We flew from Santiago to Calama, had transportation booked in advance with TransVIP and hit the desert road to the town of San Pedro (60 minutes). We checked into Casa Atacama and immediately left to go on our first adventure…
Sandboarding!!! This is an experience I’ll never forget. So to start, we met a group of about 15 people at Sandboard San Pedro before heading out to Valle de la Muerte – 10 minutes out of town and CLP $3,000 cash entry fee per person into the park (less than $5). Once you enter the park, you drive another five minutes to the base of a massive sand dune. The guides are great – they will get you all sorted with your gear, they give brief instructions, and within 20 minutes of parking, you’re on the way up to the top. Unfortunately, there’s no ski lift to take you up… you do have to walk up the sand dune with your gear. Thank God Luke helped carry my board otherwise I probably wouldn’t have made it up the sand dune too many times. If you’re a snowboarder then you’re fine. If you’re a skier, like myself, then get ready for some wipeouts! I had sand EVERYWHERE by the end of these two hours so be prepared. Such an amazing experience though – not to mention the scenery is absolutely stunning and probably like nothing you’ve seen before.
That evening we went back to the hotel, enjoyed some dinner and Pisco Sours outside by a fire, and had an early bedtime to get ready for the next day!
Today’s tour didn’t start until afternoon so we had a slow morning around the hotel and hit the pool. Don’t forget to pack your swimsuits!
We met at the CosmoAndino Expeditions office in town around 3pm to check in for our tour that afternoon. We had a few minutes before heading out, so we walked over to Emporio Andino and grabbed some empanadas to have lunch on the go. BEST empanadas ever.
At about 3:30pm we took off for our Valle de La Luna tour. This was mainly a guided walking tour of salt canyons and caves, huge volcanic sand dunes and spectacular views. We chose to take the afternoon/evening tour instead of morning because you end the tour by watching sunset high above the central crater of the actual Moon Valley. Definitely my favorite part of this tour!
We got back to town around 9:00pm, which in Chile is just when things get hopping for drinks and dinner. It also happened to be September 18th, which is a national holiday and Chile’s Independence Day that they celebrate for pretty much an entire week instead of a single day. There were Chilean flags everywhere, and a mini parade down the main drag with traditional music, dance, and costume.
We chose Adobe for dinner this night. I’d recommend snagging a table by the fire, which also means a good spot for the live music. We enjoyed way too much red wine and red meat and called it a night!
We got off to an early start on our third day with our excursion starting at 6:30am. We had a full day planned for the “Salar/Lagunas” tour with CosmoAndino.
We got to explore in and around Los Flamencos National Reserve and the Salar de Atacama, aka the Salt Flats and we got to see all the flamingos! We also visited the dark blue lagoons, Miscanti and Miñiques. These lakes sit at 4.200m/13,580ft above sea level and at this elevation, plus winds, it got quite cold. I would definitely dress in layers for this tour!
And as an extra surprise, we stopped by Aguas Calientes (also known as Piedras Rojas or Red Rocks), hidden wetlands high in the Andes that look like they were hand-painted.
We also stopped in the villages Socaire and Toconao. Keep your eyes peeled for Guanacos when you’re on the road… we saw several throughout the tour and if you’re wondering what a Guanaco is, it’s closely related to a llama and native to South America.
Breakfast and lunch were included and we had plenty of time to stroll, snap some pictures, and really appreciate these very different landscapes. We got back around 5:30pm, had some time to shower, clean up and have a a bite before heading back out for our stargazing tour.
We got picked up from the hotel around 9pm and arrived at an outdoor set up with coffee, snacks, WINE, blankets to throw on as the nights get pretty chilly, and the most serious telescopes I’ve ever seen in my life. The Atacama Desert is one of the best places on earth for stargazing but unfortunately, we had a full moon this night so plan accordingly with the moon schedule if possible!
It was our last day so we didn’t plan any excursions… instead, we got one more morning of sunshine by the pool and then began our trek back to Santiago. If we had more time, I would have loved to squeeze in a few more adventures… top of my list would be a hot air balloon tour over the desert, a visit to El Tatio Geyers (the highest geothermal field in the world and home to 80 steaming geysers), or even cross into Bolivia to reach the Uyuni Salt Flats. Perhaps next time….