We left Uyuni around 9am after Lothar brought their travel companions Julia and Paolo to the airport. Thanks guys – we had an awesome time together! You most likely were the last visitors on this journey.
The road to the border was a mix of gravel and paved and eventually we reached the border around 12:45pm. Unfortunately, they just had closed for siesta and hence we had to kill one hour. Once the back from lunch the border official was nice and caused no problems. On the Chilean side they were again stricter and told us that we even should have been allowed to leave Chile. Lothar showed the Jurada Declaracion and they just nodded.
The drive on the Chilean side to San Pedro was very scenic. It was a blend of other salt flats, volcanoes and steppe covered by lamas and emus. It was a pleasure for our eyes and made the long way to San Pedro more comfortable.
We stayed at a nice AirBnB cabaña ($60/night – cheapest option available) where we enjoyed cooking every night since we had not had much of a opportunity for it in Bolivia. The first day we visited an ancient ruin named Pukara de Quitor. It was just a couple of km outside of town and can also be easily reached by bicycle.
The site itself is not super-spectacular as it mainly possesses the remaining parts of walls of the Inca buildings. The visit is though still worthwhile as the 360 degree views from the mountain top are really rewarding. Plus they do have interesting and well-preserved carvings and sculptures of the Incas there.
The remainder of the afternoon we took it easy and let the kids get their naps which is better for everyone 😉 Then we headed up to Valle de la Luna for the sunset which was nice but not spectacular.
The next day constituted our highlight of the Atacama desert: We went sand boarding! Through tripadvisor and other travel forums we learned that one can rent independently equipment and to head to the Valle del Muerte without a tour. And that’s the way we did it. We found a shop which rents out boards per hour ($2000/h) and provides helmets and boots as well. Unfortunately, the minimum shoe size available was way to big for Leo such that we had to come up with other ideas.
The valley was just a 15min drive from town (entrance fee of $3000 per adult) and we even saw a couple of travelers with boards on their backs on bicycles. Great spirit 😉 The valley is super-beautiful with tons of sand and bizarre rock formations!
When we arrived one of the tour groups was already there. We watched them for a couple of minutes while getting dressed and prepared a mini-playground for the kids to keep them busy. Then came the hardest part: Walking up the 40-50m hill – no luxury as in all skiing resorts where you can lift up!
After snapping for some breath we made our first attempts in sand boarding! It turned out to be pretty similar to snowboarding (in fact we used snowboards). The main difference to snowboarding is that the breaking points are much stronger when riding curves – one trap to fall over quickly.
And of course both of us fell after a couple meters but it was such much fun. There were even a couple of sand kicks although taking them was much less spectacular than on snow 😉
For Leo we came up with the idea to use the board as a sleigh. Initially, Irina or Lothar went down with Leo together. With time we could increase the speed and after three runs Leonard went all by himself. Unfortunately, this was out of league for Maja ;(
After 2,5 hours on the sand mountain we ran out of energy as the ascent was very tiring. We got a couple of decent run and really enjoyed the afternoon in the valley – highly recommended!
We dedicated the next day to a trip through the Atacama desert. It was easy drivable even with a non-all-wheel car. To our surprise there was no entrance fee which was nice. At our first stop, Laguna Piedra the charge was pretty significant: 10,000 CLP per adult and we even got lucky that did not had to pay the afternoon tariff of 15,000.What we got see was amazing though. All three lagoons have a higher salt content than the Red Sea. In Laguna Piedra it is allowed to swim and although Lothar froze his panties he entered the water at a temperature of 17 Celsius. It was so worthwhile! Irina and the kids opted not to do it though.
After jumping into the water it pulls you immediately up! No need to move or swim you can literally stand, lie or do whatever you’d like to do in the water without drowning 😉 What an experience! Lothar’s first floating experience ever! Plus a beautiful surrounding! Nice start of the day 😉
Next we headed to Quebrada de Jerez, a canyon near of the town of Toconao. We spent around an hour here but did not like it at all and cannot recommend it. The entrance fee here was 1,500CLP/adult.
On the way to Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques we ran into a detour of the main road (paved!). The reason was that a flood had taken away a huge part of the road such that it was impassable. It’s not the first time that we had seen a catastrophe like this on our journey but thank God we never were at these spots when it happened. Let’s cross our fingers for more good Karma down the road!
After over an hour of drive, partly on dirt roads, we finally reached the two lagoons. The entrance fee was 4,000 CLP/adult and was adequate. What we got to see was the most beautiful landscape of the day (and of Atacama?). A dark blue lagoon surrounded by volcanoes and light-green grass – a joy for our eyes! We did not regret the long drive there.
Our last day we spent at Baños de Puritima, hot springs in the middle of a small canyon. It was an hour drive on mostly dirt road and the entrance was a bit too expensive (15,000 CLP per adult and 6,000CLP for Leonard). Apparently, on weekdays the cover is cheaper (9,000 CLP).
Nevertheless, the springs were really beautifully embedded into nature and the water had around 30-32 Celsius. Still a bit too cold for Irina and Maja though 😉 There are 7 different cascades and hence pools and the lower one gets the less crowded they become. A good trip if one is looking something relaxing.