March 9, 2008

San Pedro de Atacama – Beautiful but Expensive

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 9:04 am

Since we’re not going to Bolivia due to the newly implemented $100 per US citizen visa fee, we’re seeing some of the crazy landscapes in Chile near the Bolivian border. San Pedro de Atacama is a tiny little town that seems entirely built on tourism. Because of this, all the basics are really expensive. We paid $14 per night just to camp. Ouch.

The food is also really expensive, but at least it’s a lot more varied and tasty than in most of the rest of Chile. Vegetarian options are everywhere too. I thought it was interesting there was a table of Chileans in a restaurant next to us and they asked why there was so much good food in town and the waitress responded, “the foreigners demand it.”

The first afternoon we spent a ton of time just trying to figure out the tour situation. There’s way too many tourist agencies, and most of them are all equally unimpressive. The prices do differ, but not a whole lot. Everyone says they take credit cards, but they all told us that theire machines weren’t working and we needed to pay in cash, which was weird since we had just paid for a meal with a credit card. There’s only two ATM’s in town too, and they’re often out of cash or shutdown for random hours. Overall shopping around was fairly frustrating as people are very “loose” with details and straight answers. I don’t even remember who we booked with in the end as it seemed that having a good tour agency was practically luck of the draw.

We booked two tours in one day, which was a long, fun day which also happened to be Kim’s birthday. The first tour, a trip to the Tatio Geysers, required us to get up at 4 AM. From then it’s a bumpy two or so hour drive to the geyser field and it is cold! The guide said it was about -12 Celcius (10 Fahrenheit). After the first bathroom stop before the fields, our van stopped working. Fortunately there’s dozens of other tours, so another van dropped off their load at the geysers and picked us up. Afterwards our guide managed to get us on another tour bus that had open seats so that we wouldn’t get back late for our afternoon tour.

The geyser field is really fun to see at sunrise. You can walk around wherever you want, so you can put your face right in the steam vents. Of course, you need to be careful and smart about what you’re doing, because there’s no barriers or people telling you not to do stuff. For breakfast they hard boiled our eggs in a bubbling vent. After playing around in the small vents for a while, they took us to the larger geysers which are near the thermal baths. The baths were fun, mostly to watch people scurrying in and out of their clothes in the freezing cold temperatures. The water isn’t all that hot, but it’s definitely warmer than the air. Getting out and changing can be a little tricky since there’s no changing rooms. On the ride back we saw a little village, ate some empanadas, and saw vicunas and an ostrich looking bird, which we were lucky to see.

After lunch we started our tour of the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). Our guide for this was pretty bad since he used a microphone that made him completely unintelligible. That was okay for the most part since the tour consists mostly of just looking at cool landscapes, and it sounded like the info he was spurting out was mostly just dry facts like altitudes and dates of discovery. For sunset we climb a big sand dune from where you can see the landscape turn pretty shades of purple as the sun goes down.

Our third day in San Pedro we just chilled out until the 8 PM bus to Arica. Once again thankful to be leaving Chile for the sake of saving money.

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