Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Atacama Desert, Chile

Atacama Desert

After 3 incredible weeks in Bolivia, we moved on to our next adventure. Our trip to Chile was unusual. When we got on the bus in Uyuni, Bolivia, all seats were taken and many people were standing up on the aisle. The bus was jam-packed  and this was a trip for at least 8 hours. We have heard many stories about drunk drivers and wanted to make sure that our driver was not intoxicated. After talking to him for a couple of minutes, we were convinced that he was OK.

The challenging journey started at 4 am in the morning. The air-conditioning wasn’t working properly and there wasn’t enough oxygen for a bus full of people. We weren't able to open the windows either. At one stage, I noticed passengers sleeping on the aisles. It was something I never witnessed in my life.

Streets of San Pedro de Atacama

We reached the Bolivian border in the early morning. After getting our exit stamps, we were driven to an area between Bolivia and Chile. A no man’s land! We had to get off the bus and wait for another bus from Chile. It took more than an hour for the bus to arrive and we were already feeling agitated. The treatment at the Chilean border was a nightmare. Everybody had to get off the bus with their luggage and go through customs. There weren’t any X-ray machines, so they had to search each luggage by hand, which of course lasted more than an hour. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if there was only one bus. Unfortunately, there were 3 or 4 buses waiting in front of us already. It was a total disaster and we wasted 3 hours to cross the border. 

Incredible Landscapes of Atacama Desert

We arrived in Calama on the 8th of December 2013. It didn’t look like an interesting city, so we took a bus straight to San Pedro de Atacama. It is a small village mainly set up for the visitors of the Atacama Desert. Although it is touristy, we really liked the relaxed vibes in this unique place. 

We hadn’t reserved accommodation in Chile as we weren’t quite sure if we would stay in Calama. While walking around looking for a place to stay, we met a nice Spanish lady who advised us to stay at Hotel Quechua. It is a peaceful hotel with a shady environment. We had our own bungalow made of wood and were quite happy to be able to relax after a long 15 hour journey.

A crater lake

On our second day, we walked around in this relaxed town and organised 2 sightseeing tours for the following days. There are many agencies to investigate. After talking to a couple of people we booked our tours with a company called Corvatsch

The Salt Flats

The first tour was to the famous lake Cejar. It is about an hour drive from the town. With a salt percentage of 40%, Lake Cejar offers a unique experience where you can float effortlessly on the surface. It was a remarkable experience to float in the cold waters of this salty lake which is located in the middle of the Atacama Desert. After a 20 minute float, we witnessed the beauty of two other nearby lakes, one of them being a crater caused by a meteorite. It was surreal to see these lakes in one of the driest places on Earth.

The Valley of the Dead

The following day, we did a tour of the Valle de la Muerte (Valley of the Dead) and Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). We saw sand dunes, canyons, and incredible rock formations. We also had an excellent tour guide who provided invaluable information about the history of these places. I would highly recommend attending this tour if you are visiting the Atacama Desert.  

Valley of the Moon

After four days in San Pedro de Atacama, it was time for us to move on. If you are intending to visit Chile, you need to know that it is one of the most expensive countries in South America. The prices are similar to Europe. Therefore, we could afford to stay only four days. It was a shame that we weren’t able to discover more of Chile. At the same time, we were thrilled to explore one of the most intriguing countries in South America, Argentina!

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