In order to satisfy our massive need for excitement and adventure, we took an overnight bus from Caldera to the driest desert on earth, the Atacama desert, in northern Chile. San Pedro de Atacama was going to be the fun filled destination we so desired.
As soon as we got off of the bus we could feel it right away. Taking a few steps toward the station we were out of breath already! San Pedro de Atacama sits at 2,400 m above sea level (7,900 ft) so trouble breathing and altitude sickness is not uncommon. We did end up feeling a little lethargic and felt drained by the sun throughout our stay there. But seeing the things we saw in San Pedro, made it totally worth it!
San Pedro looks like a little adobe town of close to 5,000 residents. With no paved roads within the town, lots of small shops, restaurants, an eclectic mix of people, plenty of tour businesses and lots of stray dogs, you get the feeling that you’re not in Kansas anymore…
Our hostel Juriques was an interesting one to say the least. It was our second time on bunk beds! There was a tiny kitchen to work with, which was hard to do when you have 30 other people wanting to use it as well. The bathrooms you ask? Let’s just say they were less than tolerable. The trials and tribulations of staying at a cheap hostel…
One of the greatest places on earth to stargaze is San Pedro, so that was at the top of our list of things to do. We booked a tour (through spaceobs.com, they have the most official setup) and around 10:00 pm that night, a bus took a group of us to a place outside of the town where the lights can’t obscure the clear black skies. We were met by a Canadian astronomer who gave us the basics of constellations (using the coolest laser pointer ever!), star distances and some general history of space and time. We all then moved over to the 10 outdoor telescopes set up for viewing and saw colorful stars, dead stars, star clusters and Jupiter along with three of its moons! The group had to take turns on each of the telescopes as there were about 20 of us on the tour. We finished off with some coca tea and hot chocolate as we listened to our guide answer our questions. Needless to say, we don’t have pics from this trip since it was pitch black! We did manage to get a crappy picture of Jupiter through the telescope lens though. Check it out, you can see three of its moons!
Our next experience in San Pedro was sandboarding! We booked a morning session (with sandboardsanpedro.com) that way it wasn’t going to be too hot. Our group consisted of 4 guys and 3 girls, a good mix. Everyone was at the tour office early and we were all talking about how much “experience” we each had, talking our nerves away the best we could! Our guide Sebastián showed up and we were off to Valle de La Muerte (Death Valley) to the huge sand dune we were to conquer that day. The first run was a little rough but the more we kept doing it, the smoother it became. The toughest part was walking up the sand dune, in the heat and in our snowboard boots, phew!! At first we were a little skeptical, but in the end we had a lot of fun!
Meanwhile, back in town, aside from our usual ham, cheese and avocado sandwiches, we were excited to get a taste of good Chilean desert food. There were so many restaurants to choose from! Check out some of the delicious plates below!
When booking all our tours outside of town, a local told us that we should also visit some cool ruins located about 3 km away from town. It was not a short walk in the desert heat but we finally made it to Pukará de Quitor. During the twelfth century, it served as fortress used by the first inhabitants of this area, the Atacameño people, to defend themselves from invaders. It’s situated on top of a hill that overlooks the San Pedro River. The stones used to build it were taken from the riverbank below. You can actually still see the individual homes with their attached silos!
Stay tuned for part 2 of our San Pedro adventure! There’s still more to come!