The Atacama Desert is a great destination if you are looking for an escape to a warmer climate and to see new and other worldly scenery. The desert town of San Pedro de Atacama situated in Northern Chile is an oasis in what is one of the driest deserts on earth and has become a popular tourist destination with many desert tours on offer.
I went with my sister in February of this year, be warned this is not the best time of the year due to the fact that it is slap bang in the middle of the Altiplano (high plains) Winter which runs from December to March. This didn’t impact us too much, the desert was still hot in the day and cold at night, however we did get a couple of hours of rain every afternoon. This made some of the roads unusable and prevented us from seeing some sites.
To get there we flew from Buenos Aires to Santiago to Calama, from Calama we took a shuttle bus to San Pedro which took us an hour and a half. The journey was easy and there are daily flights from Santiago to Calama. You can also exit or enter via Bolivia or Argentina by car or bus but we only had a week there so we didn’t want to spend a lot of time travelling.
Tourism is the main industry in San Pedro de Atacama, for this reason you will find accommodation and tour options to suit every budget.
Our first excursion was to the Moon Valley (Valle de La Luna). Not surprising it was given this name due to its moon like appearance. Here we climbed up sand dunes, around rock formations and enjoyed the expansive desert views. We then finished up watching the sun set over the valley with a glass of pisco and an empanada. It was a pretty great first day in the desert.
The following day we rose bright and early to join a tour group driving to the high plain lagoons which sit at an altitude of around 4200m. I stupidly wasn’t so prepared for the drop in temperature, I could have done with a thicker jacket. So with the cold, the sudden increase in altitude and the fact that we had travelled 2 hours with the llama poo on my shoe (long story), Iwas starting to feel a bit crappy as we arrived at the lakes. Luckily within 20 minutes of arriving our lovely tour guide had pulled together a breakfast of scrambled eggs with coffee. If visiting this area I would strongly recommend bringing lots of warm clothes, and not standing in llama poo.
The tour we took covered the volcanic area of Miñiques where the Miscanti Lake, Miñiques Lake and the Miscanti Volcano are found. The lakes are a beautiful deep blue colour and make for some lovely photo taking. The breakfast was covered in the price of the tour and was very welcome.
We didn’t have much of a plan before arriving in San Pedro but we knew we wanted to go sand boarding. I have never even tried snowboarding so as we trudged to the top of the sand dune I began to get nervous. There was not a lot of time for nerves however as we were soon at the top of the dune with the instructor showing us how it was done. He then let us go, one by one. Soon after pushing off I tumbled over head first, this was a good thing because the sand was so soft and fluffy and my fear of falling instantly evaporated (the sand in my underwear was the bad thing). I enjoyed it so much I was soon rushing up that dune to do it all over again and tumble some more.
The day after the sand- boarding our muscles were aching a little so we thought it was the best time to go to the puritama hot springs. The springs are also at a high altitude and there are eight separate pools and they are have a minor temperature difference. I was once more rather cold when I arrived at the springs so I gladly jumped into the springs. We had organised transport there and back but there were some groups there with branded bathrobes, glasses of champagne and a group photographer. I found that to be the case with all of the tour options in Atacama, there was something for all budgets.
There were more tours and excursions that we couldn’t have done but having only five days there were didn’t want to book up every last moment. We also left time for sunbathing, reading and stargazing before we both headed back to work in Buenos Aires and my sister in London.