So our time in the very beautiful Valparaíso was up. Valpo had given us literally everything: we couldn’t have asked for more. Gorgeous scenery, boutique shops, museums, funiculars and some of the best food we’ve ever had. There’s no way Jack would have let me stay any longer to be honest with you we spent a fortune, I wouldn’t like to be staying there on a super strict budget that’s for sure!
So it was time to move on to another exciting part of Chile we had both been really looking forward to. The Atacama. So we left Valparaíso on an overnight Clicktur Elite bus from the main bus terminal. We’d booked these in advance using the extremely trusty BusBud online. We chose the swanky seats downstairs which were HUGE – literally business class and included food! The seats cost us $45/£32 each. We met a young Chilean guy on board who basically scared us by telling us to strap our backpacks onto our footrest or onto our legs through the straps because the bags going missing all the time. Apparently last time he rode this exact bus he fell asleep woke up and his bag was missing. Honestly you wouldn’t believe it at all. The buses are so fancy and security appears so tight. I guess you just never know who’s on the bus. Opportunists are always lurking. Anyways so this bus was headed for the city of Calama in Northern Chile. There’s nothing really in Calama for tourists but it’s a exchange point to get major buses to and then onwards to The Atacama desert and also into Bolivia.
We arrived in Calama at about 1:30pm. We’d booked the Ibis Budget hotel online (there was literally no other options – and hey who doesn’t love an Ibis?) it cost us $45 USD/£32 a night. Not many people ever stay here honestly but we were KNACKERED after the bus and it was boiling hot all we wanted was a lie down and a shower. The Ibis is conveniently located next to a giant superstore (also conveniently pretty expensive) but it was perfect for buying our dinner of tortilla chips, cheese dip, salami and salsa to eat in bed. Sorted. (terrified of the super white bedding but hey where else can you eat?)
We woke up refreshed and ready to hit the road. We paid for the breakfast at Ibis but it was SHOCKING. Legit dry rolls and mini muffins. I was expecting so much more from this huge chain! To be fair it looked like it had only just opened though so maybe they didn’t know what they were doing yet? God knows. I watched a mother and daughter walk up to the counter with a piece of kitchen roll and stuff 6 muffins in her handbag ready for the road…. I mean really? It was a little weird but Ibis did the job.
We checked out and walked to the ‘Pullman’ bus station in town (just a 5 minute walk). Unfortunately there was no buses leaving from here so we headed towards ‘Atacama’ Buses and found plenty of buses running. We bought a ticket bound for San Pedro de Atacama for $2500 CLP/ £3 each and boarded at 1pm. The bus was bloody boiling. I mean honestly I was drenched and I thought I was gonna vomit everywhere. It wasn’t a pretty bus but it once again did the job and to be honest with you it was all very simple. It took 3 hours driving through one of the driest deserts on earth and taking in INCREDIBLE landscapes and we were there!!!
So it turns out the bus station in San Pedro de Atacama is pretty far from the Main Street in town. Well it’s in the town but if you’ve got a lot of stuff and are dying of heat from the bus then you’re gonna struggle. We grabbed our bags and walked for about 3km in full jeans and boots in about 32C towards our hotel. I swear to god I cried. Madness.
Literally all the stress of walking from the bus magically disappeared when we arrived at our AMAZING accommodation. We had found out about these domes you could stay in online and immediately looked Domos Los Abuelos up on Booking.com. The domes are pretty pricey for a backpackers budget but HEY everything is pricey in Chile. It’s super westernised and caters for all crowds. The domes cost $38100 CLP/£45 a night and we booked for 3 nights and decided we would cram everything in as soon as possible so we didn’t have to stay in expensive Chile too long. The domes are like giant pizza ovens and so cozy. We had the slightly cheaper one meaning we used the shared shower and toilet block for the camping. It had a huge comfy double bed inside, plenty of plug sockets and surprisingly spacious. I was expecting the domes to be slightly claustrophobic but honestly they weren’t at all! I do kind of wish they all had en suites in them though and we also missed out on having a hammock area like many of the pods. These pods were SO booked out as you can imagine so if you’re interested in any cool accommodation in San Pedro make sure you book early!
Did I forget to mention Domos Los Abuelos resort also has a pool which is pretty neat. Our first day consisted of lounging about by the pool before heading out that evening to the Main Street. There are a tonne of restaurants in San Pedro surprisingly serving a whole range of foods despite being in the middle of the desert. It’s crazy really. We found a great spot for a pizza and a Pisco Sour to be honest neither of us can remember the names of these places. (I’m such a great blogger eh…). After dinner we walked through the dimly lit sand streets and heard some great live music. It turned out to be an excellent night. We got there just in time to get a table near the front and listen to the traditional bands. It was like a traditional upbeat Chilean folk music with windpipes and everything. Honestly it was SO good. (I promise you it wasn’t the 4 pints of rum and coke I had at the same time talking…)
Our second day we woke up feeling a little fragile but new we had SO much to do and needed to MAN UP. We decided to book our tours to the two main sights through the actual hotel which isn’t really like us but HEY we were feeling lazy and couldn’t be bothered to go door to door getting a better deal. They all seemed to be pretty similar in price to be honest. So we booked to go on the “Valle de la Luna” (Moon Valley) tour at 4pm. It cost $18000 CLP/£21 each.
Before the sunset tour was to begin we roamed around the dusty streets of San Pedro. The whole place was honestly rather enchanting. It kind of reminded me of the Wild West, like in the films when the cowboys come bursting out of saloons guns pointed. It also didn’t seem that real in many ways, it also reminded me of the runaway train rides at Disney Land. All the shops blended in so well together, there was even a North Face shop but with its dusty exterior you would never have known unless you looked closely and saw the security barriers by the door. Of course the whole place is extremely touristy. It’s full of souvenirs as expected but it does have so much charm. There’s a church there too, from the 17th Century, constructed during the Spanish colonial period and it is reportedly the second oldest church in Chile! Madness.
