The overnight bus left La Serena at 10pm and arrived in San Pedro at 3pm the next day, leaving us time to be able to visit the Valley of the Moon and Valley of Death to watch the sunset.
At the base of the Atacama desert, San Pedro is a tourist town with a crossing into Bolivia. Despite this or maybe because of this, it was a cute town. Lovely adobe streets clustered around a pretty tree-lined plaza and postcard-perfect church. At night it had a very happy feel and was lit in a warm and welcoming way.
Our first outing was to see the Valley of the Moon. but first we stopped to look at the Atacama desert. This desert is the driest in the world due to the mountain ranges which surround it and which prevent the moist air from flowing through. True enough there was no vegetation in sight. Vast canyons met the eye with the land cracked due to lack of moisture. From here we went on to the Valley of Death, so named for a variety of reasons but apparently due to a famous artist who pronounced it wrong! The way to the valley was down a path running through a high canyon flanked on either side by steep cliffs. This created a wind filter providing relief from the sun and heat. The valley itself was brown rock and sand and it could be easily seen why death might occur here. Not a place to be without water.
Next was the renowned Valley of the Moon, so named because it supposedly looks like the surface of the moon! Again a path through a canyon lead us through this desolate place. The surface wass covered with salt crystals, giving it a unique look. The rock easily corrodes so you had to be careful where you went. The salt crystals expand in the day's heat and cool at night and if you stood still you could hear them cracking. Definitely an eerie place and if I had been to the moon, maybe I would be able to compare!
Finally we stopped to look at the Three Sisters - more weird rock formations and cyrstals -before climbing a massive sand dune to watch the sun set. It was a perfect example of a sand dune and with no footprints to spoil its shape (we had to keep to a set path) had lovely wave formations as the wind rippled across it. Surrounding it were stunning mountains and rocks, so as the sun set they cast amazing shadows. It was a sight to behold.
Day 2 involved rising at 4am to go view some geysers. In the field there were over 80 active geysers, and if you went before the sun rises the smoke was more impressive, because the temperature drops below freezing. When we got there it was minus 6 degrees c. Some of the group had foolishly worn either shorts or flip flops and definitely felt the cold. We got there in perfect time, as one of the geysers we were looking at started to bubble and gradually grew bigger and bigger until the steam erupting from it covered the entire sightline. It was fantastic. As we were there the sun started to rise and you could see the steam starting to dissipate and become less obvious. Luckily it helped warm us up too!
We travelled onto another geyser field where there was a hot spring pool. Only four of our group opted to go in. It took a lot of courage for me to strip off in the cold weather and run into the pool but it was worth it. The pool was not as warm as I would have liked, but we managed to find the area where the hot water entered it. However, this meant that our backs burnt whilst our fronts froze! Getting out was worse than getting in. Leaving the warm water we then had to strip in front of the other tourists, due to the fact there were no changing facilities. In true British style we managed to do it in record time and without any bits being shown. We were then usurped by the Europeans who happily stripped off without a towel!
After warming up we stopped at a local village to try llama meat (very nice) before travelling onto a catcus garden. This was a strange valley full of the prickly beasts and a meandering stream. We carefully picked our way through and it was definitely worth it. A lovely ending to an early start. The only down point was our very cute guide (who was from Easter Island) seemed to ask every girl in the group to meet him. When we discussed this among ourselves it appeared that he had lined someone different up for the afternoon, then dinner then evening drinks! We obviously declined.
Due to the 4am rise, we were able to enjoy the afternoon in San Pedro, which we did in style with a few glasses of wine! Whilst San Pedro was lovely and I wished we had a few more days there, the next part of the tour was the three day crossing across into Bolivia and the Bolivian Salt Flats.