Adventures in the Atacama Desert
My "101 Chile" continues in the Atacama Desert. To be honest, I moved quite fast through this amazing country, mainly because to cut costs. In general the living/travelling costs in Chile are almost the same as in Europe. That said, San Pedro de Atacama, one of the most touristic towns I've seen so far in South America, wasn't the best place to save money, so don't ask about the prices for a bottle of water or ice cream. But anyway, it's in the middle of the desert, so I won't complain that water and ice cream are expensive.
I arrived early in the morning with the overnight bus from La Serena. I heard a lot of not so good things about hostels in San Pedro de Atacama from fellow travellers, so I pre-booked my hostel via Hostelworld and decided to chose the one with the best ratings, although it was quite pricey, so much for cutting costs. But I was pleaseantly surprised, Hostal Campo Base was one of the best hostels I had so far during this trip: nice staff, very clean rooms, good facilities, excellent breakfast and lunch packs for tours! When I arrived they even offered me a very late breakfast. Two pancakes with dulce de leche later I was napping in my four-bed-dorm. Later I met my roomies, three Brazilians. During the night the Mosuqitos were killing me, but I can't really blame the hostel for that.
For my tours I decided to do the same as for my hostel, so I chose the best rated tour operator: Tours Layana. And they didn't disappoint me either, very well organised tours and competent tour guides.
With everything in place I was good to go for three days of adventures in the Atacama Desert. Of course this is all very touristy and a small portion of me wanted to go on the trips by myself, but once out in the desert I was glad that I didn't had to plan everything by myself.
The Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, is a collection of rock formations very close to San Pedro de Atacama. It also features several dry salt lakes, thus leading to a landscape covered by spots of salt, which looks really similar to snow. Wind and water carved various weird looking rocks and caverns. And as you might have guessed, the whole area is called that way because of the otherworldly looks.
The lagoons Miscanti and Miñiques are two lakes in the Puna de Atacama without outlet, their water they obtain by groundwater sources in the circumjacent mountains. Both are located at an average height of around 4.100 meters above sea level. At its banks nest a lot of Flamingos. The nature around the two lakes is simply stunning. Laguna Miscanti is accompanied by the vulcan of the same name which provides a dramatic background for photos. I had quite problems with the altitude, suddenly every step was exhausting, not to mention the headache and the nausea.
Lagoon Chaxa is a salt lake in the Soncor section of the Los Flamencos National Reserve, in the midst of the Salar de Atacama.
All lagoons as well as the Valley of the Moon are part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve.
El Tatio Géiseres
In order to see the sunrise at the El Tatio Geyser Field my dorm room had to get up at four a.m., way too early after my fancy. My sleep wasn't that good either because of the aforementioned mosquitos. And to top all that on the way to the geysiers we had to overcome an altitude difference of almost 1.800 meters within one and a half hours, so again I suffered from a headache and nausea. But the scenery which presented itself at the top was worth every effort. At an elevation of about 4.300 meters above sea level El Tatio is among the heighest geyser fields in the world. It's especially spectacular during sunrise because the first rays of sun light make the columns of steam condense in the warm air.