Monday, 18 November 2013

San Pedro de Atacama

This place has to be the most expensive place in South America. Don't get me wrong it is a great place and there are some amazing things to see, but when you can get a very basic double room with shared bathroom for £58 here and a more superior room in the nations capital for £28 a night, something is very wrong. We had to watch our spending carefully here as everything is almost twice the price of Santiago, and about triple the price of Bolivia (water is £1 for 1.5 litres whereas in Bolivia it is 30 pence for the same size bottle). The restaurants are about £8 for a sandwich, compared to spending £8 on a full steak dinner for the two of us, with beer in Sucre. The food is of better quality than Bolivia though.

We arrived after a 2 day transfer from Uyuni in Bolivia, up at 4.30 am with probably the grumpiest driver in all of South America, and then arriving at the Chilean border to find (surprise, surprise) the border staff were on strike. A strike in South America? Unheard of! (Please excuse our sarcasm).

San Pedro (or San Perro as one of our tour guides called it, due to the high number of stray dogs in the town) is a small border town at the north east of Chile. It is the main base of tours to the Atacama desert. We took 2 tours, one to the salt pools and another to the luna valley. Both tours were with Cosmo Andino tours and were very good. Interestingly the first tour with our brilliant guide who did not speak English was a more enjoyable tour than then one with the English speaking guide!

Running the dunes
We spent 2 nights in San Pedro, our hostel was great, a little place with 5 rooms 15 minutes walk from downtown, with free bikes and a brilliant breakfast - with home made bread, it was a bit like soda bread with grains through it. The cleaner/cook Elizabeth was lovely and helpful and carried her English/Spanish dictionary around which was sweet, she wanted to learn more English, so our conversations were with broken Spanish and English.

The first tour was out to the salt springs, where you really struggle to get your body down into the water, you practically float on the top! We spent about an hour in the water but as the salt gets into wounds, and we still had mosquito bite marks it was a bit stingy, but good fun trying all the different positions to float in.
Our guide Ivan then drove us to the 'eyes' of the Atacama - 2 very deep fresh, but salty, water pools in the desert which are about 600m deep. Then he took us to a salt lake, one with water, and we drank Pisco Sours while watching the amazing sunset.
Amazing Sunset

The next day we had an afternoon tour of Dead Valley and the Luna Valley. This was a larger tour group in a bigger bus. The guide was great, but just didn't have the personality like Ivan had. We did a lot more walking on this one, but it was nice to walk through the rock formations and sandy valleys - you could hear the sand cracking with movement, one section was a very steep sand dune we had to run down - Angel did it at such speed he was really enjoying himself, straight down with the sand coming up to the knees with each step. Brilliant fun.

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