San Pedro de Atacama

by Hazal Avcı  from Turkey

I have been traveling for five months in South America. One of the most interested thing that I saw on this journeywas Atacama Desert. Atacama Desert covers the half of Chile, the south of Peru and Bolivia. So this means it is HUGE! I was expecting that it is that big and got shocked when I arrived.

Atacama is not like Arabian ones. The earth is dry. It is not just sand as you imagine. It is full of mineral structures. This mineral reserves make possible that a lot of special animals are living in Atacama. So it has a lot of attractions to visit. The closest town to attractions is San Pedro de Atacama. It is a touristic town that is full of travel agencies and hostels. To visit Atacama you have to go to San Pedro de Atacama.

This is what you do. Everyday you pick a tour and visit one of the attractions. Because every attraction is far away from town. So it is almost impossible to go there on your own. There are people renting a car and visiting on their own. You can rent a bike in the town, too. But it is really hot to ride a bike. Walking? Forget it immediately!

Atacama Desert is the one of the most expensive thing to visit in South America. The other one is Machu Picchu. Every tour is like 30 USD. Accommodation is so expensive. Because here there is no low season. Every month it is full of tourists. Food is expensive, too. Because you are in the middle of desert. Everything is coming from south of Chile. Because of the logistical cost, prices are high.

In addition to that, the weather is killing you. Atacama is the driest desert in the world. So prepare yourself for nose bleeding. You can use some medicine for this. But in some tours, the altitude is really high and it effects you bad. Don’t worry. I will explain them all.

I am carrying a tent with me. So in San Pedro, I wanted to camp. There are a lot of campings in the town. But some of them have wifi. Some of them don’t even have water. If you want to camp as me, I can suggest you mine. It is called Sol Naciente and it had wifi and water. While I was going to Atacama, I met a guy names Jorge on the road. We arrived together to San Pedro. He was going to meet his friend. But he had some connection problem and couldn’t call her. So we started to look for my camping. While we were looking for camping, a jeep stopped by and a girl jumped out. She was the friend of Jorge. Coincidence! They told us they were going to drink beers in the desert. They invited us and said we could find the place later. This is how I met with Ojos Del Salar.

Ojos Del Salar by Hazal Avci

Ojos Del Salar is two meteor holes. These holes is full of sweet water. And it is next to Laguna de Cejar. We bought our beers and hit the road. We decided to jump in to the lake when we arrived. I was thinking that I should have worn my bikinis. While I was thinking this, everyone took off the cloths and jumped. I was like “Noooo!” They went out and said they would jump again with me. So like a youth movie, we jumped together with screams.

After going out from lake, it wasn’t fun. Because in the desert, the weather is really cold at night. We changed our cloths, grabbed a beer and sat near the lake. Everyone was silent, just enjoying the moment and pinky sky. After a beer, we went back to the town.

When we were back, we couldn’t find my camping. We found another camping for one night. On my first day, I stayed in the town. Because I was feeling bad because of the hot weather. The first camping that I stayed was horrible. No water. No wifi. I found a hostel for my second night. But it was so expensive. So finally I found a camping named Sol Naciente with water and wifi. I paid for tent 6000 CLP.

After finding a place to stay, I made a plan for tours and chose Valle De La Luna for my first tour.

Valle de La Luna by Hazal Avci

Thanks to Jorge’s friend, I got discount for my tours. But generally each tour is like 20.000 CLP. Valle De La Luna is called like that. Because the man discovered it thought its surface looks like Moon’s.

Lots of imagination.

At first you are visiting Tres Marias. Later you’re going to amphitheatre. After it’s climbing time. You are seeing the biggest dune of Atacama. Finally you’re entering a long cave. The tour lasts 3 hours. Seeing all these things is really different. Everything seems unreal.

When I came back from Valle De La Luna, I bought my tour for Tatio Geysers. The most intense time of geysers is very early morning. So you have to wake up at 4:00 am. To go to where geysers are takes two hours. The altitude is almost 4500 meters.

Geyser de Tatio by Hazal Avci

The degree of hot water of geysers is 86 celsius. In the morning, the weather is freezing in the top. After visiting geysers, all tours have breakfast in the same place.

After you’re going to a thermal pool. I was dreaming to swim there. But the altitude effected me so bad. I couldn’t breath. My hearth was beating like crazy. So I stayed at the van. Our driver tried to make coca tea for me. Local people chew coca leaves for altitude here. But it doesn’t help me so much.

After thermal pool, you are starting to go down. So we started to go down to see the special animals of Atacama. After safari time, we arrived Machuca. It is a small town where only 8 families live. Their only income is tourism. You can eat llama meat there or buy some stuff. After this town, we came back to
San Pedro.

On my last night, there was full moon. I thought to do sand boarding. Because if there is full moon, they do the tour at night. But later I didn’t want to waste my money. It was a good decision. Because the local guys from hostel were going to party in the desert. So I joined them. It was wonderful.

On my last day, it rained like cat and dog. In the driest desert! For my chance. ☺

I was planning to go to Uyuni from there. There are 3 days tours for Uyuni from San Pedro. But they are really expensive. AGAIN! So I found a bus to Uyuni. I prepared my backpack again and said goodbye to Chile.

Fun facts about San Pedro:

  1. Dancing is forbidden in the town. There is not even one club in San Pedro.
  2. To drink alcohol in San Pedro, you should eat something with it.

 

If you don’t obey the rules, you have to pay to the police. But why? Because since the 60’s Atacama is the most visited place by hippies and backpackers. They had problems with them because of alcohol. The municipality decided to ban it. On the other hand, alcohol is limited here as everything. So they want to control the consume. Because of that young people take their drinks and go to the middle of desert to have fun. Interesting but true!

Despite of all the hard conditions, if you ever get a chance to go to San Pedro de Atacama, go for it! It is a lifetime experience and you won’t regret about it.

 

Hope you’ll like Atacama as I enjoyed. Cheers!

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