Travel Spotlight: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

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Unexpected parade in celebration of Carnevale (and our arrival)

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

February 2016

Length of visit: 2.5 days

Introduction

San Pedro de Atacama is a town nestled next to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, which is a nature-lover’s dream.  After flying into Calama, we took a one-hour shuttle to San Pedro de Atacama, which was our base of operations for the two and a half days we were in northern Chile.  This area is action-packed and excursion-heavy, so be prepared for some lengthy descriptions ahead…

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Lodging: Takha Takha Hotel

We spent two nights at Takha Takha Hotel, and booked it primarily for its location right in the heart of San Pedro de Atacama – it’s close enough to walk to restaurants, and our tour shop, and was economical to boot.  We booked a private room, and it was small, but exactly what we needed, with a small, clean private bath and beds.  There were some lovely outdoor seating and dining areas, and a desert garden.  The wifi here was intermittent because of the high winds in the area, but that can be expected at any guest house in the area.  In addition to standard rooms, the hotel has superior rooms (more traditional hotel rooms), rooms with shared baths, and camping.  All in all, it was a great base of operations, and it didn’t break the bank.

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Can’t Miss Sights, Tours, and Experiences

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+ We booked our three major tours through Cosmo Andiono Expeditions, and it was absolutely outstanding.  From the moment that we emailed them asking for information about their tours, and how they would work with our travel plans, they were professional and courteous.  We did three tours – Valle de la Luna, National Reserve “Los Flamencos,” and Tatio, and our guides and driver were consistently excellent, providing great information in English, and moving us from place to place safely.  As an added bonus, we had meals on some of our tours, and they were always great quality, with options for L, who is a vegetarian.  Tour groups are small, with 8-14 people, and the transport was comfortable. This outfit is neither the least nor the most inexpensive, and they knocked everything out of the park. I would gladly recommend them to any of my friends or family.

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+ Valle de la Luna Tour – This half-day tour was somewhat physical, but such a great introduction to the Atacama Desert.  We had guided walks through the Cordillera de la Sal, then moved on to the Valle de la Muerte, where we climbed down a great dune and learned about the significance of the area.  We visited the Canyon of the Devil, with its red rocks reaching far overhead and bicylclists speeding through.  Finally, we finished at the Valle de la Luna where we watched the sunset.  Each experience was special and magical, and Cosmo Andino provided an excellent tour.  You can’t miss any of these sights.

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+ National Reserve “Los Flamencos” Tour – Another tour that we planned through Cosmo Andino, this one lasted pretty much all day.  It started on the vast expanses of mineral-rich desert before moving into the lake populated by magnificent Andean Flamingos.  Next, we moved to some of the Antiplano lakes and their windy, rocky shores.  We visited two more lakes, Miscanti and Miniques, both of which are frequented by vicunas and other wildlife before a hearty lunch, and stop at a small town near San Pedro de Atacama, and a drop back in town.  We had ample time at each location, and the guide was integral in helping us to understand the significance of the places we were visiting.

+ Tatio Geysers – This half-day tour (again with Cosmo Andino) started very early in the morning, and began at the Tatio Geyser field, the highest-altitude field in the southern hemisphere.  We watched steam come off of the geysers as the sun came up, then walked around the various pools with our guides as they explained the nuances of the landscape and its geologic history. After a hot breakfast, we headed to a hidden hot spring in the mountains feeding into a stream for people to take a dip in, but also to see some wildlife, including more vicunas and several viscachas.  Finally, we finished in a valley with cacti that were more than 500 years old.  There was so much to do and see – it was incredible.

+ San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations – In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that we could not go on our tour with Space Obs because we happened to visit northern Chile during the only time of year that they get intermittent cloud cover.  This particular experience has outstanding reviews, and I can personally say that everyone we dealt with was courteous and professional, and they had no qualms about refunding our money.  If you can do this, please do so, and tell me about it 🙂

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Overall

While I was initially apprehensive about visiting the Atacama Desert, it ended up being one of my favorite parts of our trip.  The experience was otherworldly, and unlike anything I have ever seen before.  I sometimes forget how much I enjoy witnessing nature in its profound beauty, and this was a great reminder.  If you go to Chile, please do yourself a favor and spend time here.

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