The day started off in the dark, getting picked up at 6:30 am for our tour to Lagunas Altiplanicas. After a sleepy “buenos dias” to my family our van was racing through the desert, the first stop in the tiny town of Socaire.
Quick Stop in Socaire
Here we looked at church and an old building and continued on to the Salar de Atacama. As we were getting close Cyna, our guide with Vive Atacama, informed us that we were going to Lagunas Chaxas, a small salt lake, where we would watch the sunrise, see wild flamingos, and eat breakfast. I had no idea we were going to see wild flamingos…. I was very excited.
Desert Sunrise with Wild Flamingos
The first glance of the flamingos was from afar and immediately I could believe how many of them there were. As we walked closer Cyna explained about the three different types of wild flamingos, how they went far from our walking trail in the afternoon cause of the masses of people, and their diet and survival in the salt flats. Thanks to the clouds in the sky (a very rare thing in the desert), the sunrise, the mirror like lake, and OF COURSE the incredible flamingos; it will be a morning I will never forget.
They were so fun to look at with their skinny legs, knobby knees and ridiculous neck. I felt like a little kid and just wanted to jump up and down. After a bit we headed back to the van for a yummy breakfast of bread, jam, and coffee. I grabbed what I needed and sat on a little wall away from the commotion, trying to soak in the strange beauty I was surrounded by.
Small Indigenous Town of Toconoa
After a bit we piled back in the van and stopped to check out another tiny indigenous town, Toconoa. Here they had a church built in the 17th century, where it was possible to see the original cactus would they used for framing. Cyna showed us Rica Rica, a plant that the natives commonly use in tea for stomach pain and indigestion.
Evaded by Lagunas Altiplanicas
Getting back in the van we continued towards the lake but the accumulation of snow and the worried look on Cyna’s face weren’t good omens; the indigenous people who live near the lakes had decided to close the park for fear people would get stuck driving in the snow. Throughly bummed out, we got out of the van and took pictures of the beautiful volcano in the distance. Making the best of our time we started playing in the snow and running around on the rocks. We ended up having a pretty fun time at the entrance to the park.
We were able to stop a little canyon for a couple pictures on the return trip before getting back to San Pedro. Even though we didn’t get to see the lakes, the flamingos had been enough to throughly make the tour worth it.
Huesilla + Making Plans
The parking lot was near a couple stands of a farmers market we’re my family had me try huesilla, a Chilean ‘drink’ that is peach juice with sugar, oats, and a dried out peach. Was about as odd as it sounds, but surprisingly tasty. San Pedro is known for having some of the best star gazing in the world, the ALMA project (largest star project in the world) is just outside of the city. That being said I had really wanted to try and do a star gazing tour, so I left my family in search of a place to do it. The company that had been recommended to me didn’t have availability, so I went back to the hostel to eat some of the food I had gotten for lunch.
Putaka de Quitar – Ruins outside of San Pedro
After a bit of relaxing and no word from my Chilean family on plans for the rest of the afternoon I sought out something small to do. After learning about some ruins 3 km from the hostel, Mike, a guy in my hostel from England, and I set out. The walk was beautiful, the contrast between the red dirt and hills, a small river, green plants, and of course the backdrop of the Andes. We arrived at Putaka de Quitar in about 30 min, paid an entrance fee, and made our way up the ruins.
The ruins were extremely impressive however what captivated us more was the view. The ruins were on the edge of a canyon and from the top you could see past the green and out into the desert. It felt like you were able to see five different types of climates in one lookout, pretty impressive.
Stargazing Tour in San Pedro de Atacama
After watching the sunset we headed back to the hostel, our conversation dominated by red wine and food. Once we got back a small group from our hostel went out in search of take away chicken and rice, and at some point during our adventure we stumbled upon a girl who was doing a star gazing tour that night! My hopes were once again alive!! After booking the tour, we ate our chicken, drank our wine, and relaxed until they picked us up at 11 to head out. The star gazing tour was great! Between the guide who was a Brazilian astrophysicist and Mike, who had taken one astrophysics course, I learned a TON about the stars. I saw the SOUTHERN CROSS, a bucket-list item for my time in South America.
I got to see Saturn with its rings, it looked like a little fake picture in the telescope. But when we pointed his laser at the planet I could see the movement of the light in the telescope. I don’t know if the strength of the laser or seeing the light through the telescope was more impressive! He then told us about nebulas and the evolution of stars. How to tell the difference just by their color and also see the difference through the telescope. With the help of red wine our group was a tad rowdy, but it was overall a great experience. Our tour was with Aire Nativo, but I’ve heard awesome things about Space. I would recommend maybe trying them if you want to learn a bit more. We got back to the hostel chilled to the bone, but once in my bed I warned right up and slept like a rock.
Check out our next day in San Pedro de Atacama where we floated in the secret salt lakes !