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Atacama Valleys & Vistas

San Pedro de Atacama
The Atacama in northern Chile is an extraordinary place. We should have known what to expect when we arrived in San Pedro, the town at the heart of everything here. The town looked a little like a western film set. The buildings and high garden walls, a feature of the town, are largely made from ochre coloured adobe. This is basically mud and straw, but which has survived for decades. Roads were clearly an optional extra when the town was built, but the atmosphere is original and special.
Machuca Village
We had already visited the timeless village of Machuca on the way home from the amazing El Tatio steam geysers. Original adobe-built homes are very much the standard there and the tiny St. James Church looking over the village is beautiful, traditional and faithfully maintained. Don’t miss this charming and genuine place - it is a must for a stopover.
Salt Mountains
So, we headed next for the Salt Mountains, where the aptly named Moon Valley was a little busy because it was a Chilean bank holiday. As a result, we had plenty of company trekking up and down the ochre coloured salt hiking paths. We didn’t have mountain bikes (walking was quite adequate thanks!), but a few others did, and if that’s your thing, you can hire them at the car park.
Moon Valley
It is quite a steep trek up to the top of Moon Valley, which is located at over 2000 metres, and rather warm, so there’s no need to rush. The landscapes and the views, as with most of the Atacama, were stunning and well worth the climb. The weathered rock formations, overhangs and caves are fascinating, and bear testimony to the exposure and age of this unique, fascinating panorama.
Sunset over Death Valley
Then we were back in the car for the bumpy ride to Death Valley and the Kari Viewpoint, one of the highest points of the Salt Mountains. Once off the highway, roads are definitely optional, as in there aren’t any. As always though, the extraordinary views from the top were worth all the bumps and we settled in to await the famous sunset. Sundowners provided by our driver and guide were on the menu, and fortunately served in much warmer conditions than our 6 am breakfast BBQ at the Geysers! This is sandboarding territory and with our binoculars we could just about see what was going on down in the distant valley. As the sun went down we turned to the east and watched the reflected rays spread across the horizon in magnificent, ever-changing colours. We left the Atacama the next morning with our indelible memories of all those hues and shades and that incredible desert landscape very much intact. Very few experiences are genuinely beautiful and unique, but we came away convinced that this is one of them!
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