Chile Day 4: The Moon Valley and Death Valley

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(Sorry for the late post. This post is for February 20 but the Internet connection in our hotel in San Pedro de Atacama is horrendously slow for some reason, so I’m attempting to get two posts done today. There are very few pictures for these posts, too, because of the slow Internet connection – it takes forever to upload any of them so I will do my best to get them up over the next few days).

So today was another busy day, as we had to leave Santiago and fly north to Calama, then catch our ride to San Pedro de Atacama. Then we spent the late afternoon and early evening touring the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and the Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley).

We woke up at around 7:15 a.m., quickly got ready, and ate a relatively quick breakfast. Our flight to Calama was at 10:15 a.m. so we didn’t have much time to spare, especially considering we had to drive across the city to reach the airport from our hotel. Luckily, one of the reps from our tour company was there ahead of time and he obtained our boarding passes by the time we got there, so all we had to do was check in our bags, get through security (which was pretty quick and easy), and find our gate.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful. We slept through a good portion of it since we were exhausted from the constant activity, late nights, and early mornings. The sky cleared up as we got further north so we ended up with some nice window views of the mountains and desert flats.

Left: our first glimpse of the desert from our plane. Top: More desert, from our ride to San Pedro de Atacama. Bottom: windshield view!

We reached Calama around 12:20 p.m. and there, we met our next tour company rep who drove us to San Pedro de Atacama, a little more than an hour drive away. We got our first real views of the desert and the surrounding mountains, which all look like a surreal place. It’s just so different from anything I’ve experienced so far. Then again, I’ve never seen a real desert before either.

We got to San Pedro by about 2 p.m., checked into our hotel and had just enough time to put our bags away and eat lunch. At 4 p.m. we got picked up by our next tour guide. This tour was a shared one with some other tourists. Some spoke Spanish and some spoke English (including us) so our tour guide did the tour in both languages, which was pretty cool.

Top: the rest/information stop before getting to the Valle de la Luna. Bottom: a view of the surrounding mountains and the desert, looking in the opposite direction from the Valle de la Luna.

We stopped at the Valle de la Luna first. The area is extremely dry and dusty with big sand dunes and salt flats. The Atacama Desert is supposed to be the driest area in the world; some areas of this desert have never had recorded rainfall. Most places only get just a few millimetres of rain in a whole year. Just walking around for a few minutes made me believe it. My mouth always felt dry despite drinking water and everything – my clothes, my hair, my camera – had a light layer of dust/dirt. It’s also really windy, so that doesn’t help – sand just gets whipped up everywhere.

We climbed up to a rocky ridge to gain a better view of the valley. People are only allowed on pre-made paths and roads to protect the dunes and salt flats. We climbed up, although it was definitely exerting. Some of the inclines are a bit steep and the altitude was roughly 2,400-2,500 meters above sea level, so the air feels a bit thinner than what we’re used to when we’re moving around so much.

Various views of the Valle de la Luna. The white is the salt the landscape is known for.

Still, it was totally worth it. The views were incredible and, again, the landscape looked almost surreal. We took lots of pictures.

After, we headed down and walked along the dirt road to get a closer look at the white salt flats. Again, no one is allowed on the actual salt flats but you can definitely see them better from the road and even see some roadside rocks with salt crystals in them. We then visited some natural geographical formations called the “Three Marias”, which are basically 3 rock formations that almost resemble praying figures. However, one figure broke so now, it’s more like the “Two-and-a-Half Marias”.

We took some quick pictures and then drove to Valle de la Muerte or “Death Valley”. We stopped at a cliff, took some obligatory pictures, and stuck around for about half an hour to watch the sunset while having some snacks and wine. We didn’t have much choice, anyway, as one our tires got busted when we went off the road to get to the cliff, so it took a bit of time to get the spare tire on.

Death Valley (Valle de la Muerte).

That pretty much concluded our tour, so we packed up and headed back into town and got dropped off at each of our respective hotels.

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