After leaving our Bolivian tour, we headed for the small touristy village of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, happily dropping 2,000 meters of elevation in about 40km. Aside from the lower and warmer climate, we knew immediately we were in a different country – the road was nicely paved and had road signs, the people spoke with a strange accent which we had trouble understanding (the first couple of people we thought simply had lisps), and the cost of living had increased dramatically. Welcome back to the modern world!
San Pedro is located in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth, and salty too – the nearby salt flats are the 3rd largest in the world (behind Uyuni in Bolivia and Bonneville in USA). The wide open and quite barren landscape was reminiscent of Death Valley, USA, only with less vegetation.
Despite the harsh setting the area is rich in archeological history, as there were large organized civilizations here thousands of years ago. We did not make it out to visit any of the ruins, but did manage to see some nice prehistoric rock art.
San Pedro is one of Chile's main tourist centers and we took advantage of some of the tours offered, going Sandboarding (snowboards + sand dunes), visiting desert hot springs and rock Aat sites, and downhill biking. There was plenty to explore for desert fans such as ourselves and we could have easily spent more time in the area. But sadly, our time is running short and we need to move on.
Next stop, the port city of Valparaiso, Chile!