San Pedro de Atacama & The Desert
This beautiful little desert town is found in Northern Chile - it's usually your first stop when crossing via the Salt Flats from Bolivia!
It's a small little town in the middle of the desert but due to its popularity amongst tourists, it is very well developed. The restaurants, hotels, hostels and shops are all beautifully done with wooden fronts and there are tour agencies galore. The main square is small with free wifi and trees in the centre and lined with outdoor seating for bars and restaurants around the outside. It's notoriously expensive (more so if you're used to Bolivian prices) because it's such a popular destination. It was listed in The Best Places To Visit in 2017 by the New York Times!!
Although the town itself is nice, there's not much to do, the best museum in town was shut for renovation, there's a tiny meteorite museum and lots of shops/hotels/bars etc. The main attraction here of course is in the desert itself... It's easy to buy tours on arrival and there's plenty to choose from.
We opted to do The Hidden Lagoon Tour, this was something I had read about before hand, they're full of salt and you float as if you were in The Dead Sea. And you really do, there's seven "Hidden Lagoons" but due to preservation you can only swim in two. They're not very warm but not breathtakingly cold either, we spent just over an hour in one of the Lagoons so it wasn't that cold! You bob around like a cork and it's so much fun (and a great photo opportunity...) The tour started at 3pm and we had an hour drive to get there. On the way back to town at 8:30pm ish we stopped for a Pisco Sour and Snacks (included) and watched the sunset over the desert.
The second tour we did is probably the most popular tour "Valle de la Luna" - Moon Valley. You visit Dead Valley, wrongly named due to a bad translation when it's meant to be called Mars Valley due to its similar landscape to Mars, along with Moon Valley. In the Moon Valley you see the changed landscape which is covered in salt, we visited The Three Mary's Rock Formation, The Salt Mines and we walked up a big Sand Dune for an impressive panoramic view. Once again the tour ended with sunset but in a more popular place and still in the Moon Valley which was stunning.
In San Pedro de Atacama the stars are notoriously amazing, you can see them very clearly due to the limited light pollution and often see The Milky Way! There are so many tours to choose from but the top agency had sold out whilst we were there. Instead of paying for a tour we actually just walked slightly out of town and deeper into the desert on our own after dark. The best time to do this is around 11pm as the sky clears and also Jupiter is visible. Obviously we didn't have a guide so we didn't learn everything we could have about the various constellations etc. However we did go with some other travellers that we had met and one had an amazing camera and captured a great photo of us with the stars in the background!
We didn't eat out much here because the prices are pretty high but we tried Salchipapas (chips topped with Frankfurter sausages...) and we also went to a wonderful burger place. It's a red food truck in its own little garden with fairy lights and a small but delicious selection of burgers!
During our stay there was a religious festival and parade for The Virgin of Candelaria so there were some crazy outfits and loud music!
We stayed in Pangea Norte whilst in San Pedro de Atacama, the place itself is nice but the majority of the staff are rude and unhelpful which wasn't good.