Very tired, we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama (‘San Pedro’) bus station at noon, after a challenging night journey by bus across the Andes, crossing the Jama Pass at 4208m. San Pedro, 2448m.a,s,l., archaeological capital of Chile being an important centre of pre-Inca culture, is set on an arid high plateau in the Andes mountains of North-Eastern Chile, surrounded by dramatic landscape including desert, salt flats, volcanoes, geysers and hot springs.Exiting bus station, we quickly found a taxi, and soon located our hotel, on the outskirts of town – our base for four nights. Marilyn unpacked and Alf went out exploring, looking for a very much needed laundry and supermarket for bottled mineral water. After our complimentary ‘Pisco Sour‘, a few glasses of wine, an early night followed an enjoyable meal.
7am we were picked-up for a tour to Rainbow Valley, sharing our guide/driver with two lovely Brazilian couples, admiring wonderful desert landscapes, colorful vegetation, abundant wildlife, and the Andes’ huge peaks. After 90-minutes driving in the desert, we hiked for an hour, admiring the amazing scenery and changing colors, returning to our vehicle for breakfast, prepared by our guide – a great experience! Rainbow Valley’s unusual rock formations, eroded and shaped by the wind over millions of years are red, green, white and yellow, reflecting different salt, clay and mineral concentrations. Our next stop was at the archaeological site of Yerbas Buenas, famous for ancient rock art. We walked through the pre-Colombian site, viewing petroglyphs of animals and scenes of daily life. Returning to our hotel, we relaxed for a few hours before collecting our laundry early evening, taking opportunity to sample quinoa risotto, a local specialty, in a popular eatery.
Next day, we had a full day tour of the Altiplanic Lagoons. Entering the full minibus, we were warmly greeted by our four Brazilians companions of the previous day. The Altiplanic lagoons of Miscanti and Miñique are set in the Los Flamencos (The Flamingos) National Reserve, 90 km. from San Pedro, at 4,000 m.a.s.l. It was a similar routine to the previous day, walking, photographs and then breakfast! Both lagoons are fed by water sources that come from the surface of the land, attract a great variety of animals, like the abundance of flamingos. The landscape is stunning, with ice-covered volcanoes. Our final stop was Salar Lagoon, where we marveled at the turquoise waters surrounded by salt flats.
The last day, we wandered around the charming desert town of San Pedro, named after its patron Saint Peter, conquered by Incas in 1450 and Spaniards in 1540. The delightful town square is ideal for people watching and the church, one of the most beautiful in Northern Chile, has been declared a national monument. Downtown San Pedro structures are in Spanish Colonial style, with quaint restaurants and shops on naturally dusty streets. We had a quiet evening, ahead of a 4am start in the morning, flying South to Chile’s lake district.
Open this link to see our best photos of the Atacama saved in Fickr.