Second stop in Chile was San Pedro de Atacama a tourist hot spot full of thrill seeking adventure junkie gringos with a fair few bare feet and ukuleles thrown in. The bus ride in really had the wow factor before we even got to the town. Crossing desert and the mountain range into San Pedro at sunset set us up for what was an epic stop on our Chile tour. Our hostal was slightly outside the centre (chosen on purpose to get away from ukuleles) and as we walked over the brow of the hill we we greeted with a goosebumpy view which we could also see from a hammock at our hostel.
Wow. Just wow. We checked in to a beautiful hostel and had already booked a tour for the moon valley the next day before we’d put our bags down. There is just so much to do and we only had 5 days! We wandered out to the local restaurant and had a ‘menu del dia’ for dinner and crashed in preparation for a manic week.
We’d tried to give ourselves a bit of time on the first day to look around the town, get some ideas of trips to do and some quotes from different agencies. The whole town literally runs on tourism so there’s touts for agencies and restaurants everywhere each trying to get you to spend your money with them. Food prices were crazy high even for Chile, which is already high, but as we’d found a local outside of town for half the price we didn’t worry too much about having to eat £12 individual pizzas!
We’d barely got into the town when we got drawn into an agency offering volcano hikes of one of the 3 volcanos in the area. As we’d already read the guide book before we got to San Pedro we knew we fancied a volcano climb, it was just choosing which one and when. We met Carlos, one of the most enthusiastic mountain lovers I’ve ever met and we were drawn in to booking a hike up Lascar volcano, 5500m and the only active volcano in the area, in 4 days time! Eeekkk!
Then we headed off to find the horse riding place as the agreement was I’d drag myself up a hill if John rode a pony. We found the office for Atacamahorseadventures.com and found ourselves booking an 8hr full day horse ride the next day! Ouch!
We headed out that evening for our first jaunt of the week. To Valle de Luna, the moon valley. Our guide Diego was infectiously excited about rocks and sand but it made for a really interesting tour where we climbed up through a cave formed from salt rock, some salt sculptures that were worshipped in the past, up and along a huge dune with epic views of The Moon Valley and lastly to the wild coyotes park look out for a picnic and sunset. An incredible introduction to an incredible week.
Fourty five minutes from the town of Iquique lay the remains of a mining community left to the sand and winds of the Atacama. Humberstone saltpetre works was named after a British chemical engineer who made a fortune from saltpetre after moving to the continent.
Before the production of synthetic fertilisers the world depended on Saltpetre. The best Saltpetre came from Chile and was transported all over the world. The industry is Chile was so successful it accounted for 40% to 60% of the countries income. The ghost town is a reminder if this past, which is still in living memory for it’s youngest inhabitants.
It’s hard to believe anyone could live under the harsh sun in the driest desert on earth. However a community thrived here. However it is the dry climate which has helped preserve the town. The community was a microcosm of Chilean society, the class divisions were clear in the types of housing provided to the different workers.
The houses if the single male miners were cramped with dirt floors and had shared toilets at the end of each block.
The houses if the executives were much larger and contained toilets and many rooms as well a wooden flooring. People lived very different lives in close proximity.
Facilities offered by the community included a swimming pool made from the bottom of an old ship.
Some of the machine used to pump water in to the pool were still behind the seats
There was also a basketball court
One of the most eerie parts of the town is the abandon factory and workshop. Many of the machines had been shipped from Europe.
Many of the corrugated iron panels swung freely in the wind, it was a little unnerving as they could injure you if you fall. There is pretty much full access to all areas but you are warned that you may be injured if you are an idiot.
One of the most impressive things was the chimney.
The lot of forgotten engines.
Also the old locomotives.
This place is really worth a look if you like rusty old stuff! Good day out!
Our final stop in Peru was Arequipa. After waving Lu off at the airport in Lima, and a 3 day discussion about whether we should take a 18hr bus or a 1.5hr flight, we boarded the plane in Lima and headed to Arequipa. It did not disappoint. We got a taxi from the airport as there are no easily accessible busses and the airport funds taxis for this reason. Our driver was another wonderful friendly Peruvian who excitedly told us about the sights, the city centre, a bit of history of his city and about the local delicacies on offer (cheese ice cream being the one that stuck!).
Our hostel was a bit out of the city but only a crazy Peruvian bus ride away so we headed in straightaway to see the beautiful central square Plaza de Armas. We headed past the first church square (Arequipa is full of churches) and thought we’d have a peek in. The charge was 5pesos each and we weren’t sure why we had to pay as it didn’t look that big but we handed the money over and headed in, only to find we’d inadvertently paid for a tour…..which was really interesting. We got to poke around in the old quarters of the monks, saw the dressing room for the Virgin, her packed wardrobe and jewellery, the baby chair where baby Jesus sat while she got changed, and all the diplomas she’d since been awarded (?!), saw the library which contained lots of French cooking books. It transpired that this was a French monastery that due to all the earthquakes over the years had been rebuilt 4 times and was still receiving donations from France to keep it well looked after. Absolutely worth the approx 50p we spent on the entrance.
By the time we’d finished the tour we were able to see the centre square, Plaza de Armas, lit up at night. It was beautiful. We ventured inside the cathedral which of course was also beautiful, and wandered around in awe for half an hour before our tummies got the better of us. We booked a quick bus tour for the next day, filled up on chiva, and headed back to collapse for a busy day of sightseeing the next day.
We booked the midday tour as recommended by the agency as that included a traditional lunch (not included in the price of course) but as Peru is comparably cheap we decided to push the boat out. Sadly as we were here in winter it was not possible to see the three famous volcanos from the two lovely lookout points on the tour no matter which angle we looked for them from. But we tried the cheese ice cream which was a surprising (maybe not that surprising) hit. We tackled fried yuca and fish ceviche as two other Peruvian dishes and the taxi driver was right to be proud of them all!
Next up was the llama shop where everything was made of llama and said llamas were chilling out the back as part of the attraction.
Then we went to a mansion outside of town that a king had built for his son who had Down’s syndrome in the ????’s. It was pretty fabulous but our guide pretty much ran round it gabbling so quickly in Spanish in each room it was tricky to get much idea of the place.
Last stop was an old mill where a pony ride was offered, but on checking the horses wellbeing and the outside of the mill, we opted for an ice cream on the bus until it was hometime.
Arequipa was as beautiful as the guidebooks will tell you and we’re pleased we made a stop off there even if it was brief.