We are leaving to the Moon. A space shuttle is not needed, at least at the moment! We still have not landed to another planet, even if it seems. We are in Chile, discovering the Atacama Desert and the El Tatio geyser field.
From Salta to San Pedro de Atacama
Our journey starts from Salta, a colonial city located in the north of Argentina. Maurizio and I stay in the city to acclimatize before heading to Chile. As soon as we arrive we look for some coca leaves, needed to help us against altitude sickness. As a matter of fact we will spend the next days mostly over 4000 meters. We can easily find the precious leaves in a some kind of grocery. Let the adventure start!
We reach Chile by bus, towards the Passo de Jama. Here at an altitude of 4300 meters, the light blue and white with Sol de Mayo flag hands over the baton to the red, white and blue one.
The journey takes 12 hours, all comforts included: reclining seats and a good range of sandwiches and sweets. We ceaseless chew our coca leaves; actually they are moreish in spite of their bitter taste. We stop at the border to clear custom checks. I shily ask the policeman if I can carry the leaves. He has a smiling face and confirms I can go ahead. Our bus reaches an altitude of 4700 meters before starting a steep descent to San Pedro de Atacama. Finger cross brakes work.
San Pedro de Atacama and the Moon Valley
San Pedro de Atacama is a small village in the Chilean Antofagasta region at an altitude of about 2500 m. It’s a village of dirt streets and small houses made of adobe. Dogs loose in the tiny streets are looking for relief from the heat, exactly as we are! Sun is searing and even in the late afternoon it burns my neck and nose.
San Pedro de Atacama is a good base to experience the surrounding area. It offers an easy access to the Moon Valley, a natural reserve in San Pedro de Atacama desert, set between the Cordillera de la Costa and la Cordillera de los Andes. Wind has being shaped natural sculptures made of sand, salt and clay over million of years. Once the ocean was also here. The Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world.
Rainfalls are mostly missing or extremely low that can even not be recorded. The features of the Moon Valley provide the most Moon-like environment on Earth. For this reason the place is used by Nasa to test and refine technologies and methods. Rocks and sand dunes around us make the landscape impressive. We walk through deep gorges. While our thoughts are wondering limitless in this amazing infinite space. Sunset colors the view all around and warms our soul.
El Tatio Geyser field and Machuca village
Another place we absolutely want to experience is El Tatio Geyser field, located only 90 km far from San Pedro de Atacama. Departure from the hotel is scheduled at 4:00 am. Still sleepy we get into a small minivan with other dozing travellers. We spent two hours on narrow and rough roads, till we finally arrive to the highest geothermal park in the world: El Tatio geyser field located at an altitude of 4320 meters.
At dawn the shiny sunlight seems to be suspended in the plenty of steam columns.
Nature is powerful, water is life!
We zigzag across the area, keeping a safety distance from the hot stem columns. Be careful, they are burning!
In the meantime our guide cooks some eggs in the geothermal water. A breakfast reach in protein is exactly what we need to start the day!
Once we have re-loaded it’s time to relax in the geothermal pool of El Tatio. The 40°C degrees water is rich in minerals and offers a good choice to relax surrounded by a stunning scenario.
The light blue cloudless sky is ipnotic. Bright yellow bushes cover the soil and offer a hiding place to the Vicunas.
On the way to the hotel we stop over Machuca village. This is a white spot of more or less 20 small houses made of mud and straw roofs, mainly populated by llamas breeders. I seize the opportunity to taste some llamas skewers. Their meat is savoury, tender and perfectly cooked. I couldn’t miss it out.
And while I’m enjoying my mouth-watering meal my gaze meets the astonishing panorama all around. Thank you Chile: a colourful world will be kept in the drawer of my memories.
- Passo de Jama is a high mountain pass at an altitude of 4300 meters. Snowfalls are not uncommon. It is therefore recommended to check road conditions before travelling.
- it is strictly forbidden to bring seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables to Chile;
- San Pedro de Atacama and the surrounding area are located at a high altitude. Don’t forget to wear a sunscreen lotion and a hat;
- in the desert the difference between day and night temperature is significant: bring some heavy clothes with you;
- desierto Florido (flowering desert): every 5-7 years the Atacama Desert experience a unique and breathtaking phenomenon. Multicoloured flowers cover the surface of the driest place in the Earth. Click here for more info;
- San Pedro de Atacama offers a good range of travel agencies. To save time during our journey Maurizio and I book our excursions with Sayhueque before leaving from Italy. Tested and approved!