The bus left La Serena at 4pm and i watched the views on the journey until the sun set. I’m not a great sleeper on overnight busses and I avoid them as much as I can so watched Netflix into the night finishing La Casa del Papel. I awoke early and confused to see the sun rise across the desert.
The bus arrived in San Pedro and my hostel had been kind enough to offer me breakfast. It’s the best one I’ve had in four months with pancakes, fruit, eggs, bread and a whole buffet. I couldn’t check in until 12 so they let me use a shower and I headed into town for the free tour at 10am. This time there were just two English speakers on the tour but it was good to get an understanding of the town and it’s history. It’s now mostly a tourist town but people have lived here for thousands of years before being conquered by the Incas, the Spanish, the Chilean government amber and finally the tourists.
I returned to the hostel and spoke with a few people about hiring a car, which never really go off the ground. I spent the afternoon with Tamasin, who lives down the road from me in London, and was being as indecisive as I was. She had been here a week already and I wanted to do everything but couldn’t work out how. She showed me the amazing French bakery in town and suggested that we hire bikes the following day and see The Devils Gorge. By the end of the day a few others from the hostel had decided to join us and I was happy that one day at least was sorted.
That night we went to the cheapest and arguably best bar in town, it played rock music after all and drank too much ale. Luckily the bars all close at midnight so when I crawled into my top bunk it wasn’t too late!
The next day I had an easy day and started trying to plan my week before the set off on the bike ride in the afternoon. I then received a message from Melodie, from Adela Luna, as she and Romain were in town and they were hiring a car with their friends Lucy and Marine. That worked out really well for me and as I wanted to see everything I tagged along and let them set the agenda.
At midday we went to one of the bike hire places in town, there are many, and hired some really state of the art bikes. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a new bike so for me they were pretty special. I was given a luminous yellow helmet and a yellow jacket and I think I looked amazing.
Quebrada del Diablo (Devil’s Throat Gorge)
Five of us cycled north through the town towards the gorge. It’s not a long ride and you can easily do this yourself in an afternoon. Everything is marked on Maps.Me so you don’t need a tour. I later met another guy who cycled both the Valle de Marte and this valley in one day so if you are a proficient cyclist. Again all the routes are on Maps.Me.
There are a couple of streams to cross , the first had a decent bridge and the second has more stepping stones. We didn’t see them to begin with so I just trundled thought the stream with the bike. Not me in the picture.
The road to the valey is fairly easy but there are a few sandy parts. When you arrive you must pay a 2000 peso entry fee but that buys you a map and a quick explanation as to what you can see. Ignore the times they give you as we cycled slowly and still beat all of the times by a long long way.
Tamsain and her Brazilian friend wanted to see the tunnel as had done this cycle before so we split up at the cross roads and I headed to the gorge with the rest of the party-I’m so bad but I can’t remember their names! Upon reaching the gorge we saw there were lots of people cycling all dressed in red and found out it was some kind of Coca-Cola event which they were filming so I might end up in a Latin American advert one day.
As we cycled through the gorge i felt like i was on an Indiana Jones set.
We soon reached the end of the gorge and ended up having a really interesting conservation about our disposable society and how it’s harming the environment. We all agreed that it was a randomly heavy conservation to have in such a beautiful place. I think the Coca-Cola riders induced this.
We headed back down the gorge as there were some other things in the valley we wanted to see. This time it was much easier as I hadn’t noticed that riding here we were on a steady incline the entire time so now it was all down hill.
When we reached the end of the gorge the American girl had to head back to catch her flight so me and the British girl from Bristol (I’m so embarrassingly bad with names) headed to the next stop an Archeological site. I’m not sure what is was called or what was there but it did offer some beautiful views of the valley. It was a bit of a steep climb to get there but worth it.
I was struggling to take photos so I took off my helmet and in comedy fashion as I put it down on the slope it started to roll down the very steep hill. Both myself and my new friend failed to stop it and everyone found it very funny. I was writing it off when someone suggested it would be easy for me to retrieve it. I want so sure but didn’t want to pay a fine or leave it in the desert so I climbed down some steep slopes. Followed a dry steam bed and retrieved it!
We were told it was only another 1.8k to the little church, that you might be able to see in the back of some of the above photos, so we decided to go as it’s really quick on a bike. There was a really pretty tiny white church in the middle of nowhere which seems typical for this region but sadly as it was closed we were unable to go inside.
As we cycled back and again realised we were cycling downhill that explained why I felt so tired on the way to the church. We reached the turnoff to the tunnel, which forms part of the old road that went to Calama but has not been used since the 50s. We decided to give it a go and started cycling up the hill before realising it was too steep and pushing the bikes up the hill.
The sin was setting and we wanted to get back before it was dark but the scenery was beautiful so we kept pushing on around each corner until we saw the tunnel.
