San Pedro de Atacama – Moon Walking and Other Fun

Well isn’t San Pedro just the coolest little town?!

If you’re a hippie – you’ll love it.

If like Joe and I, you appreciate good ice cream in weird flavours – you’ll also love it (quinoa ice cream anyone?).

We originally only planned to stay for 3 days here although we ended up staying 4 so that we could book on to a star gazing tour, more on this later…

Because we ended up staying for longer, we actually managed to get something that we’d been craving for a while – chill out time in the sun! We had a couple of pretty lazy days where we lounged around and had some recovery time. I’ve still been feeling the effects of my food poisoning episode in Copacabana, although we’re now beginning to think it may actually be altitude sickness rather than the dregs of food poisoning. So yeah, I’ve quite enjoyed being at a slightly lower altitude with warmer temperatures.

We didn’t just laze about the whole time though, and as well as exploring the cute streets of San Pedro we did a couple of tours that we really enjoyed.

Valle de la Luna

So we can officially say that we’ve been to the moon!

Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, is only a few kilometres from the centre of San Pedro and is one of the top things to see in the area.

We got a tour with Latchir Expediciones to see Valle de la Luna and also Valle de la Muerte (Valley of the Dead), which only cost us $10,000 pesos each (about £11). The tour left at 4pm to avoid the heat of the day as well as catch sunset over the desert. Our first stop was Valle de la Muerte, which was a fairly brief stop at the main viewpoint, but we didn’t mind this so much because it was super windy so we were glad not to be hanging around for too long. The views were amazing though!

We had originally planned to visit Valle de la Muerte ourselves, it’s a 4km bike ride from town and bike rental is really cheap. However since it was included in the tour, it saved us (and our legs) the extra trip. Apparently the valley got its name when Belgian missionary Gustavo le Paige came to San Pedro, saw the valley and said it looked like ‘Marte’, the planet Mars. However the locals couldn’t understand his thick accent and thought he said ‘muerte’, so the name stuck.

We then had a stop at a viewpoint overlooking all the Valley of the Moon. Such a beaut view!!

From this point we also got a good view of one of the volcanoes close to San Pedro, Licancabur, which is now extinct. This was Joe’s favourite volcano because it has the proper volcano cone shape. I said it looked like the volcano I had to make in school of out papier-mâché before putting vinegar and bicarbonate of soda in to make it erupt. Did anybody else do that in school?? Fun times.

Anyway after the viewpoint we drove into Valle de la Luna and to one of its most famous spots – the Three Mary’s.

Apparently when Gustavo le Paige (that guy again) came to this valley he said that these three rocks looked like three women praying. Unfortunately the first Mary on the left was damaged by people climbing up to it so she lost her praying hands.

We then left the bus and went on a walk through the valley. The rocks are amazing and it definitely looks Moon-like with all the salt covering the ground. We even got to try out our moon-walking skills.

After walking through the valley we hiked up the big dune to watch sunset. Everybody and their granny was up there but we managed to go along towards to end and find a quiet spot. I feel a bit like a broken record here, but again, the views were so amazing!

It’s a shame we couldn’t stay for longer to see the moon come up, but we still got to see all the beautiful colours in the rocks once the sun had gone down.

After we got back to San Pedro we decided to go wild since it was a Saturday night – we went out for dinner and had panacotta for desert. A three-course meal for only a tenner, we were pretty chuffed with ourselves!

Piedras Rojas

The day after we visited Valle de la Luna we went on another day trip up into the mountains to visit the Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks). For the tour it cost us $45,000 pesos each (about £50), which was quite pricey for just a day trip, but the guy who ran our hostel said they were really worth a visit.

What was really nice was that the tour group was just 10 people and 8 of those were from our hostel (maybe our hostel guy was getting commission!), so the vibe was a lot nicer than being on a coach with 30 other people. Our guide, Alexander, was also lovely and said that if there was any point where we wanted to stop to take photos, we just had to tell him. Perfect!

We set off at 7am and headed out into the desert. Our first stop was at Salar de Talar and Laguna Talar to see the local residents – lots of flamingoes! There wasn’t as many as what we’d seen on our Uyuni tour but they were still impressive. According to the information in the museum there are three types of flamingoes that can be seen here – Andean flamingo, Chilean flamingo and the James flamingo – and they all get their pink colour from the micro-creatures they eat. Bit of trivia for ya!

Before we left the laguna, Alexander put out the most amazing breakfast for us – actual baguettes! Cheese! Tea! It all tasted so good!

Once we were back on the road again we made a few stops at viewpoints and also when Alexander spotted vicuñas (that look like a bit of a cross between a llama and a deer).

When we got to the Piedras Rojas we were treated to a real sight – the most amazing blue lake, white salty sand, and red rocks. The whole areas was beautiful. I actually think we were more impressed by the lake than the rocks, even though the rocks were cool as well!

We spent about an hour at Piedras Rojas, which was really nice because we were there a bit longer after other tour groups had left. Then we headed back down the mountain towards the altiplanic lakes Miñiques and Miscanti, where we had a short walk.

After the lakes it was back down to San Pedro, with a stop for lunch. Overall a really good day and we were super impressed by the Piedras Rojas and the lake! So beautiful and our hostel guys was right, well worth the visit.

Star Gazing

were So when we arrived in San Pedro on the Friday, we straight away tried to book a star gazing tour for the next night. The area is known for its clear skies and star gazing tours are said to be the highlight of a trip to San Pedro – it was also the main reason why we decided to visit!

We wanted to book with SPACE because we’d read good things online about their tours. Unfortunately they were full until the Monday, so we extended our trip by another day and booked on to the Monday night tour. Sorted!

Over the weekend we heard rumours that tours were being cancelled due to cloudy skies. Very unusual! SPACE say that on average they only cancel a few tours a year because of clouds. Monday started off well but by the afternoon there was some cloud cover and SPACE wouldn’t confirm if the tour was going ahead. Our tour was due to start at 10pm and at 9:15pm, they finally confirmed the weather was ok. YES!

We were feeling good and went to wait at our pick up point.

At 9:45pm, we were told it was cancelled. Gutted is an understatement! We couldn’t believe we’d come all the way to San Pedro and wouldn’t be able to do the star gazing tour. This tour was another one of our wedding gifts so we were especially disappointed – sorry Katie and Jay!!

On the plus side, we got chatting to a guy who was the ex-president of the astronomy association in San Francisco and said if we were ever in California, he’d give us a tour of the observatory in Yosemite. Very sweet of him!

So what next?

We’ve left San Pedro de Atacama (and Chile) a few days ago and we’re now in Córdoba in Argentina, but we’ll be heading to Chile again in a week or so to visit Santiago. Right now, we’re busy enjoying all the famous Argentinian steak and wine! Salud!

Have you ever been let down on a trip? Or do you have any recommendations for Argentina? We’d love to hear your tips! Follow us on Instagram   @pitkinswithpassportsfor more of our travel photos.

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