We have often heard about the Atacama desert, already in Europe before leaving and then also here in Chile. We were therefore impatient to arrive in San Pedro d’Atacama, the town that we had associated with this famous desert. We were therefore rather surprised to see desert landscapes around us at the coast, several hundred kilometres south of San Pedro. After some research, we learned that the Atacama Desert is not only located around this tourist town, but that it extends over the whole of northern Chile, from the Peruvian border to the south of Copiapó (according to Wikipedia a total area of 104,903 km², for reference Austria is only 83,871 km²). You may think that during all these kilometers, we didn’t see much, but we reassure you, it was an interesting trip all the same!
The Atacama desert is not the same everywhere. On the coast we saw huge sand dunes, further inland we found a stone desert. And when we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, there are salars (salt lagoons) and lunar valleys. We couldn’t say what we liked most. The sand dunes towards the coast were more like what we imagined a desert to be. And the sand gives some very soft camping spots to sleep on. Moreover, many cities are concentrated on the coast. So it was easier to find water and food. Inland there was hardly anything, no villages, no water and no sign of life. We appreciated all the more the kindness of the people we met: a man in a car who stopped in front of us to give us a pack of water bottles (a gift from heaven, as we were already short of water), a young man who saw us in the street and spontaneously invites us to sleep at his place at night or the truck driver who absolutely wanted to load our bikes behind and take us to the next town (which we had to refuse 10 times because he didn’t want to believe we were passing through here voluntarily, but we’re here to pedal after all 😉 ). And then in San Pedro, there were unfortunately a lot of closed tourist sites. But already the town itself with the well preserved stone houses is charming. Not to mention the landscapes which are different on each side of the town… There are so many things to see, we can understand why in normal times there are several thousands of tourists every day. We’ll soon tell you in detail about all our visits here, but what is sure is that we enjoyed the whole desert crossing and that we are proud to have already reached the north of Chile!
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The Atacama desert