San Pedro de Atacama
The Atacama Desert. To some, it’s the driest place on earth. To others, a stargazer’s junction. To me, it’s Mars. It looks so much like it! Not that I’ve been to Mars already. But my imagination has and I think Mars is a perfect description to Atacama Desert.
About 2,400m high in the Antofagasta region of Chile is the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. I went here a few days after entering the country from the north. Took an overnight bus (Turbus) which was supposed to take 12 hours from Arica but mine took longer. At some point in this 12+ hour journey the attendant took my passport and I think he said something about an inspection but I didn’t quite understand a lot of Spanish then. He did give it back though, the next day after the said inspection, but not after I asked him many many times about it. The inspection was pretty much straightforward save for food which has strict rules. Chile is dog-sniffing serious about this and some people end up being fined. By morning we’re near San Pedro and when I looked out the window I was convinced that I will never say no to NASA if they asked me to go to Mars. Let me say that again – hello NASA, I’m ready for Mars.
While the town is pretty small, it makes up for popularity. Throngs of outsiders busy themselves with the idea of desert cycling, sandboarding, stargazing parties, archaeological tours, and a visit to a salar, laguna or geyser. It’s very touristic and expensive but it’s kinda cute.
Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley. Another cosmic reference in Atacama but it’s really otherworldly out there.
A vast land of sand and salt formation caused by wind and water coming from surrounding mountains. The valley’s landscape is so extraordinary that it has become well visited.
As I’m not keen on biking from San Pedro, I took a guided tour with a friend from one of the many shops in town. It was less than ch$10,000 with haggling if I remember right, excluding the ch$2,000 park ticket. We started around 4pm and went on until after sunset.
These elements are actually alive. If you take the time to just quiet down and listen, you will hear the forming and unforming or the breathing they make.
We were led through canyons, caverns, and slopes of salt and sand in red hue. How did all of these happen, I kept asking myself quietly as I followed everyone.
The formation on the right is called Tres Marias and the one on the left is for your imagination.
The guide let us wander for some time but there were areas that were off limits. Even if I don’t understand much Spanish I think the message is fairly obvious.
Now this isn’t called the driest place in the world for nothing. The air really felt dry and the sun as if it was on your back. You should have water at the least. After sunset though you’ll need a jacket for the cold.
Sunsets in Valle de la Luna are magical. But turning around from it was my favorite. A palette of pink, purple, and blue with the moonrise was all it took. The moon in the picture below was the beginning stage of the Supermoon. Later in the evening we were out again to watch it turn blood-red.
Tip: San Pedro de Atacama is close to Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flats. Many travelers go from one to the other by signing up on the many tour operators in both San Pedro and Uyuni.