Day 2 in the Atacama Desert:
Awaiting us today were some more lagunas (lakes). Today, we would be setting out to see the vibrant colors of the Lagunas Altiplanicas. This would include stopping in a few towns on our way to the altiplanic region, Toconao and Socaire, visiting Laguna Tuyacto and the Piedras Rojas (the Red Stones), and then ending the day watching the sunset over Laguna Chaxa in the Salar de Atacama.
Unfortunately, a couple of the other places I wanted to see in the Lagunas Altiplanicas were closed due to inclement weather. Those were Lagunas Miscanti and Miñique. If you are able to get there during your travels, please go and see them for me – they look so beautiful! Because those lakes needed to be eliminated from our tour, Luke and I had a relaxed morning to ourselves. We lazily slept in and then set out for breakfast at La Franchuteria. La Franchuteria is a delightful French bakery right in San Pedro. Our hotel, La Moneda del Desierto, brought in some of the fresh french baguettes from this bakery every morning, but we were on a mission to try the croissants. My co-worker had told me they made the most delicious croissants – even better than some she had when traveling to France! How unexpected in the middle of the Chilean desert, right?!
- Make sure to bring some cash (Chilean Pesos) for tipping. And get small denominations whenever possible. Some places are hesitant or flat-out refuse to make change for you.
- Be prepared for limited coffee availability. Most places will offer only instant coffee, if it is available at all. Apparently not a lot of coffee is produced in Chile and the imports can be quite expensive! Tea is quite popular; however, so don’t worry, you’ll most likely still be able to find a caffeine fix. 🙂
After breakfast, we met Papas Fritas back at our hotel to head to the Lagunas Altiplanicas. We enjoyed our time with him so much the day before that we asked if he could have him as our guide again. If you make it to the Atacama, I’d highly recommend that you ask for him as well! There was one other traveler joining us for the tour today and so we met Valerio, from Italy, who would become another great friend of ours that week. It’s pretty remarkable how complete strangers from different corners of the world can bond over shared tastes in music and learning about one another’s language and cultures. By the end of the week, we had new friends from Chile, Italy, and Uruguay.
Along the way, we stopped to see two small, rural Chilean towns. The first was Toconao, where we would stop for a Red Bull. Per the travel note above, we were going through some serious caffeine withdrawal since the bakery’s coffee machine was broken. After popping into the convenience store, we took a stroll through the quaint town center to see the bell tower and the community church.
Before departing, there was one more important stop to make: we needed to visit a llama! I got to feed him and I kind of forgot that llama’s are known for spitting, until, you know, he spat at me!
A short while later, we came upon the second town of Socaire, located at an elevation of ~11,500 ft. We’d ultimately be reaching 13,000-14,000 ft today. This was our first time getting to that high of elevation, so we were a little worried about acclimating, but thankfully neither Luke nor I felt any altitude sickness. Nonetheless, it’s really important to acclimate. We had already been staying in San Pedro (~8,000 ft elevation) for a couple of days at that point and I’m sure the stops along the way to the Lagunas Altiplanicas helped us to acclimate as well.
While acclimating, we walked the town and had lunch. As promised, today, I made sure to take a picture of the lovely spread. There’s no doubt, the Chileans have fantastic taste and they know how to travel in style! Today, we’d be enjoying fresh salmon and quinoa along with a glass of Carménère. This was an exquisite shift from our usual travel lunch consisting of Cliff bars and trail mix.
In another post, I also promised I’d eventually talk about Carménère, because it’s a wine that’s somewhat unique to Chile. I’m certainly no wine conosseiour, but Carménère is a deep red wine that originated in France. Unfortunately, disease devastated nearly all of the vineyards in France and the grapes were presumed to be extinct. Turns out, some of those grapes had been transported to Chile and the wine was re-discovered after being mistaken for Merlot for many years. Needless to say, if you go to Chile, be sure to try the Carménère and even take some home with you if you can! Regretfully, I could only bring back a single bottle since I didn’t plan ahead. I guess that just means we will have to save it for a celebratory occasion.
At last, we had begun to enter the region known as the Lagunas Altiplanicas. Our arrival was evidenced by the vibrant colors in every direction: blue sky, purple mountains, yellow grasses, white snow, turquoise lakes, and red stones.
This portion of the day was mostly a driving tour with a few stops to get out and take photos. I feel like there is really nothing I can say here to capture the beauty of the Lagunas Altiplanicas, so I am going to defer to mostly pictures here. I’ve included a video too so you can see the conditions (to understand why Lagunas Miscanti and Miñique were closed) and meet our favorite guide, Papas Fritas! Don’t worry, only the first 20 seconds or so are in Spanish. 😉
Be sure to check out the full gallery back at the main Atacama Desert page! And don’t miss the breathtaking sunset and the flamingoes at Laguna Chaxa.
Tour: Full Day XL – Tuyacto + Piedras Rojas + Lagunas Altiplanicas + Salar de Atacama (excl. the closed portion of the Lagunas Altiplanicas)
Total Time: around 8 hours because of the closures. I believe the full tour would be longer!
Activity Intensity: Very Easy
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