South America Blog Posts

Weeks 9 & 10 – Bikepacking Chile. San Pedro de Atacama and getting ready to leave Chile.

I started week nine by waking up with a hangover in a tent in the desert. The party had been great the night before, but now was the morning after. We packed up our things and headed back to Bahia Inglesa. We decided to stay there on a campsite for a few more days to relax and enjoy the beach. Bahia Inglesa has a beautiful beach with turquoise waters, but the water is super cold. We only stayed for a few days before we took a bus from Caldera to Calama. The night before we took the bus, we stayed in a very cheap hotel close to the bus station. This was so that I could carry our boxes to the station, but also so that I could carry them back again if we got rejected. This time we were lucky and the bus driver was very kind. He actually repacked the luggage that was already on the bus so that we could fit all our boxes into the storage area. It was such a relief and we were really looking forward to being able to cycle again without relying on buses.

Applying for a visa in Calama

Calama is close to the border with Bolivia in the north of Chile. It is also very close to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. To keep things simple, we checked into another cheap hotel near to the bus station. We stayed in Calama for a couple of days so that Huong could apply for a Bolivian visa at the consulate. We were really lucky because the day that we went to the consulate was also the anniversary of Bolivia’s independence. So there was an event being held where people were selling different Bolivian foods. It was a nice little window into what Bolivia might be like. The best thing was a non-alcoholic spiced peach cider called Mocochinchi. It has a taste similar to mulled wine because of the spices, but a refreshing peach taste too.

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is an expensive tourist destination. There are tours that take you to see the different sites in the desert around the town. To avoid these costs you can rent a car and visit the places on your own. So we posted in a Facebook group for backpackers in Chile and managed to find some people to rent a car with. There were five us in the car all together. We headed to San Pedro and visited a national park area called Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Personally, I think it would be better to call it the Martian Valley as the rocks are all red and remind me of the footage from Mars. It’s a really beautiful area, especially to view the sunset as the light highlights all the texture of the terrain.

Getting stuck in the desert

We also drove out to see the flamingos in a lagoon in the middle of the Salar de Atacama. Google maps lead us to a blocked road, so we asked some workmen for directions. They told us to take this dirt road so we headed off. Unfortunately the road they recommended was for a local back entrance to the lagoon and wasn’t really suitable for our rental car. We soon ended up bogged and stranded in the middle of nowhere. There were five of us in the car, but it took us a few hours to be able to get free. We weren’t pushing the whole time, we took some time to walk around taking pictures and also eat some lunch. When we finally got out, we went to see the flamingos but they weren’t so exciting after our afternoon in the salar (salt flats).

Preparing to leave Chile

San Pedro is a really cool looking little town. The buildings are all made from mud bricks so they look really rustic and match the desert location. It’s a really cool place to spend some time and there are some cheap food options if you look carefully enough. For example there are some local restaurants next to the football field in town where you can get a menu meal for less than 5 pounds.

We headed back to Calama and organised our final bus journey with the bikes. This time we were heading over the border from Chile into Bolivia. The woman in the bus station guaranteed that the bikes would be taken on the bus. She was so confident that she actually let us drop off the bikes the day before so that they could be packed like cargo. It was such a relief to have everything sorted and know that next week we would be starting a new adventure in a new country and back on our bikes.

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