| 7 min read
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town in northern Chile, in the middle of nowhere. You'd think there's not much to do in such a desert-like landscape, but you'd be wrong! This small town is full of tourist offices that offer tours to several natural attractions in the surroundings. We went to the geysers, and to a series of lagoons.
We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama in the evening, after a long bus ride from Jujuy (about 8 hours). There are no night buses, because the border post is only open during the day. We spent the entire day on the bus, but luckily, the landscape along this road is so beautiful that you won't feel bored: coloured rocks, scenic mountains and salt flats. Near the end of the trip, the bus drove through a long stretch of desert - in the middle of which lies the small town of San Pedro de Atacama.
While walking to our hostel, Vincent and I discussed how we would take things easy during the following days, as the last week had been quite intensive and we both felt a bit tired. But when the hostel owner told us what we could see in/around San Pedro de Atacama, we understood that resting would be postponed for a while.
At least we had earned a lazy evening, so instead of cooking, we went out for dinner and tried a local dish: chorillana. This delicious meal consists of fries, different kinds of meat (pork and chicken), onions, fried eggs - all covered with a tasty, brown sauce.
Geysers del Tatio
The next morning, our alarm clocks went off at 4:00am. Within half an hour, a minibus would come to pick us up for today's excursion: a visit to the Tatio Geysers. We left so early because the geysers look nicer in the dawn, and you adapt quicker to the altitude when it's colder. It was a long drive to 4.320m, but I don't know much of this part as I spent the entire ride sleeping. I regained consciousness when we had to get out the bus to pay the entrance fee. It was freezing cold outside: -9°C.
In the distance, we could already see the first steam plumes - we had arrived on a field with over 80 geysers. El Tatio is the third largest geyser field in the world. Careful where to put our feet, we walked between them. Some of the geysers erupt from a tiny hole as small as a coin, others from a gap as large as a beer barrel. Our guide explained how the magma heats the water in underground rivers to 120°C, after which the water makes its way to the surface - thus forming a geyser.
By then the sun had risen and our group was called together. Our guide had prepared a nice breakfast with bread, cake, jam, dulce de leche, cookies, orange juice, coffee, chocolate milk... Truly a breakfast with a view. The hot drinks warmed us up, and the temperature started to rise.
After breakfast, the bus took us to another geyser field where there was also a small pool, naturally heated to 36°C. Unfortunately, we had no time for a swim. Why couldn't we start the tour here, when we were still freezing?
The last stop was a small pueblo in the mountains: Machuca. This is actually just one street, with small houses made of adobe bricks and corrugated iron roofs. At the end of the street, there's a small church on a hill. Even though there wasn't much to do or see, were were given half an hour to visit this place. After 5 minutes, Vincent and I had seen it all and decided to have a picnic.
The excursion ended around 1pm, when we were dropped at our hostel. We rested a bit, but not for long: at 4pm, we would be picked up for another excursion to...
Laguna Cejar is a small lake that has a higher salt content than the Dead Sea. One litre of water contains 110 grams of salt. I've never swum in the Dead Sea, so I wanted to know what is was like to float in the water. Too bad I hadn't brought a newspaper, because I could've easily read it while in the water. When I came out, I was covered in a layer of salt. Even though I rinsed myself with fresh water, my skin felt really dry afterwards.
Ojos del Salar
Our next stop was at Ojos del Salar: two small, perfectly round, fresh water lagoons. Seen from above, they look like two eyes (ojos) staring out from the bleak landscape. No one knows if they were created naturally or man-made. Because of the wind, it had become too cold, so this time, I stayed with my friend on the mainland, watching how brave tourists dived into the cold lagoons.
Our last stop of the day was Laguna Tebinquinche, a salt lake. In the background, there are some volcanoes that are reflected in the shallow water. This was the prettiest of the places we'd seen this afternoon.
To conclude the excursion, we were each offered a Pisco Sour. But first, we had to do the ritual for Pachamama - Mother Earth. The ritual is usually quite long, but the guide abbreviated it a bit for us. First, take the glass in your left hand and spill some Pisco on the floor. By doing this, you thank the earth for giving us life, food, nature, ... Then, take the glass in your right hand, spill some on the floor, and thank our ancestors for caring well for the earth; we have to continue doing so and be careful not to destroy and pollute nature. And now (when your glass is half empty) you can drink! To Pachamama!
By then, the sun was going down. We stayed until after sunset, and headed back to the city centre. This excursion was not as interesting as the first one; we just spent a lot of time waiting next to the lagoons. With great weather and no wind, this would probably be more fun, but it's nowhere near as spectacular as the geysers.
Useful info for travellers
- We stayed in hostel El Talar. It's clean, not far from the centre, the staff is friendly and it's quiet.
- Be prepared for altitude sickness - if you don't get sick in San Pedro de Atacama (2.407m), you might very well when you climb to the Tatio geysers (4.320m) in a very short time. Chew coca leaves and/or bring some medicine.
- We paid CLP 18.000 pp. for an excursion to the geysers. The entrance fee is not included: CLP 5.000 or 2.000 for students. Take your swimsuit if you want to bathe in the thermal pool.
- Dress in layers if you visit the geysers in the morning - it's very cold. As the temperatures gradually rise, you can peel off layer after layer.
- We paid CLP 10.000 for an excursion to Laguna Cejar, Ojos del Salar and Laguna Tebuiche. Entrance fee for Laguna Cejar is not included (CLP 2.000 normal price, or CLP 1.500 for students). Don't forget to take your swimsuit.
- If you plan to do an excursion to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, don't forget to bring Bolivianos. Exchange rates in San Pedro de Atacama are bad, so do it elsewhere if you can.
- From San Pedro de Atacama, you can also plan an excursion to Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte
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