Richard Harwood

Chile - 2001

Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert

The Smithsonian extension to the Atacama Desert began on November 23rd and ended on the 26th. Of the original group of 25, only seven of us continued on to San Pedro de Atacama. The tour managers, Kevin and Ingrid, were with us for this portion of the trip, but not Patty and Nichole. Myself, Bob, Ina, Jans and Delores made up the remainder of the group. On afternoon of November 23rd we departed Santiago on a flight to Calama, with a short stop over in Antofagasta. I found the flight to be very exciting as the weather was mostly sunny and I had a window seat on the right side of the plane, thus giving me an excellent view of the Andes Mountains, coast and desert as we flew northward. When we arrived in Calama, we were met at the airport by a van from the Explora Hotel. The drive took a little more than an hour, with the sun setting while we were on the road. Once at the Explora Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, the routine was very similar to that of the Explora in Patagonia. Each evening we were given a briefing on the next day's activities and had to make our selection at that time. A variety of half day (morning and afternoon) and full day options were presented. My activities tended to be different than those of Bob, Ina, Jans and Delores, although there was some overlap.

Kevin and I almost always selected the same activities. At this point in the tour it was becoming something of a running gag that Kevin was following me around to keep an eye on me! In reality, I think that Kevin and I just happened to be interested in the activities that involved plenty of hiking. With Kevin being one of the group leaders, it gave him a good excuse to go on the hikes when one of the group members was also on the hike. Fortunately, Kevin and I got along quite well. He pointed out plants to me and I pointed out rocks, and we both learned something in the process.

On our first full day, November 24th at San Pedro de Atacama I signed up for two half day hikes. The morning hike was on the Las Cornisas hike following a ridge above the Valle de la Muerte (the Valley of Death). The afternoon hike was on the Kari Gorge hike following a narrow stream valley through part of the Cordillera de la Sal (the Salt Range).

On November 25th I took the early morning van excursion to the El Tatio geysers and hot springs. This was a half day excursion, but was longer than a normal half day excursion due to the 5:00 a.m. departure time. The return trip made a stop at the Puritama hot springs for a bit of relaxation in the hot pools of water. That afternoon I went on the Valle de la Luna hike (Valley of the Moon). This hike was similar to the Kari Gorge hike in that it was also in the Cordillera de la Sal, but ended on a ridge overlooking the Valle de la Luna to watch the sunset.

Our last day in San Pedro de Atacama was the 26th of November. Our flight to Santiago was not until the late afternoon so this gave us one more opportunity to participate in a morning excursion. Kevin and I opted to try the hike to the top of Volcan Toco, one of the smaller volcanic peaks in the Andes Mountains that overlooks San Pedro de Atacama.

Our return to Santiago in the afternoon was just the reverse of the trip from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama. The biggest difference was the timing of it. The flight occurred slightly later in the day than the flight northward. As a result the view from the airplane window wasn't as good since the sun had set by the time we left Antofagasta. It made me glad that I was able to get some good pictures on the flight northward, since I wasn't able to get any on the way south.

The map of the area surrounding San Pedro de Atacama shows the places that were visited.
Click on the bold blue letters or map symbol to learn more about that area and to view pictures.

Map of the San Pedro de Atacama area El Tatio Puritama Hot Springs Valle del Muerte Valle de la Luna San Pedro de Atacama El Toco Volcan Licancarbur Volcan Lascar .