we were even given a blanket!!).
After getting lost in this TINY town trying to find our hostel from the bus station we eventually found the very basic Sol Atacama Hostel directly behind the bus station, where we had originally begun our search. We opted for this hostel to save some money at this stop of our journey, knowing full well from the reviews it was not going to be amazing, but it was clean, the Wi-Fi worked and we managed to boil an egg and water for coffee when we needed it. We were in the middle of the desert and our thoughts were that this was the ideal place to go basic.
San Pedro de Atacama is one of the few small towns perched within the driest place on earth the Atacama desert, meaning the conditions are harsh. Whilst you adjust to the conditions and the high altitude you can be severely affected by headaches and breathing can be tough, you will get extremely dehydrated and need to be constantly drinking water, your skin will certainly feel the affects so all in all you need to be taking it easy at least for your first few days in this town. However it is great preparation if you intend on going North for the Salar de Uyuni salt flat tour where conditions are even harsher.
We had some delicious food in San Pedro, there was plenty of vegetarian and vegan food on offer and we even spotted almond milk on one occasion, we ended up frequenting the same local eatery three times as the food was fantastic and prices even better.
Visiting San Pedro is all about two things, visiting the surrounding sights of the town and beginning your Salar de Uyuni tour which begins in San Pedro and ends in the town of Uyuni, taking 3 days/2 nights the mode of transport being seven seat Landcruisers, you can do this trip in either direction but this is a fantastic way of making your way into Bolivia or into Chile.
We did two tours from San Pedro before setting off on our Uyuni tour – we visited the El Tatio Geysers very early one morning and then visited the Laguna Cejar on another afternoon. There are PLENTY more options and about five dozen different tour companies to choose from when it comes to booking. To be honest they do range in price and if you are on a budget going with the cheapest when it comes to these short tours will probably do you fine. Your are visiting natural wonders, so paying more really is not going to get you more bang for your buck. Other tours to choose from are the Valle de Luna tour, Puritama Tour, Sand boarding tour, Salar de Tara, Valle del Arcoiris and much more.
The Geyser El Tatio tour begins with a 4:30am pickup as the geysers seem to be far more impressive before the sun in properly out, after a walk around the geysers we were served breakfast. The eggs had been boiled in the geysers, as well as the UHT milk for our coffee, it was very, very cold and as the sun began to warm us up it was time to strip off and take a dip in one of the thermal hot springs. What an experience, I felt quite relaxed following our swim – I think all the minerals in the water agreed with me.
The following day our Laguna Cejar tour kicked off at 3pm, we headed straight to the Laguna and jumped into the very salty water. Something we all learned about as children when it came to studying the dead sea, so much salt that you don’t even need to kick your legs – you can simply float about, but do end up with a slight white tinge once you hop out.
We then took off to the lake Tebenquinche, which is a water mirror that offers fantastic sunsets and beautiful photo opportunities. We were served pisco sours here along with a cute little array of snack foods by our tour guide, we really enjoyed this tour and probably rated it higher than the geyser tour being that we have seen our very own Kiwi geysers at home and that we were soon to see even more impressive ones on our Salar de Uyuni tour …. But that is for another day ..