We traveled to the driest desert in the world not because we wanted to see it, but because we needed to leave Argentina and didn’t want to go to Bolivia.  Even though we knew nothing about San Pedro de Atacama or the surrounding area, I am glad we opted for the Chilean desert experience.

We arrived in San Pedro (de Atacama) after an 8 ½ hour bus ride from Salta, Argentina.  Once we were settled in our hostel we headed in to town to see what options were available for getting out into the desert.  We knew that we would need to book a tour and had heard good things about Cactus Tour, so we found their office in town and arranged to see the flamingos in the salt flats and then head up to about 12,000 feet to see some Andean Lakes.

We weren’t disappointed.  We arrived at the salt flats just as the sun was peeking out over the mountains.

Desert Sunrise

Morning light shining on the salt flats

We were the first group to arrive at Laguna Chaxa, and the flamingos were in close proximity to the pathways.

Chilean Flamingo at Lago Chaxa

Chilean Flamingos at Lago Chaxa

I felt bad for the group coming after us, because the flamingos had all flown to a much more distant lake by the time we had finished our alfresco breakfast and piled back in the van.

Flamingos in flight

For the next leg of our journey our van chugged its way up to 12,000 feet and several mountain lakes.

Miscanti Lagoon

There was a small herd of vicuñas grazing nearby.

It was all incredibly beautiful, but between the high altitude and persistent wind it was very cold.

Pat and Amy in Atacama

That evening back in town we saw a beautiful sunset.

Sunset in San Pedro de Atacama

The evening light on the mountains turned the drab brown vistas into something quite dramatic.

Sunset in San Pedro de Atacama

Later that night we climbed back on a bus and headed for the Peruvian border and then on to Arequipa, which entailed 30 hours on buses, petty theft in Arica, Chile, and a very bizarre border crossing.  We were wrecked by the end of the journey, but glad to be in Arequipa.