This past week I was fortunate enough to have some family members come visit me here in Chile. I was pretty down in the dumps once my best friend, who came for a visit, left. My Aunt and Uncle who were coming for a visit gave me something more to look forward to! While they were traveling with me, we did the typical tourist activities throughout Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. We tried various Pisco sours and a few empanadas here and there. The grand part of the trip was when we flew to San Pedro de Atacama, which is in the Antofagasta region of North Chile. The Atacama Desert the driest place in the world and it is said to have the same terrain as Mars and as the Moon. I also read online that NASA uses the Atacama Desert to test various Mars and space instruments.
After a two hour flight from Santiago, we landed in Calama. This was then followed by a one hour bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama. There is not a lot of activity in Calama, therefore we boarded a bus as quickly as possible. We hit the ground running by exploring San Pedro the next day and eventually participating in a tour later that afternoon. The first tour consisted of traveling to Valle de La Luna. Here, I saw the most amazing sunset. The tour started at the Great Dune Path where we climbed to the top of a sand dune and looked down at the Moon-like terrain. Next we went to the Three Maries which are structures that appear to look like women praying, but a tourist once climbed on one of the Maries some years back and it actually broke. Because of this there are now only two Maries.
The next day began with a tour at 5:30 in the morning to Los Geysers del Tatio. Not only was it absolutely freezing when we left, but it was too early for comfort. These geysers are the highest in the world because they are located in the Andes Mountains. Our tour guide told us that last year a girl was taking a selfie and fell into one of the geysers and died… crazy. Following the geysers, we swam in hot springs, which were far hotter than I expected. As we traveled by bus back to San Pedro we stopped at a salt lagoon where we saw flamingos and then we stopped in the tiny town of Machuca. There are only 23 people/inhabitants living in the pueblo of Machuca. Here they sell llama meat for visitors to eat. While everyone with us raved about how good the meat was, I decided that wondering what the meat tasted like was far better than actually knowing for sure.
Our sightseeing list was everlasting, therefore we participated in a different tour later that afternoon. This time we visited La Laguna Cejar. The Cejar is located in the basin of Salar de Atacama and there were three bodies of water for us to see. The first was Laguna Piedra where even the poorest of swimmers could look like an Olympian. Because of the high percentage of salt in the water, floating was inevitable. Then we went to Los Ojos del Salar which were two salt lagoons that were perfect circle formations in the middle of the desert. Here, you could easily see your reflection in the water. Finally, we drove to Laguna Tebinquinche to watch the sunset. At this lagoon, the mountains reflected in the water like a mirror.
After the second exhausting day of tours we completed our third day of tours. This tour took us to the pueblo of Socaire, which is an Incan town in the Andes. The town of Toconao was our next stop where most workers mine for lithium. We then watched flamingos in their natural habitat of Laguna Chaxa. Eventually we drove higher into the mountains and volcanoes to see Las Lagunas Miscanti y Miñiques. It was so cold near these lagoons that it actually began snowing while we were exploring. In the background of the lagoons you could see various volcanoes such as Lascar and Lincancabur.
After many, many, long days we hopped on a plane to head back to Santiago. Once we arrived my Aunt, my Uncle, and I headed to our hotel in the Lastarria district. I immediately fell in love because the Lastarria Boutique Hotel delicately places Forrero Rocher candies on the pillows (which just happens to be my all time favorite candy). Later that night we walked to a restaurant that we found in the plane magazine called “Bravo 951.” This restaurant gave me what was probably my favorite meal in Chile. I had a grilled cheese with mozzarella, brie, caramelized pear, and bacon. Served with the grilled cheese were truffle fries and to make the meal even better I drank a berry mojito with fresh berries. For dessert we had a s’mores style dessert, which was perfect because s’mores are also my favorite. My Aunt and Uncle’s last day in Chile was spent exploring Santiago in the rain. We went to el cerro San Cristobal to see the Virgen Mary statue then we ate an all vegetarian lunch in the Bellavista neighborhood. We traveled by metro to La Moneda where I gave my Aunt and Uncle a short history lesson on Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet and before I knew it, it was time for them to catch their flight back to the states.
All in all I had the greatest time traveling and visiting the desert, but having part of my family there with me made it 100 times better. I have less than 40 days here in Chile (not that anyone’s counting) and having family and friends come to visit has made my experience much better and easier. It is incredibly fun to live in a new country and travel to different areas, but being away from home for such a long period of time also has its difficult moments. Below are some pictures from my time in the desert, and in the next week or so I will be posting about a new adventure! For more pictures follow me on instagram :)@RileyDunworth