trip report: atacama
For part 1 of our Chilean adventure, Santiago, please click here.
As I mentioned earlier, the main reason for us traveling south of the Equator was to get to Atacama. And, if you were like us, you may be asking, "Where?"
The Atacama desert is the driest (non-polar) desert on Earth. Its otherworldly appearance means it has served as a stand-in for extraterrestrial places in movies, most notably Mars. It's also just really fucking cool.
While you can stay at hostels in the town of San Pedro, many opt for the small hotels nearby, most of which are all inclusive (meaning your room, meals and all your activities are included). We went for Tierra Atacama, based on the interesting architecture of the property and that they were known for having the best food (surprise!).
Tierra might be the most visually interesting hotel we've ever stayed in. They take advantage of the amazing views of the desert by constructing large windows everywhere, from the lobby to your room. It made me pretty giddy.
After the hour-long ride from the airport, you're immediately greeted by one of the guides to go over your itinerary. This is an ACTIVE place, guys. We ended up doing two activities every day that we were there. There's everything from hiking to biking to horseback riding.
On our first day, we arrived a little too late for the afternoon sessions, but we did manage to snag a spot on the nighttime stargazing tour. Atacama has some of the best stargazing on the planet (!) due to its climate and there are a few major telescopes in the area, one of which is available for the hotels to use.
One of the craziest parts about being in the desert is the temperature change. While during the day we were down to basically our skivvies, by sunset it could creep down into the 30s. Any nighttime activity meant wearing at least a few layers. Corollary: I packed like 18 suitcases.
Our first full day, we hiked what is known as Moon Valley, for its similarities to ... guess.
Unfortunately, pictures don't do this area justice. The sheer size and the beauty of the valleys just doesn't translate. But it was certainly one of the more awe-inspiring places I've ever visited.
After a quick lunch, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled 11 miles to the salt lagoon. We were lucky: the very next day they ended up closing it to most tourists for the foreseeable future to protect the wildlife. (Yes, I understand that makes me part of the problem, shh.)
This was my first time in a very salty pool of water and, dude, it really is cool when you can float! Also, the aridity meant you were dry in a matter of minutes, even if your whole body was covered in a layer of salt.
That night happened to be New Year's Eve and the hotel went ALL OUT. There was a huge dessert spread after dinner, tons of champagne, a DJ and many party decorations, which are always my jam.
We spent the first morning of 2015 hiking to the hot springs. There are still many ancient cave dwellings in the valleys here, which was one of the best parts about the trek. Because there's essentially no rain in the area, they've been preserved for hundreds of years.
The hike itself was also beautiful.
If you can believe it, that afternoon I actually got Mike on a horse!
We tried to get to bed early that night, since the next morning we were up by 5 AM for the drive to the geysers. The trips leave early so you can see the sunrise and see the steam better.
The ONLY downside? I got a bit of altitude sickness: short of breath, dizzy, etc. But guess what made it better?
A PACK OF LLLAMAS!!! We became best friends. Also, aren't their hair accessories on point?
After Mike eventually dragged me away, we headed to the salt flats. There are so many different landscapes here; it's pretty mind-boggling.
And yes, those are flamingoes. I made friends with them too.
Our last sunset in Atacama was maybe the most brilliant I've seen.
This is a truly magical place. If you like adventure, beauty, animals, and when your hair dries HALF THE TIME it normally takes, please visit. And bring me back a llama.