We only spent a day and a half in Arica. It was pleasant enough and I'm sure if we were better at surfing we may have had a go but we wanted to explore Patagonia and have started running out of time. We had been told by numerous people that the Atacama Desert is worth a visit so after seeing the town of Arica and not much else we caught a night bus to San Pedro de Atacama, the town in the desert.
We had told the owners of the hostel that we'd be arriving in San Pedro at 8:15am. Unfortunately the only bus company that went on this route was very useless and we had to wait in Calama for an hour ½ in the freezing cold until it left! During the uncomfortable journey we both started to get concerned that Atacama wouldn't be worth the hassle, when we arrived and saw some of the fantastic scenery we knew it was. Our hostel was very basic but nice and we were in a dorm room but luckily for us we were the only ones there. We had a lovely kitchen and the town was a little, but pleasant, walk away. We booked two trips into the desert and shared the first trip to the Valle de Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de Muerte (Death Valley) with a group of four ladies from Santiago. They were also staying at our hostel and we nicked named them the 'rambling roses' after Gail and Co! Our guide was very nice and tried to speak English to us at points but he spoke Spanish slowly and clearly so I managed to pick up a few important points, or I just made them up when telling James-he found it interesting! The whole trip was only four hours but the sights were fantastic. Valle de Luna was very aptly named; it is exactly how you would imagine the moon to look. We enjoyed a pisco sour at sunset over looking Valle de Muerte which was just as spectacular, quite similar to the badlands in the states.
The next day James and I walked around the little town, booked our next bus journey and found a small shop/bakery that made amazing empañadas. We had a guy came over to us and in a very camp voice asked 'do you speak English?' us-'yes' Camp guy 'I only have one other question… where did you buy those empanadas, they look delightful!' We told them where to get them from and he went off to sit with his girlfriend, we couldn't believe it!
The trip for this evening was Lagunas trip and once again we were with the Rambling Roses of Santiago and another couple. It was a little further afield and when we got to the first Laguna we couldn't believe it. It was beautiful. We didn't think anything would top the lagoons we had seen in Bolivia, but South America seems to always deliver; this one was so clear and from a distance the most beautiful blue. We were allowed to walk in the lagoon and it was surprisingly warm. It was full of salt, but didn't taste like it! We saw a few more lagoons but nothing could compare to the first one. However, the last one, where we would enjoy sunset with another pisco sour (mango flavoured this time) was where you were allowed to swim. I am such a wimp when it comes to cold water so as soon as I felt how cold the water was I didn't even put my foot back in it. James got in and after a few minutes floating on the water he got out grabbed his towel and got dressed in record time. I think I will leave the floating water to somewhere warmer, no need for the cold.
The next day we had another amazing empanada and then caught the bus to Calama where we were flying to Santiago. The flight was only £20 more expensive and took 18 hours less-result!