Afterwards it only seemed polite to cycle through. I underestimated how dark it would be especially as I was still wearing my sunglasses. But we made it to the other side and found that we were in the Valle de Marte.
Afterwards we could enjoy the long ride down the steal hill and made it back before the sunset where we saw the moon in all its glory.
I didn’t realise how hot it was that afternoon and how much the sun had taken out of me so I had to lie down with a headache and i had an early night ready for the next day as I was meeting the guys to pick up the car at 8:30.
Valle del Arcoíris
Our first stop in the car was Valle del Arcoíris a valley made up of different colour rocks. It’s actually a good thing to do on your second day as at an elevation of 3000 metres it allows you to become acclimatised to the altitude. It’s about an hour drive from San Pedro and when we got out the car I could feel the extra chill in the air and the altitude when walking. On the way we made friends with some llamas.
And the drive through the valleys to get there is also very pretty.
Once we arrived we were in a really dry valley full of different colour rocks jutting our at different angles. There is a dry river bed running along the valley and we went for a short walk.
On the way out of the valley we saw some more llamas in the road.
Afterwards we went to Yerbas Buenas which is a place where there are ancient paintings on the rocks. It’s quite amazing to see how they have been preserved in the desert.
We headed back to San Pedro for a quick break and then to the lakes to visit the sunset. There are three lakes in the area to the south of the town. Laguna Cejar, Ojos de Salar and Laguna Tebinquinche. Laguna Cejar is one that you can swim in for the price of 15000 pesos. It’s really salty so you float but we had been told there were some other less healthy things in the water and opted to skip it.
Ojos de Salar
A little further along the same road are two small pools with beauty blue water and the volcano in the background. A dog was running around and at one moment I thought he would done what any dog does when it sees water and jump in. Luckily this guy had some sense as it wouldn’t be so easy for them to get out again!
Then it was on to the next Laguna to watch the sunset. This will set you back 3000 pesos but it’s worth it to watch the sunset as we did.
There was sadly only one flamingo and you have to stick to the pases so that the landscape is not destroyed by humans but there are some really good viewpoints.
And here are the views from the side of the lake as the sun goes down. The reflections in the water are something else.
Then we settled in to watch the sun set.
And took some pictures of me.
And Melodie and Romain.
And as it became dark we drove back to San Pedro just in time to see the moon rise over the Andes.
Geyser del Tatio
The next morning i had a wake up call of 4am. It was lay as I was so tired I went to bed around 9pm but it’s still an early and cold awakening. The geysers are up at around 4000 metres in altitude and at this time in the day it’s cold. At that altitude it’s always cold. So cold that all the cats windows froze on the 90minute dice there. The reason that it is good to go early is that during the sunrise the geysers are at their most active. There is some science that I am unaware of but all I can say is that it’s one of the coldest places I’ve visited in my entire life. But it was beautiful.
And then here is the gang and some pictures of me.
The others decided to check out the thermal springs but i was too cold and had a little sleep in the car. When I awoke all the other tours had left and we were treated to some wildlife who must have waited until the Valley was empty. It was great as we had the entire pace to ourselves and some four legged friends.
We then set a slow pace back to town stopping at some interesting places. Firstly some mountain shots.
Then we saw an ostrich.
And we passed by a river with lots of wildlife.
And a frozen stream
A small church
And more flamingos at a lake
And then the view of the dessert valley from 4000 metres.
After some well deserved rest we headed to a viewpoint over the Valle de la Luna to drink some wine and watch the sun set.
And time for another photo shoot of me.
We had another 4am start to watch the sunrise over Laguna Chaxa. This is where the flamingos come to feed but they leave as the sun rises so we wanted to get there early. And early we did. Too early in fact as the reserve didn’t open until 7am. It was a simple 1 hour wait in the freezing cold car but it paid off as I got to see so many flamingos in all their glory.
Valle de la Luna
In the afternoon we returned to the Valle de la Luna to see if properly this time. Apparently it’s so like the moon that NASA uses it to test. Our firststop was a set of caves that gets so tight you have to crawl through the spaces. It was really fun and it definitely wouldn’t pass UK health and safety standards.
The next stop was some rocks that look like things. one is the Virgin Mary but I preferred the dinosaur rock.
We drove though the valley to a view point and took some more shots.
And then went to the spot to watch the sun set.
Even all the way up here here there were dogs.
On the Friday i decided to relax ahead of my Red Rocks tour the following day. It was another early start as we have many things to see. First in the agenda was Laguna Chaxa. As I had already seen this I didn’t take any more photos and this time there were very few flamingos so remember if you do go with a tour they arrive later than I did and there will not be so many birds.
Next up we drove to some red mountains situated at 4000 metres next to some salt lakes.
I’m going to have to cut this post short as it’s crashing with all the photos. But we saw some lakes.
And then took photos in the road before returning home. I had a rest day and then I was heading to Bolivia. There is so much more I’d like to write but I’ll have to update another time.