Going to the Atacama desert is part of my minor bucket list when it comes to exploring South America. The Atacama Desert is famous for being the driest place on Earth. Some areas have not seen any rain for over 500 years until most recently. Little did I know that this minor bucket list travel destination will become my favourite part of my trip in Chile!
VIDEO – My Trip to Atacama Desert Moon Valley and El Tatio Geyser in Chile – Country #97
My journey to the Atacama desert started in Calama, the biggest city closest to San Pedros Atacama. To get there, Karen and I took a short 2ish hour flight from Santiago to Calama. The flight was full of people coughing and I got scared they might have COVID-19 (this is a foreshadowing of things to come later on).
Upon arrival, a bunch of sales people surrounded us to try and sell us their bus service going to San Pedro de Atacama. We ended up going with one of the companies after our accommodation host confirmed with us via WhatsApp that the company is legit.
A friendly girl in the company spoke good English and translated for us when it came to buying the ticket and even let us tether wifi off her mobile phone.
Drive through the Atacama Desert
After buying our round-trip shuttle bus ticket, we waited in the vehicle until more passengers arrived. They put us in the front seat which wasn’t very comfortable. But, I think it’s not a bad place to be on your first ride to San Pedros de Atacama because you get access to the best views from that seat.
The drive was pretty neat as we saw several windmills generating electricity for the nearby city.
And we got a shockingly beautiful view of the desert as we approached San Pedro de Atacama.
San Pedro de Atacama
Upon arrival, our shuttle bus dropped us off at our accommodation called Chill Atacama Harickuntur. This place turned out to be awesome thanks to the host, Leonardo, and it has one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in during my entire life (watch the YouTube video above for more details on it).
Leonardo also helped us book our tour to Valle de la Luna and El Tatio Geyser. Unfortunately, it’s a full moon during our time there and we won’t be able to do the astronomy tour. This was a bummer because we were really looking forward to it. Leo also warned us that the tour to Valle de La Luna is “better than nothing” because this is not his first choice as far as tour operators go. However, all the other companies were sold out. He did mention the company for El Tatio Geyser is awesome.
After booking our tours, Leo told us about his favourite restaurant and so we headed over there right away.
Favourite place to eat
There’s a reason why this is Leo’s favourite restaurant. It is simply awesome. My girlfriend and I ate here several times during our stay here. My favourite is the mango drink and the beef.
Valle de la Luna
Shortly after, we began waiting for our tour company. Leo was right when this company is better than nothing because their communication was terrible. We waited for a while before we got picked up and some of the seats in the minivan were busted. The tour was full of Brazilians with some British tourists. The British tourists were douchy as they stole our seats at the end of the tour after the Brazilians kept stealing their seats. I tried calling them out on it but my girlfriend said it was not worth it.
The first part of the tour was a short 1-hour hike to the viewpoint.
Valley de la Luna is definitely pretty and it’s worth the walk to see this beautiful place.
We eventually reached the view point and took tons of pictures and videos before heading back to the minivan.
We visited a few minor sites along the way before wrapping up the tour portion of the trip.
After the tour
Shortly after we finished sightseeing, the company provided us with some snacks like chips and alcohol. We then watched the sunset before calling it a day. They dropped us off at the centre of the city and everyone walked back to their accommodation from there.
Unfortunately, Karen and I got locked out of our accommodation because Leo forgot to give us a key to the accommodation. At the very least, the WIFI reached the gate so we were able to contact Leo and he hurried to let us back in. We slept soundly that night; although not long enough, as we had to get up at 4am for our trip to El Tatio Geyser.
El Tatio Geyser
The tour company for El Tatio Geyser was a billion times better than the one for Valle de la Luna. The communication of the tour company was precise and everyone got picked up in an organized manner.
The tour members this time around were mostly English-speaking folks from English-speaking countries.
The drive there was roughly 2+ hours and it was also high altitude reaching 4320m above sea level. Luckily, Karen and I did a trek to the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal several months ago so we’re kind of used to this altitude.
El Tatio Geyser was well worth the long journey. This place is simply amazing. I’m a sucker for natural sciences and this is the kind of place I love visiting.
It was insanely cold in the morning but thankfully, temperatures started rising as the sun went up.
Apparently, we had to go here early; otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to see the steam coming out of the geysers during the afternoon when it’s hot.
After checking out the geyser, the tour company provided us with brunch. The food was amazing with avocados, juices, tea/coffee and some cold cuts.
We got a chance to chat with the other tour members also. One lady didn’t seem impressed I’ve travelled to so many countries around the world. Before I mentioned I’ve been to 97 countries as of this trip, she was bragging about how many places she’s been to. No one likes being outdone.
Our tour guide is also pretty cool. He spoke perfect English because he dated an American girl and lived in the US for a bit before returning to Chile.
Alpaca, Flamingo, Viscacha
The last part of the trip involved sightseeing the wildlife in the area
The alpacas were all over the place, especially near the water source and some vegetations.
There’s also a lake full of flamingos.
Finally, there’s this animal called Viscacha that looks like a bunny but is an overgrown rat. They’re hard to see so our tour guide took a picture with his camera and showed it to us soon after (credit below to our tour guide).
Leaving the Atacama Desert
Upon returning to San Pedro de Atacama, we spent some time just relaxing before getting ready to head back to Calama.
The next day, it took forever for the bus company to pick us up from our place. They’re running in South American time so we’re not surprised.
The woman sitting beside me had a thick perfume making the trip back to Calama a dizzying one.
Unfortunately for me, my trip to Chile would have a bad ending.
As mentioned earlier, our flight to Calama was full of people coughing. I started feeling sick and started coughing a lot. I got paranoid and decided to cut my trip short. Karen and I found the fastest flight back home to Canada. Upon returning home, I got tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily, I got a chance to rest and quarantine back home instead of being stuck in a foreign country.
The Atacama desert was the highlight of my trip to Chile and I highly recommend anyone going there to visit. I will return one day to do that astronomy tour.