One week in the Atacama Desert
Back in August, I was fortunate enough to travel to Santiago, Chile for work. As if that wasn’t cool enough already, I was also lucky to have the flexibility to tack on some personal travel to that trip. Since it was currently winter in the southern hemisphere, getting to the southern end of the country to see Patagonia was going to be a challenge. As a result, Luke and I elected to spend the majority of our vacation time in the Atacama desert and then spend just a couple of days in Santiago to see the city.
I’ll pause here for a quick Vista tidbit. We love maps. You could say we are a little map-obsessed. So, be prepared to find a lot of maps splattered all over our website. Any time I can find the slightest excuse to incorporate a map, I’m going to do so.
We didn’t always share this fondness for cartography… In fact, in the early days of our relationship, I couldn’t stand how Luke needed to spend what felt like at least an hour before any activity studying the route, topography, and any geographical landmarks posted at a trailhead or before traveling, well anywhere. It drove me insane! Now, 10 years later, I’m the first one to pull up a map or be drawn to any map signs we encounter. We also have chosen to decorate our home with a lot of – you guessed it – maps! Now let’s return to our regularly scheduled programming.
For those who aren’t familiar with the geography of Chile, the Atacama is located in northern Chile near Peru and Bolivia. This area is geographically unique because the Atacama is the driest non-polar desert in the world.
Getting to the Atacama from Seattle isn’t easy. Realistically, the first full day of our vacation was easily sunk into travel, so by the time we actually arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, we were completely exhausted. In order to get there, we first had a 15-hour flight from Seattle to Santiago. Then, because Chile is such a long, skinny country, we needed to take another flight from Santiago to Calama (close to the border between Chile & Bolivia). That flight is fairly short, but we had a 4-hour layover waiting for us. Little did I know, those 4 hours would blow by getting through customs and by the time we were done we had just enough time to take a quick shower and enjoy a Pisco Sour (the national drink of both Chile & Peru) before our flight.
The last flight went by fairly quickly because there are spectacular views of the Andes mountain range all the way from Santiago to Calama. By the time we arrived in Calama, we had been traveling for 23 hours already and still had not yet reached our destination. The home stretch would be an hour and a half drive to get to San Pedro. The drive was beautiful, but I think we both dozed off (a few times) because we just couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. But at last, we had arrived and would begin our Atacama adventures (after some dinner and a good night’s rest)!
- Floating in Laguna Cejar (one of the world’s saltiest lakes)
- 4-Wheeling through the Salt Mountain Range (Cordillera de la Sal)
- Milky Way Stargazing
- Early Morning at the Tatio Geysers
- Hiking through the Guatin Canyon
- Relaxing in the Puritama Hot Springs
- Mountain Biking through the Quebrada del Diablo
- Sunset at Valle de la Luna & Valle de la Muerte
Hotel: Hotel Manada del Desierto
Perfect location in San Pedro de Atacama. The hotel is located at the end of the main drag, which made it very convenient to walk around town but also had the advantage of being relatively quiet. The rooms are small but met all of our needs. The rooms were exceptionally clean, so they met my high germophobe standards. Finally, the hotel staff went above and beyond our expectations. Camilla at the front desk was extremely friendly, spoke English very well, and gave us lots of great recommendations. They were thoughtful enough to pack us boxed lunches if we were going out for an early tour and even did some laundry for us!
Overall great experience with Sorbac! We planned almost all of our tours with them and loved every one. They provided great flexibility in tailoring tours to our interests and working with our schedule. Furthermore, they provided intimate, small group tours and I really appreciated that they confirmed tours and honored the group pricing even if we were the only ones to register. (Many of the other companies will charge a private rate, cancel your tour, or re-book you with a different company altogether.) Sorbac exceeded all of our expectations with fun and knowledgeable English speaking guides, fantastic meals & wine (complete with table linens & decor in the middle of the desert), exquisite attention to detail, and well-planned activities. It is definitely possible to show up in San Pedro without any plans and walk into any one of the agencies in town, but for the planners, like myself, you cannot go wrong with Sorbac!
We loved the quad safari tour we took with On Safari Atacama! One of our guides with Sorbac told us this agency is one of the best things to do in the Atacama that most people do not take advantage of. We couldn’t agree more! The folks there were really flexible & accommodating when I was trying to coordinate our schedule with other tour companies. They also had really knowledgeable bilingual guides and provided everything we needed for the rental (buffs, gloves, helmet, snacks, etc.). We also really enjoyed the astronomy tour that we took with them. Our only complaint was that the astronomy tour didn’t seem long enough. We would have loved to have some more time for ourselves to take photos and enjoy the spectacular night sky.
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