Week 7: San Pedro, La Serena & Elqui Valley, Chile

Trip Start Mar 31, 2014
Trip End Sep 18, 2014

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Flag of Chile  , Coquimbo Region,
Monday, May 19, 2014


After such a busy week previous we were ready for a couple of slower paced days, and this seemed a fitting week to have them.

We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, our first destination in Northern Chile, about an hour from the Bolivian border. This small but very touristy town is situated in the middle of the Atacama Desert, which is the driest desert in the world (receives on average only 0.76mm of rain per year, and has been termed as the “ideal location to forget that there is anything such as water on Earth”). As you walk through the central streets of this town all you can really find is either a tour agency, souvenir shop or restaurant, with the odd mini-market thrown in there. However when it comes to tours there is plenty to do.

Despite already being sleep-deprived, we decided to 'suck-it-up' and rise at 4am on our first morning to visit the Geysers del Tatio, which at 4,320m a.s.l. are the highest geysers in the world. We took the brochures advice and brought a 'pullover', plus a couple of extra layers on top just in case to go with our jeans and gloveless hands, but were not expecting to hop off the bus to -12 degrees temperatures. It was FREEZING!!! We were possibly the coldest we have ever been, and thought we could almost break off our fingers and toes they were so cold (we now know why we both are blowing our noses every 10 minutes).

The geysers were pretty impressive though. Several were very active and would blow water and steam high up in the air, and thankfully lacked any real smell (unlike those in Rotorua NZ). At the end of our walk through the geothermal park we had breakfast, where they cooked hard-boiled eggs and hot chocolate in one of the smaller geysers. This was pretty cool, although trying to eat our cheese & egg rolls and drink our hot chocolate with bare hands was not!! Lesson learnt.

On the way back from the geysers we made a few stops, including at a picturesque lake & a small rural town, and even for a fox, who all-but posed for photos for us. When we got back into town we chilled for a couple of hours before our afternoon tour of Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). Moon Valley has obviously got its name because of its resemblance to the moon (so much so that a Mars rover has been tested there), and includes several unique rock formations and caves formed by wind and water. It was very picturesque, and we ended the tour chilling on a large sand dune watching the sun set over the valley.

As 6 of the 12 of us from our salt flats tour continued on to Chile, we all had dinner together both nights in San Pedro which was great. We all went our separate ways the following day though, where we took our longest bus ride so far, a 17 hour overnight bus south to a town called La Serena.

La Serena is situated on the Chilean coast (so we were finally back to sea level), however is more often associated with being a base for visits to the Elqui Valley. We spent 2 days here, visiting the historical and central part of the city, the Japanese gardens which were right across from our hostel, and took a slightly chilly 20km bike ride down the coastline (felt a bit like riding along a quieter Gold Coast) to the port town of Coquimba and back.

We then took a bus an hour inland to Vicuņa and then La Campana in the middle of the Elqui Valley. Our hostel felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, however being surrounded by vineyards and tall Andes mountains it was pretty relaxing. To enjoy more of the valley we took a bus to a cute village called Pisco Elqui, renowned for being one of the birthplaces of Pisco in Chile (so of course we had to have another one, this time in the pisco distillery!). We spent a couple of hours here, having lunch and walking around, before heading back to our hostel with a bottle of red wine so that we could enjoy one of the biggest attractions of this valley - one of the clearest night skies in the world. After being a little caught up by 'Love Actually' dubbed in Spanish, we then chilled on the verandah staring at the star-filled skies. Despite not seeing any UFOs (yes this place is actually also renowned for UFO sightings), it was pretty amazing to see so many stars so clearly in the sky!

Today we headed back in to Vicuņa to catch our 8 hour bus south to Santiago, where we'll be for the rest of the week.

So until next week's update, adios!

Mitch and Sally
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