I recently came back from the trip of a lifetime in my beloved South America and while I am full of renewed enthusiasm for this wonderful continent I want to share my experiences with you!
As part of my trip I was lucky enough to visit the incredible Atacama Desert high up in the north of Chile, nestled between two mountain chains. I started my journey in Northwest Argentina where, bright and early in the morning, I boarded the top deck of a very comfortable coach. I realise that the idea of spending a day on a bus does not sound like fun to many, however, there are two very good reasons for doing so! Firstly, from Argentina the cost of a bus journey is much less compared to booking flights via Santiago, and your money not only buys you a comfortable reclining seat, but meals, snacks and coffee are served by very friendly staff while you lay back and watch the latest film (if you’re not glued to the view outside!). Secondly, the scenery you pass on the 8 hour journey is constantly changing, from steep mountain climbs of the Andes and occasional herd of grazing vicunas to the vast white salt plains or snowy winding roads.
After miles and miles of nature and passing only the odd shack or tiny village, the bus pulled in to a small dusty town built of adobe, called San Pedro de Atacama. There are only two main streets in the town and the roads are only dirt tracks. It already makes me feel relaxed.
My driver from Alto Atacama greeted me inside the bus station and directed me to the minivan waiting for me just across the road. Upon arrival at Alto I was met by the deputy manager, a lovely friendly woman, and a porter to take my suitcase to my room. I was swiftly handed a refreshing glass of fruit juice, handed my key card and accompanied to what was to be my home from home for the next couple of nights. On the way I was informed about the various excursions departing the next day and told to have a think and let them know once I’d decided. The room was beautiful. There was calming music playing from the surround sound and through the french windows the sun was about to set in between the surrounding mountain sides. That evening I was invited to the hotel’s private observatory to do some star-gazing, needless to say the desert was making a great first-impression. Before bed I decided on an activity for the following afternoon, booked a massage for the morning, got into my slippers and robe and relaxed completely… bliss.
After a delicious and leisurely breakfast I was greeted by Veronica, the resident landscape architect, who offered to take me on a tour of the lodge. Veronica originally studied biology and went on to study botany and landscape architecture in Paris. Heavily influenced and inspired by the beauty of nature, she is one of the most interesting and passionate women I have ever met. Veronica took me around the grounds to the orchard, where figs and potatoes are starting to grow. A delightful and leisurely morning so far! The only way I could get more relaxed was to hit the lodge’s Spa! After an incredible full body massage I lay out in the sun next to one of the five swimming pools, with not a soul around… Heaven.
Lunch was a pleasant surprise. Instead of being seated inside, I was escorted out into the warm and sunny garden where the tables were beautifully laid and ready for the guests. Over a fantastic dish of gnocchi I got chatting to a Brazilian couple next to me and it turned out we were all going on the same afternoon excursion to the salt lagoons. With lunch over I was invited by Veronica to go and feed the resident llamas; I’m a huge animal lover so I was thrilled by the invitation. I noticed straight away how at ease she was with the native animals, who were wonderfully curious and very friendly.
At 5pm I was greeted at Reception by our tour guide and introduced to the other people coming on the same excursion (three of whom I had already met at lunch!). We were given a brief on the way to the first stop, which was the oldest church in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, built originally from local cactus wood, known as ‘cardon’. From there we continued driving up towards the Salar de Atacama, passing a stunning landscape of far off volcanoes and mountains. With the light slowly changing we hopped out of the van and to my surprise were greeted with a huge flock of beautiful pink flamingos. Sunset was imminent so after our guide taught us all about the geology of the area and we had each taken enough photos of the nearby flamingos, we sat down to a picnic in-front of the setting sun. I felt so far away from the rat race, almost as if we were on another planet, so I was brought back to Earth when I was offered a very British cup of Earl Grey tea!
My time in the Atacama was incredible and when it came to leaving the following morning I felt incredibly jealous of the other guests who would be staying on to explore even more of the fantastic Altiplanic region. All in all, for those who love breathtaking landscapes, almost guaranteed sunshine year round, new experiences and a real break from the madness of city life, the Atacama is the perfect destination.
To find out more about the best ways to discover the Atacama, get in touch with one of our Travel Specialists – contact us.