Saturday, October 3, 2015

Memories from the Atacama desert, Chile

We're back to normality after a wonderful two week holiday in Chile in September 2015. In between spending time with family in Santiago we took the chance to explore San Pedro de Atacama and some of the stunning surrounding landscape. The flight from Santiago to Calama airport is just under two hours, from there its an hour by airport or hotel transfer to San Pedro. We were so excited to be visiting somewhere that neither of us had been before and the excitement grew as we wound our way across the desert highway.
Road to San Pedro
Our home for four nights was Hotel Cumbres, a great hotel just outside San Pedro, just a couple of minutes in the regular hotel transfer to the town centre or around a 15 minutes walk.

Hotel Cumbres
Our choice of hotel helped by Trip Advisor was spot on, the rooms are spread across the grounds of the hotel, they are spacious with the most enormous double bed we've ever seen and a luxurious bathroom with an inside and outside shower. The hotel has its own spa, outside swimming pool an a couple of outside heated jacuzzis. We chose half board and weren't disappointed enjoying the 'chefs suggestions' each night.

The town of San Pedro is very relaxed and to be honest you can see all that there is to see in a morning, there are plenty of shops selling local handcraft so you'll easily find some great souvenirs to take home with you. One tip, if you are planning to visit some of the higher altitude tours in the region it can be very cold. So pack for the cold, if you forget gloves and hats as we did you'll have no problem finding some in downtown San Pedro.

The amazing thing about spending time in San Pedro is that despite when we were there, the temperature being only between 9 and 14 degrees, it still felt warm. The Andes on one side and the mountains on the other side running by the pacific, keep clouds away allowing the sun to shine and making the sky at night something that has to be seen to be believed.

San Pedro is the base for exploring the Atacama region and there are a wide range of tour agencies scattered around the town offering the full range of tours that the region has on offer. We booked our initial tour to Laguna Chaxa through out hotel and stuck with them for the next couple of days as we were impressed with the organisation, the attention to detail and their focus on safety. If you're looking for a cheaper option, check out the agencies scattered around the town.

On the way to Laguna Chaxa we stopped off at the town of Toconao and its church. From there we drove into the heart of the Atacama salt flat to watch the flamingos. Fortunately when we arrived there were some flamingos, not many but there were some. Our guide Nicolas explained that the main Laguna is off limits to tourists and that were there are far more flamingos hidden away. 

The next day we chose the tour of the Lagunas Altiplanicas, the high plateau lakes, on this tour you'll need to wrap up well as you'll be at an altitude of 4,300 meters and it can get cold. Hats and gloves are highly recommended. You'll visit two lagoons at the foot of their respective volcanoes Miñiques and Miscanti. You'll also visit Piedras Rojas, a unique landscape where nature combines colours creating stunning views. This tour is a must, the views were like nothing we'd ever seen before, it was a truly memorable experience and hopefully our photos do it justice.

Our final trip was to Valle de la Luna (moon valley) which is around 20 minutes from San Pedro by car/bus and one of the area's most distinctive attractions. We spent some time walking in the Valle enjoying the scenery before hopping back on our van to be taken to a nearby viewpoint to enjoy
 the sunset with a cocktail and some delicious salmon from the south of Chile.

We both agreed that San Pedro de Atacama is a fantastic place to visit, we saw just a small fraction of the wonderful diverse landscape that you find in the Atacama and plan to go back to see more.

Hasta la próxima