San Pedro de Atacama is a small town in Northern Chile with both Bolivia and Argentina being accessible within a few hours drive through the driest desert in the World. Everything of a tourists interest such as restaurants, travel agencies souvenier shops and kiosks are located in the small main street, and the tinyness of the city makes you feel safe at any time of the day.
The price levels are much higher than everywhere in Bolivia though, and also higher than elsewhere in Chile. Most restaurants are more fancy than what we have gotten used to so far on our trip, but then again it is a city far from other cities and it is also where a lot of well off chileans go on holiday.
There was also quite a few activities possible such as hiking, biking, rock climbing and swimming in a salt lake that were advertised in the travel agencies. We chose to go for a sandboarding and Valle de La Luna/ Moon Valley combination tour that took us back 30 US dollars. The sandboarding part is something that would dissapoint every snowboarder, since it was hard gaining speed on sand compared to snow. Additionally you had to walk up the sand again after each ten second run. It was a great group activity though, and everyone seemed to have great fun and learned how to ride, even with no prior experience.
The Death Valley had the worlds third biggest salt reserve, after Uyuni in Bolivia and Salt Lake City in the US, and walking through the salt caves, seeing how massive it was really fascinated us. Every little bit of the enourmous mountain that we walked through was compact salt crystals, created from yearthousands with almost no rain and just covered by a littlebit of dust. The caves were really narrow, and as we climbed through them we could hear the salt mountain cracking several times every minute, just like a big iceberg would do. The last part of the tour was watching the sunset with an included coctail in the Moon Valley, which was the perfect end to our last evening in Chile.
On the last day of the desert crossing we were up at 6 in the morning, frozen as a stick and just wanting to get into the car with maximum heating on. It was going to be a long day with lots of driving, but that was something we did not mind at all as our view from the window the last day had been like we were driving through our four climate seasons. We started with the crystal white salt flats, then drove past lagoons with flamingos and then through valleys with thin ice in the middle, cracking underneath us. For our last day we would pass through the worlds driest desert, before ending up in Chile.
Today we also had a few noteworthy stops along the way:
– Arbol de Piedra (“the rock tree” at 4412m) was one of many very interestingly shaped rocks made out of lavastone that had been shaped through centuries by the strong wind.
– Laguna Colorada (4278m): if you are planning on stopping at just one of the lagoons, then Laguna Colorada should be the one as it is the biggest, has the most flamingos and the most colorful red water of them all.
– Solar de Manana geysirs (at 4850m!) and the Polques Hot Springs (4400m) were right by the Chilean border and was the perfect place to have lunch after a nice hot bath. Right before we
– The Laguna Verde (at 4400m) was the last thing we saw before we arrived at Hito Cajon which was the border post on the Bolivian side
The immigration office was really small and placed in the middle of the desert, and could have easily been mistaken for a bathroom stop or totally overlooked, but our guides stopped the cars and told us to bring our passport in for a stamp, before a junmping into a minibus waiting for us at the same parking lot that would take us the last couple of hours to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.
Even though the passport stamping was super quick it was still the longest border crossing I have ever come across. The drive between the immigration office in Bolivia and the immigration office in Chile took us almost an hour of driving, first through more desert and then on bigger and better roads that we had seen our whole time in Bolivia. After letting the Chileans look through our luggage and stamp our passports, it was just a quick half hour drive before we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama.