This map will give you a better idea of where we spent our time and how everything in the desert is positioned in relation to San Pedro de Atacama.
On our last morning in the desert we head up to El Tatio geyser field. Admittedly, geysers don't seem to impress me that much, but these were pretty awesome. Maybe it was the sun rising over the mountains on our hour long drive up, or maybe it's the fact that we were in the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere or that it is highest elevation geyser field in the world, 4,320 meters ASL!!! We reached the field right after sunrise and saw a great show of steam and boiling water shooting into the atmosphere. It was a beautiful way to spend our final morning in this weird and wonderful place. I can't wait to return!
This morning was our full day excursion out to Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques. The story is that they were once one body of water and Volcano Miñiques erupted with lava flow coming down and separating the two lagoons. The drive is about an hour from San Pedro de Atacama but you will pass over the salt flat and through the desert town of Tocanao and then the mountain town of Socaire. Once past Socaire you will head up to the altiplano and then still higher reaching past 14,000 ft. In this area you will see vicunas and flamingos and this beautiful wheat colored grass called paja brava that only grows at high altitudes. This was definitely the most picturesque scenery I have ever seen with my own eyes. The Chileans do such an amazing job of preserving the natural beauty this country has.
On our way back to town we stopped at Laguna Chaxa which is part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve in the Atacama which covers about 180,000 acres. There you can observe both Chilean and Andean flamingos feeding and their nesting sites.
Today we set out for a 4 hour horseback ride towards Valle de la Muerte. The walk was incredibly majestic, we were the only people around for miles. I have to stress that we were here during the middle of winter so there weren't many tourists, this made sightseeing extremely easy and photographs near perfection because no people were in them.
We set out from Awasi through the town of San Pedro towards Devil's Ravine where we had been mountain biking the day before. Once past the ravine we headed through a canyon, slowly ascending a trail that ran parallel to an intact Inca trail. Along the precariously narrow path that even the horses seemed hesitant to scale we could see miles out past the Rio Grande river towards the Andes. It was truly one of the most bizarre and special landscapes I have ever encountered. Once we reached the top we travelled an extensive plateau able to see for hundreds of miles in all directions. We came to the edge of the plateau where we could see VERY steep sand dunes all the way down to a valley. This was where we thought our guide was joking when he instructed us to step off the edge and run down the dunes on the horses. Apparently he was not joking... not even the GOPRO could capture how steep this descent was. We finished off our ride through Valle de la Muerte and then back through town. Of all my horseback riding in different countries, this was the most exhilarating and unique, it is not to be missed when visiting the Atacama.
Our first full day here has been incredible! The flight from Santiago to Calama is an easy 2 hour hop, from the airport it is about one hour to the quaint desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. We spent our first afternoon getting acquainted with the rustic luxury lodge, Awasi Atacama. Situated just off the main pedestrian street in town you have access to all the amenities but once inside the gates it feels as if you have been transported to the middle of nowhere. We slept like babies in our beautiful suite after an evening of wonderful food and conversation with our hosts for the next 4 days.
We woke up around 8am and had a wonderful breakfast with just about anything you could ask for and some things you probably didn't know existed (like lucuma- a Chilean fruit that tastes like dulce de leche!) Ricardo, our guide, picked us up around 10 am to head out to Puritama Springs. The springs are a series of geothermal pools located in a canyon at 11,000 ft. The water is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit which was perfect for the mild, overcast day we were having. The water is crystal clear and because of the slope of the canyon some of the pools have waterfalls. I could have spent all day there.