Looking at how many desert areas we had already visited during our travels, we were not sure of how keen we were for making a stop at San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama Desert. We had crossed the Peru, Chile border by bus and were planning to make our way down Chile towards Santiago and further south, but unless we had the money to book a flight, this would have to be done by bus, which would be a lot longer of a journey. I looked at San Pedro as I had heard it is really beautiful, but I was also looking for a way to break up our journey a bit, particularly so we wouldn’t have to take a 30-hour bus trip from Arica to Santiago. So we booked our bus to the really small, really touristy town of San Pedro.
The Atacama Desert is a pretty unique place, being the driest desert in the world with very little plant life and pretty much no rainfall. Most people, myself (and NASA, who tested the Mars Rover here) included, like to compare it to the likes of Mars as it really feels like you are on another planet. We arrived and were quite disgusted at the heat as it hit us like a wave of volcanic air as we got off the bus. We were staying at a pretty rustic, but very cool hostel called Aji Verde, which kind of looked like a hippy camp made up in the middle of nowhere. We met some very cool and interesting people there too. As the town of San Pedro pretty much only exists for the heaps of tourists who make their way there, everything is rather expensive. We managed to find a variety of fruits and cooked most of our own meals to help with expenses. It took us an afternoon to recover from our long bus journey, but the next day we headed into town to see if there were any affordable tours we could do. We found a vegetarian restaurant with the help of Happy Cow and ate an incredible vegan lunch (one of my favourite meals) at Estrella Negra, a little Rastafarian restaurant. We then booked the cheapest tour, Valle de la Luna, which left at 4pm and meant we wouldn’t have to be out in the dry hot sun all day.
I am so happy we decided to spend a bit of money on the Valle De La Luna tour, which was really amazing. We got to explore some of the surrounding desert areas and the views were really fascinating. We could totally have been in a Star Wars film with the salt flats surrounding us, the rugged rocks contrasting next to smooth big sand dunes. During the tour, a minibus took us from one epic place to the next and the guide explained the history and geography. We got to look at volcanoes, went walking in a cave and hiked up a hill where we could see the Valle de la Luna (or Moon Valley). We got to watch the sun set and the soft light hit the orange rocks creating a scene so beautiful I wanted to stay there forever. Initially, I was not so amazed with the Atacama, but after seeing and experiencing what it really had to offer, I feel extremely fortunate that I had the chance to set my eyes on such a crazy and unique place.
Words and photos by Cara