We ate lunch that day at a great little cafe serving a ‘Menu of the day’ for about $4000/£4.80 person which wasn’t bad at all considering the prices of all the restaurants were much higher than we were used to.
It was time to explore the famous Luna Valley. We were instructed to meet near the main square. A bus drew up and we all jumped on board. About 15 of us. Great clouds were looming overhead so we weren’t hopeful for a sunset tour as such but the landscape would be good enough. We drove about 8 miles to the protected sanctuary of the Valle de la Luna. Our first stop was the unearthly landscape of the Crodillera de Sal (Salt Mountain Range), a rugged collection of canyons, caves and sand dunes. Our guide lead us up and through the salt caves. It was pretty tight (I mean I’m really surprised they didn’t put a weight or height limit on the tour…) it also involved quite abit of climbing and the tour guide thought I was hilarious shouting ‘oh my gawwwwd’ every time I had to climb up or down. (What can I say? I wasn’t built for this shit!) the views were spectacular- it truly was a moon landscape with amazing formations. it started spitting when we left the caves so we knew our hopes of a sunset view were definitely out of the picture now.
Our next stop was probably my favourite. We made of way to ascend the summit of a huge sand dune. We watched what little sun was there caress the gentle curves of the landscape, which cast an eerie orange glow over the sands. There was a fair bit of walking involved again, we were given a time scale and just had to be back for a certain time so if you planned well you could walk for ages. The dunes and views went on for MILES and it was easy to find a spot without too many people in. It was one of my favourite views EVER.
We were back in the bus and headed towards the final viewpoint. Truthfully I thought the tour was pretty much over but HOW I WAS WRONG!! We made it to the viewpoint which was actually really cold and filled with hundreds of people from the numerous tours. The view point was something else. It was pretty high meaning you could look right down into the canyon and desert. There were great spots for photos too (you know the kind where you look like you’re stepping off…)
All in all one of the best £20 quids I’ve ever spent. We arrived back in town at about 8:00pm and retired to our dome exhausted.
Next morning we were up at the UNGODLY hour of 3:30am for our next adventure (also booked at the hotel) to Geysers of Tatio. It cost $20000/£23 per person and the bus was due to pick us up at 4:30am.
Geysers El Tatio is a geothermic field, located 90 km from San Pedro de Atacama and sits at an altitude of 4321m metres above sea level. This was to be the highest altitude we had ever been at and were warned we might feel rough and to take it easy. I was so excited though I had never seen geysers before or anything similar. I’ve never really travelled much in cold countries (I guess that isn’t a shock being from the miserable UK..)
The bus journey was pretty bumpy and windy and seemed to take an age to arrive at the geysers. When we did I was so mesmerised at what was in front of me. The view was SO eerie and majestical really. The ground was covered in geysers smoking and bubbling away at their own pace. It was FREEZING though and the sky was thick with clouds. Jack and I didn’t have coats or anything we didn’t even have anything much with us to keep us warm apart from a hat and jumper. It was so icy I could feel my teeth chattering. We were given quite a while to wander around the geysers to take it all in and our guide gave us loads of cool info. The geysers weren’t like those in Iceland that jump high up out of the ground but just calmly smoked away. Either way such an insane part of Mother Nature.
We headed back to the car park where the bus driver had been preparing us breakfast of hot coffee and scrambled eggs in rolls. The combination of eating the scrambled eggs in front of the geysers made it a breakfast to remember for sure!
Next stop was the open-air thermal bath in the Thermal Pool of Tatio. (Basically a natural hot spring made hot by the thermal activity from the geyser.) Jack and I looked at each other. It was honestly like minus 5 outside we couldn’t imagine just ripping our clothes off and jumping in. But we did. Oh god it was so bloody cold we were nearly in tears but when we dived in it was so amazing. It was boiling and there was loads of room to swim around. This was our first time doing this too and what an experience it was. I couldn’t really believe where I was. The worst part was getting out and trying to wait for a changing room in soaking wet swimwear. I was shaking like a leaf.
After our epic first few hours on the tour we were shocked for the bus to stop at a huge lagoon full of flamingos. YES FLAMINGOS. My first time ever seeing a flamingo I reckon. I don’t ever remember seeing them at a zoo either. It was amazing. It was pretty strict meaning we couldn’t get very close to to have a look but what we saw was tremendous. Hundreds of wild flamingoes would make my day any day.
We were back on the bus again and this time we were headed back down and the sun started to shine. We arrived at the tiny village of Machuca. This was once a functioning village but modern life has led to depopulation, so that the only residents (reported to be 10) remaining are only there for the passing tourists. There are a couple of stands, selling food where we tried our first Llama meat kebab and llama cheese empanada (delicious by the way) and souvenirs. The only building of note is the church which is truly something beautiful with its white walls, tiny bell tower and roof made of leaves.
Before we knew it we were back in San Pedro. It was 12:30 and we were exhausted. We felt like we had been awake for 24 hours not 9. What a spectacular couple of days seeing such wonders of the world.
We absolutely loved San Pedro. The touristy side of it didn’t really bother us too much. It ‘does what it says on the tin’ so to speak. We tried to extend our stay at the domes to explore a little more for another day but the place was fully booked which wasn’t a surprise. In the end it was actually a good decision to move on at that point.
The following day we grabbed our bags, checked out and made the gruelling walk back to the bus station. We had planned to take a bus directly to our next destination in Bolivia from San Pedro but it appeared that the buses were all very full and they ran at such weird times so we decided to take a bus back to Calama city, stay at the Ibis again to rejuvenate and make our way to our next country from there…