Star-Gazing, Sand-Boarding and Geysers

Trip Start Apr 27, 2009
Trip End Apr 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hostal Campo Base

Flag of Chile  ,
Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'm out of practice at sleeping on the bus now but at least it was a relatively short journey to get back into the swing of it - only 10 hours!! It's funny how much my perception of a long journey has changed this year!! As the journey was overnight I didn't see a lot of the desert scenery but San Pedro is certainly one of the smallest and most remote places that I've been. The town itself was used in the past as a stopping point for farmers and tradesmen travelling to and from Argentina but today it is predominantly a tourist location. The buildings are made from adobe and the streets are unpaved and dusty but it's a quaint place to wander around. The main street is filled with tour companies and restaurants vying for your business and dozens of handicraft stores. There's no large supermarket, just a few small grocery stores and the prices are vastly inflated compared to other cities but they have the essentials.

There's a huge variety of day trips to do from San Pedro. I went on a tour out to the Valle de Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de los Muertes (Death Valley) to watch the sunset. The scenery is amazing, it's like being on another planet....or the moon (funnily enough!). We walked along the rim of a canyon in Death Valley then ran (well, sort of!) down a huge sand dune which was great fun. Afterwards we went back into Moon Valley to visit the 3 Marias which looks like a sculpture but has actually been formed by erosion of the clay and salt rocks by the wind and sand. It's kind of like one of those modern art pieces - you have to squint, turn your head to the side and use a fair amount of imagination to see the 3 women praying to God.....especially since a tourist apparently leaned on one of them and knocked her head off - oops! That one must have been Maria, Queen of Scots!! I was actually much more impressed with the feature next to them which looked like a dinosaur's head breaking out of the ground - it was cool. We also saw an old salt mine and the remains of a house that was built using bricks of salt - just as well they don't get rain! Next we climbed up to a viewpoint to watch the sunset over the valley. I didn't find the view particularly amazing when I was looking towards the setting sun but the opposite view (across to the Andes) was beautiful. As the sun got lower the mountains changed colour, going from orange to a pink-y red then violet - well worth the climb up to the viewpoint.

The next day I was up at 4am to go watch the sun rise at the El Tatio geysers, the highest in the world at over 4,000m up in the Andes. It was a 2 hour drive to get there on some of the most bumpy roads ever so wasn't exactly conducive to sleep! Once we arrived at the geysers it was after 6 and the sun hadn't made an appearance yet so it was absolutely freezing - that's not just me being a wuss cos I'm used to the sun, it was actually 0 degrees. Our tour guide went off to boil our breakfast eggs and heat milk in one of the thermal pools and most people stayed huddled on the bus waiting for it to be ready and for the sun to come up. By the time we'd finished eating the sun had begun to heat us up a little and it was light enough to go for a look around the geyser field. There were a few that were spurting water around but most of them consisted of steam - it was quite interesting though. There's a swimming pool carved out into the ground and the water was warm but I refrained from going for a dip - it was far too cold to be getting changed, especially as there weren't any changing rooms! On the way back to San Pedro we stopped at a small village which is only home to about 15 people and really consisted of one street and a pretty little church. When we got back to town it was a big surprise to discover it was only lunchtime - it felt much, much later after our early start! I went for a relaxing siesta in the hammock at the hostel to recover!

I also went on an excursion out to an observatory in the desert which was absolutely fantastic. From the minute we all got off the bus I was totally gobsmacked at how many stars were visible. You could see the Milky Way and the different colours of stars - blue, yellow and orange that signify different reactions taking place. After an introduction that helped me understand more about astronomy than I ever have we got to look through different telescopes that were already set up. My favourite was Saturn and I was disappointed that my camera wasn't able to capture it. I was really surprised at how quickly the stars seemed to rise and set - we watched one become visible over the Andes and rise much faster than I thought it would. After lots of explanations and laser pointing we headed indoors for a hot chocolate - I was supposed to have tea but someone nicked it, tut tut! It was nearly 2am by the time we got back to the hostel but it didn't feel that late and it was definitely worth the lost sleep.....I got caught up with another siesta in my favourite hammock anyway!

Not all the excursions in San Pedro take place at sunrise, sunset or after dark, although it is very hot for doing things during the day! I also went out to Death Valley for a try at sandboarding one afternoon. As I've never snowboarded I expected it to be difficult and to spend a lot of time picking myself up off the ground and I certainly wasn't wrong! It was great fun though....well, coming down the sand dune was fun, climbing up in the heat felt like a form of torture! Despite my many falls (one of them resulting in a quite spectacular head over heels moment I was sorry not to capture on camera) I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The sand made for a nice, soft landing most of the time but got absolutely everywhere - I had to stop at one point to empty my trainers out, yeugh! I'd definitely do it again though, preferably in a slightly cooler desert (if there is such a thing!) and maybe I'll give snowboarding a try in future although I suspect the landing will be much harder on snow.

I've really enjoyed my time in San Pedro and in between excursions spent some time just wandering around town or relaxing in the hammock (I know I keep mentioning it but I really liked it and had to restrain myself from buying one!) but now it's time for the long journey back to Santiago where I hope the earthquake damage isn't too extensive and that my passport arrives soon.
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