Arrival San Pedro de Atacama

July 12, 2009

This page describes our travel to Chile. We visited Santiago, briefly, but spend most of our time in and around San Pedro de Atacama.

The trip started out a bit arduous, with a trip of over 24 hours from Los Angeles, USA, to Santiago, Chile, and then to San Pedro de Atacama. But it was all worth it.

Timing was perhaps not optimal, because it was winter, and almost none of the hotels and hostels has heating. But going in the summer is probably also not ideal...

Anyway... read about our adventures, below.

"At last…" I fling my backpack on the floor as if I am a pro bowler. My hand slides off the grip of my suitcase, ... , I fall on the bed while making half a pirouette. I sigh a sigh of relieve, and the bed sighs under my weight.

“We have arrived!”

Sleeping in Mexico City airport
Sleeping in Mexico City airport

After at 37-hour trip, we have arrived in our hotel "Tambillo" at around noon. San Pedro de Atacama is waiting for us. In these same 37 hours you can probably travel around the globe, but we traveled from Los Angeles to Chile. Delays abound: a 6 hour stop in Mexico City, a 6 hour stop in Santiago de Chile (where we grabbed 3.5 hours of sleep in a city hostel, a flight to Calama, a taxi to Calama city center, and then a bus trip to San Pedro de Atacama. It has completely messed up our system. My wife told me at a certain moment: "I am hungry again, but every time I try to eat, I am full even before I start. And I am sleepy incessantly, but I can never really sleep." I listened and thought it was strange. But actually, I feel exactly that. (Daniel Wegner called this "the ironic processes of mental control' i think). Ohhh, I hope it is all worth the effort...

I should not have to worry. The brochures and the mouth-to-mouth information has convinced me of that. There is plenty to do here ... in the desert.

San Pedro de Atacama lies at the foot of the Andes, but yet already at 2440 m above the sea. It is dry almost all year long, like a large part of the Atacama region. In fact, in some areas it hasn't rained ever since they starting recording rainfall.

Wide-ranging deserts before we reach San Pedro de Atacama
Wide-ranging deserts before we reach San Pedro de Atacama

What to do in the desert? Well, not much. But among those areas that are only half desert are true natural beauties. As opposed to other trips we have made, we actually read a few guide books this time around, and we know that we want to see the Salar de Atacama (the salt flat of Atacama), where we will see three species of non-tropical flamingo's. Also high up on our list (and high up above the sea, by the way, at 4200 meter) are the El Tatio geysers; a morning-show, because the geysers are only truly active when the rising sun heats the cold earth. We further think of going to various other "laguna's" (a sort of oasis), to float in salty water (like in the Dead Sea), or to see various lama varieties, like the Lama, the Vicuña, and the Alpaca.

Church in San Pedro

After our arrival, we quickly viewed the two attractions that San Pedro can boast about: the museum and the church. The Gustavo Le Paige Museum (named after it's founder, the Jesuit priest, Gustavo Le Paige) is a well-arranged collection of artifacts that have been excavated in the San Pedro area. The museum is mostly known because it housed several mummies. We came to see them. But unfortunately, the mummies are not on display anymore, after the local peoples complained. The church, Iglesia San Pedro, is a small bright-white adobe building, with a cactus-wooden roof. It dates from 1745.

The remaining hours of the days were spent visiting the myriad tour operators to pick out the best and cheapest tours. How much attractions can we squeeze in 5 days? Even though 5 days is a respectable amount of time, about twice as long as many other people who have stayed in our hotel we can see from the registry, we will have a hard time to fit all our wishes in the limited time-window. We will have to make choices.

Ah well, we now know what the options are, we will decide on the evening before. For tomorrow we picked Valle de la Luna, en Valle de la Muerte, a short trip but including a 3 hour trekking. This way we will be able to adjust to the temperatures and the altitude.