Having left Iguazu from the Argentinian side, we have a day of travelling via Buenos Aires to get to Santiago late in the evening. We can’t get any further that day, so we are taken to the Hotel Orly on the far side of town (pre-arranged by the tour co handing our San Pedro trip) for the night.
With hindsight, although it seemed a nice hotel, this was the wrong choice for that night – it involved an hours ride each way and when you leave Santiago airport at 2200 and have to be back there again for 0600, 2 hours travelling across the centre of Santiago is not the best use of valuable sleeping time! Far better would have been to have stayed at one of the airport hotels that night – perhaps the Holiday Inn. It may not be as nice a place, but the convenience on that occasion would have far outweighed the niceness of a place that we really didn’t get to see!
Arriving at Calama airport we are met by Willams our guide for the next few days. It’s a 100km vehicle ride from San Pedro de Atacama where our hotel is, but the temperature at 0900 is very pleasant – roughly 22C and very dry. A very welcome change from Iguacu’s humidity!
We have a relaxing siesta time on arrival, and as our room isn’t quite ready, we are offered freshly squeezed melon juice which is really nice. The hotel Altiplanico is really nice – I was thinking after the hotel Cataratas in Iguacu, we’d be due for a huge downgrade, and while it isn’t the same class of hotel (which actually is more to my liking!) it is very pleasant. The rooms are all individual small adobe walled and thatch-roofed buildings, and it feels more like a tiny village than a hotel. And the thick walls keep it very cool during the heat of midday (it gets above 30C then).
At 1600 we meet up again for our first trip – to the Valle de la Luna – or Valley of the Moon. This was discovered in the 1950’s by Gustavo Le Paige who realised it had great potential as both a fascinating tourist destination and also for its amazing archeological significance. (San Pedro de Atacama is now recognised as one of the most important archaeological areas in Chile – perhaps as the dryness of the atmosphere preserves things so well).
This is part of the Atacama Desert and Salt Lake area, an area rich in salinity and with such low rainfall (less than 50mm a year) that it is officially a desert. We end up with a great sunset by the Amphitheatre, with good views of Licancabur volcano to the east.