“Giant steps are what you take…..”

Salta to San Pedro De Atacama (SPDA). Departure 00:30, arrival 11:30 (approx).

An unexpected reunion at the Salta bus station meant that the waiting time just flew by. It had been nearly a month since I last saw Robyn and Ben so we had lots to talk about.

I thought I had seen the best, but the best was yet to come!

SPDA is an incredible town. At an elevation of 2438m, arriving here had an odd effect on my body. For a start, I noticed that my breathing had become somewhat laboured. Secondly, I developed a mild but annoying headache. I was told to avoid red meat and alcohol as both aggravate what I was currently experiencing – altitude sickness.

The popularity of this adobe oasis stems from its position in the heart of some of Chile’s most spectacular scenery. A short drive away lie the country’s largest salt flat, fields of steaming geysers, and a host of otherworldly rock formations and layer-cake landscapes. The Atacama Dessert is said to be the driest place on earth, with some areas receiving less than 1mm of rain per year. The landscape is apparently the nearest thing that you will get to being on the moon. It covers 105,000 square kilometres (41,000 sq mi) and composed mostly of salt lakes, sand, and felsic lava flows.

SPDA itself is made up of tightly packed picturesque adobe streets clustered around a pretty tree-lined plaza and beautiful little church. But the last decade has seen a proliferation of guesthouses, eateries, internet cafes and tour agencies wedging their way into its dusty streets. This has led to steep prices and lackadaisical tour operators. It’s one of the most expensive places I have visited so far. Surprisingly, it has an incredibly quiet, and relaxed atmosphere – despite the hoards of visitors.

The company ‘CosmoAndino Expediciones’ was recommended to me by a number of people, so I took the financial plunge and booked a 3-day tour with them.

Friday 21st Feb: Visited Death Valley and Moon Valley. Left San Pedro mid-afternoon and returned after sunset.

Saturday 22nd Feb: Visited the Altiplano lakes. This tour left San Pedro at 7am to see flamingos at Laguna Chaxa in the Salar de Atacama, then moved on to the town of Socaire, Lagunas Miñiques and Miscanti, Toconao and the Quebrada de Jere, returning at 7pm.

Sunday 23rd Feb: El Tatio Geysers. This hugely popular tour took in the surreal sight of the geysers at sunrise. It’s an early start (4am) but well worth it.

Over the 3-days I saw some amazing things and met some incredibly interesting people, from all over the world. A truly rewarding experience.

Next stage: Columbia.

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About Richard Griffith

My first independent travel experience was a trip to Israel, in 1997, it was here that I caught the 'travel' bug! In 2001 I took an 8-month sabbatical and traveled around South East Asia. Since then I have managed to visit most of Eastern Europe along with India, Bangladesh, and a few other destinations in between. I love travel and I love meeting new people.
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