The main draw at San Pedro de Atacama is the tours. We had three full days, so we booked the three most popular tours: the luna valley, the red rocks & altiplano lakes and the geysers. We ended up going with a travel company called Desert Adventure because the tours were reasonably priced but seemed to be of good quality and they agreed to give us a sizeable discount if we booked all three with them.
Valley de luna
The first tour we did was an afternoon tour to the moon valley, named so because it looks like the surface of the moon. It started at what is called valley de marte (death valley) but the place is actually mis-named and supposed to be called Mars valley. It looked like how I imagine Mars would and was an interesting enough way to start the tour. After that we went to the moon valley, where we looked at stones shaped like three virgin Marys, trekked up a dune to get an epic view of the landscape and walked through a cave. We ended the evening watching the sun set, which was fairly pleasant. It was full of tourists, I can only imagine how busy it would be in full season. It reminded me of the Northern Lights tours in Iceland where literally 20+ coaches cart tourists to the same spot, but we walked a few minutes away from the crowds and found a quiet spot for ourselves.
Red rocks & altiplano lakes
The full-tour we opted for was going to to give us a taste of being at altitude, so it’s advised for anyone wanting to see the salt flats in Uyuni. We started with a very long drive, pausing for 15 minutes at a tiny town so we could stretch our legs and see how our bodies handled being higher up. Everyone was fine, so we continued to the red rocks – its literally a formation of rocks near a lake that are round and red-coloured. They’re quite unremarkable to be honest, you could see them without even realising. We had breakfast but since it was at altitude and very early, we were frozen and ate in the van.
After this, we saw some altiplano lakes and saw wild flamingoes for the first time. The scenery was beautiful, but you could certainly feel you were kilometres above sea level – headaches, fatigue and tired lungs plagued me all day. After the lakes, we went to a flamingo reserve. It was quite interesting, but it really didn’t compare to the sheer volume of flamingoes that we’d see on our Salar de Uyuni trip.
The geysers tour started very early, at something like 4:30am. We were the last to be picked up so we had the most unpleasant journey – I was shoved against the window and was so cold from the freezing glass I thought i was going to be sick. It was -10 degrees when we arrived and got off the bus, and I was feeling entirely miserable. The geysers were incredible though, and the reason for the early start is that you get to see them with maximum condensation, which means they are most impressive before dawn. I have never wished I had a proper coat and proper thermal trousers more than in that moment! After the geysers we saw a thermal spring that Jonny had a dip in. I was still frozen solid and couldn’t face it, so I watched on and played photographer. After the geysers we stopped off at a random small town and looked round an ancient church, then made our way back.
After three tiring days we had the afternoon to prepare and pack for our Salar de Uyuni trip, an experience that is going to be hard to describe but is so far the most incredible experience I’ve had..