We left Valparaíso at noon for a short drive up north to La Serena. In just 8 hours we reached the city. La Serena is one of the most popular summer beach destinations in Chile. However, we arrived just outside the high season.
We stayed in the El Arbol hostel for four nights. Initially we planned to stay for just three nights, but we soon decided to book an extra night and get some rest. With a couple of busy weeks behind us it was nice for a change to have some time for ourselves.
The breakfast that was served in the hostel was really good. They set the table every morning and served us bread and juice. It was just a small hostel, they had refitted a house to function as hostel. We slept with 8 people in a dormitory shed in the backyard. We got to explore the city the first day to see what it has to offer. We quickly found that there was not much to do in La Serena. The city center is quite small and has mainly shops. The plaza was nice, and there are a lot of old churches. We walked from the city center to the beach, a half an hour walk. The beach was deserted, but for a handful of surfers. We had our lunch at a small restaurant on the beach. Then we returned to our hostel were we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. After dinner we went to the cinema to watch Deadpool. A funny movie, luckily with English audio and Spanish subtitles.
We spent most of our time the second day arranging our stay in our next destination: San Pedro de Atacama, and updating our travel journals and blogs. At the end of the morning we booked our tour to the Elqui Valley for the following day. Near the hostel we visited the Japanese gardens. They were quite beautiful and better maintained than the Japanese gardens in Buenos Aires. However, we spent less time in the gardens in La Serena than in Buenos Aires. We walked to the town center to get a small lunch. There I tried a classic Chilean dish: Lomo a lo Pobre. Fries covered with steak, onions and an egg, delicious! We catered for ourselves again that evening, and just relaxed a bit at the hostel. There were hardly any other guests to be found in the hostel, it was one of the most boring nights so far.
We had to get up early again on the third day for our tour to the Elqui Valley. We got picked up by the tour operator and joined a tour van filled with seniors. We left La Serena behind and entered the valley, where our first stop was at a dam. For 20 minutes we got to enjoy the view from the dam, which is used for irrigation of the valley. We continued to a papaya farm, but we only got to taste a small sample of papaya juice. Next up was the city of Vicuña, where we visited the Gabriela Mistral museum. Although the exhibitions were in Spanish, the collected artifacts about Gabriela Mistral’s life were interesting to see. Just outside of Vicuña we visited a pisco distillery. Pisco is the Chilean national drink, most often found as pisco sour, although some say it originated in Peru. The Elqui Valley is home to the Chilean pisco. It is produced by making wine and then distilling it. After we got to taste some pisco, we continued into the valley to the village of Pisco Elqui where we got served our lunch.
We returned to Vicuña where we were left for our next tour. We had something to drink and eat, and at 9 PM we had our next activity: stargazing at the Mamalluca observatory. Due to the nearly full moon there were not a lot of stars visible. We got to see Jupiter and her moons, Messier 42, Alpha Centauri and the moon through the telescope. The stargazing was definitely the highlight of the day!
San Pedro de Atacama
We left La Serena behind us and traveled to San Pedro de Atacama by an overnight bus. After a ride of 17 hours we arrived in San Pedro early in the morning. Our hostel — Cimas del Sol — was located 2km outside of the town. We decided to walk there in the cool morning air. It took us about 30 minutes. Check-in was from 2 PM, so we had to kill some time. At noon we joined the transfer to the town center, where we booked our Salar de Uyuni tour and had lunch. Halfway through the afternoon we walked back to the hostel. Once there we bumped into a lot of familiar faces from the past few weeks. We spent the rest of the day catching up on each other’s travel stories, and played a couple of card games to have fun.
Last night I had decided to join the vulcano trekking tour with the hostel. Angelo didn’t feel like joined, so I went out on my own this time. At 5:30 AM the tour guide Nico picked us up from the hostel. Besides me there were two other guys who joined the trekking. We drove for two hours to get to a lake for our breakfast. At about 4600m altitude we had a picnic and felt the cold mountain air (it was freezing). After breakfast it was another 30 minute drive to the start of the trekking. We had to hike up more than 800m over a distance of 5km to reach the summit. After a couple of hours we reached the crater edge of the Lascar vulcano. The vulcano is one of the most active vulcanos in the area and Chile. We observed the crater for a bit, and continued hiking for another 15 minutes to reach the summit of 5562m! There we spent 45 minutes enjoying the mesmerizing surroundings and views, and not to forget to take plenty of pictures. On the hike back down I felt the effects of altitude sickness: first a small headache, and later I felt like I was drunk. Back at the hostel I took some ibuprofen and drank two liters of water. Within an hour or two I felt good again. I met with Angelo again at the hostel, where we chilled the rest of the afternoon and played some table tennis. We prepared dinner and went to bed early, we planned a lot of activities for the next day.
Our alarms were set for 4 AM. At 4:30 AM we got picked up at the hostel for our tour to the El Tatio geysers. The El Tatio geysers are the highest in the world at 4200m altitude. We arrived there at sunrise, whilst it was still freezing outside. Temperatures of -5°C are very common that early in the morning. The geysers were not impressive — especially not when compared to the geysers at Yellowstone — but it was nice to visit them nonetheless. After breakfast we visited very crowded thermal pools, and we decided to skip them because of the limited to we got from the tour guide. That morning we did two more stops before we returned to the hostel. First we visited some wetlands enroute, then we stopped at a small town. In town we had the opportunity to taste llama meat for the first time. The llama kebab we bought tasted very good! I will definitely eat more llama meat. At noon we returned to the hostel.
We had to wait for four hours before our next tour would start. We prepared a small lunch with some of the leftovers from the past few days, and played table tennis and pool with our friends at the hostel. At 4 PM we left for the Valle de la Luna tour. The Valle de la Luna is named for its resemblance to the moon surface. Unfortunately I haven’t visited the moon yet, so I will have to take that for granted. We were showed a couple of nice places in the valley, and did a small hike. The valley has some really beautiful places, and an interesting history. It was, and still is, used as part of the traditions of the local tribes. We left the valley behind us and moved to a viewpoint to watch the sunset over the Valle de la Luna. We finished our long day of activities with a BBQ back at the hostel. The pieces of meat, and especially the pineapple, were delicious!
With two days filled with activities behind us, we planned a ‘free’ day to prepare ourselves for the Salar de Uyuni tour. We planned the remaining items that we still had to do at breakfast, and took the transfer to the town center. All morning and afternoon we worked to get our stuff done. Got some Bolivian cash, payed for the tour, dropped of our laundry, and pack our bags. At the end of the afternoon we returned to the town center for some dinner (pizzas) and to pick up our laundry.
At 9 PM we got picked up at the hostel for our final activity in San Pedro de Atacama: sand boarding. It was only a short drive to the Valle de la Muerte (dead valley), where we would go sand boarding with the full moon. They sorted out the equipment and we got to pick a pair of boots. Then we got handed a snowboard based on which one of our legs was strongest. We hiked up the 150m high sand dunes and got a short instruction from the guide. After the first descent under guidance we were free to board on our own. Getting down was easy, and at the end of the run we just came to a stop. The only challenging part was making turns. In total we did 9 runs before the time was up and we had to return. A thrilling activity to end our stay in San Pedro de Atacama!