A week of adventures in the Atacama desert

Our house at the end of a dusty road – Cabana Volcano

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Minibus ride from the airport in Calama to San Pedro de Atacama

It was a 2.5 hr flight from Santiago to Calama then a 1.5 hr bus ride from Calama, in the north east part of Chile on the Bolivian border, to San Pedro de Atacama. At the end of a dusty bumpy road, 20 min walk from the centre of San Pedro de Atacama we finally arrived at our little cabana for the week. Cabana Volcano!

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Cabana Volcano

Cabana Volcano was a very small but cute little house with 2 tiny bedrooms and a fold out bed in the kitchenette/sitting room, bathroom with a hot shower and best of all a terrace with a large BBQ, table and chairs.

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Not very big inside, but ok for a few days

This is where we spent most of our time enjoying the with views over snowcapped volcanoes with nothing else to distract us. The cabana was ours for the next week and the kids felt excited about not going anywhere for a while and so did I to be honest. The previous week of exploring towns in Chile had meant a lot of travelling and eating out so we were all ready to settle down in one place for a while and cook our own food.

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Breakfast on the terrace overlooking the mountains

For Granny Olive and Uncle Adam who had come all the way to Chile from Scotland to see us, this was the main destination of their trip and by far the most exciting part of tour time together. While the kids had some well needed rest mornings and afternoons adapting to the high altitude of 2400m, Granny and Ad went on a coupe of trips on their own.

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Scott riding a bike we found along the dusty road leading up to our house

We spent 6 days here mixing lazy morning with early starts for sunrise excursions and late evening stargazing sessions with strolls into San Pedro de Atacama for food and play in one of the playgrounds.

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There are some great playgrounds for the kids to enjoy in San Pedro

San Pedro de Atacama is quite a busy little town with tourists in mini busses coming and going everyday as they head out on one of many exciting desert adventures on offer in the many tour offices. Dirt streets are lined with little shops, hostels, restaurants and bars that mainly spring to life after dark. We were glad not to stay in the centre of things and enjoyed the peace and quiet in our cabana 20 min walk from town.

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Main road, a little dirt road that runs through the little town of San Pedro de Atacama
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Heard of llamas on the way from our cabana to town

While at the cabana we didn’t do much except cook, eat, play games and enjoy the views on the terrace. We found 2 little bikes round the back of the house that Ingrid and Scott loved whizzing round on in the dust. There was also a friendly builder close by with a dog called Ozzie and a stray puppy that Scotty of course fell in love with.

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The end of the road and the view from our cabana, looks like the Savannah
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Scott and Ozzy the dog

Exciting Atacama adventures

The sights and excursions we did here were some of the best on our round the world trip so far and with Granny and Uncle Ad here we did more of them than we would have done on our own. It was just the excuse we needed to push the budget a bit to make some magical lifetime memories. Here below is a summary our favourite Atacama desert adventures.

Hot air balloon ride at sunrise

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Watching the hot air balloon being inflated

The Atacama is probably the best place in the world to go on a hot air balloon ride..according to our pilot who had been flying balloons all his life in over 25 countries. Unfortunately for Scott you had to be 8 to go, to be able to see out of the basked unaided, so he stayed at home with Paul for a morning of sleep and mine craft. 7.30 pick up from our house then a 20 min ride out into the desert landscape where we were met by the balloon pilot and his crew.

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All fired up and ready to go

After a thorough safety briefing we go served hot coffee, hot chocolate and croissants while watching the team inflate the balloon. We even got to climb inside it for a quick photo before getting ready to go.

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Inside the Hot air balloon with our pilot

The basket was divided into 4 compartments round the centre compartment with the pilot and gas canisters. Ingrid and I climbed into one compartment next to Granny Olive and Adam. One the other side was a German contingent photographing designer suits. We rose up 300m very fast avoiding the breeze lower down while enjoying the view of the desert as we and the sun rose ever higher in the sky.

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View of the landscape and our shadow from the balloon
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Having a great time up high
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View of the sunrise over the mountains from the Hot air balloon

From 1000m up we could see our cabana and San Pedro in the desert landscape far below and a few oasis scattered along the dry riverbed. After 1 hr of drifting in the gentle breeze it was time to go down. The basked descended slowly with us sitting down in brace position hoping the basket would not drag along the ground as we landed. Suddenly the basket was standing still on the gourd and we were safely down greeted by champagne and orange juice. What a lovely morning!

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Touching Mother Earth at the Meteorite Museum

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Outside the little Meteorite Museum in San Pedro de Atacama

The little Meteorite museum in San Pedro de Atacama does not look like much from the outside but what a great afternoon we had here. All the magic takes place inside the little dome where a large collection of real meteorites are exhibited along the the wall of the dome shaped tent. Entry of £3 includes a guided tour in English with headphones and some hands on activities at the end. Its well worth the price!

Each meteorite has an exciting story to tell which is explained on little screens next to each meteorite. The language is very scientific, but we all could understand enough to make out how planet earth was formed in the big bang of meteorites 450Bn years ago, how a giant meteorite killed the dinosaurs and how they may impact planet earth and us in the future. All meteors on display here have been found in the Atacama desert by the two brothers who set up the museum ..not because there are more meteorites here but because they are much easier to find here in the stable desert environment than in other places in the world.

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Enjoying our guided tour in the meteorite museum

The session ended with a lady showing us, and letting us touch a 450Bn years old mother earth meteorite. Mother Earth meteorites are the oldest rock on earth, they are leftovers from the meteorite crash, the big bang that formed planet Earth 450 Bn years ago. The lady also explained how to find and identify a meteorites from a normal stones. The kids especially loved this part and were were all excited to go out and look for our own meteorites to take with us home.

Stargazing and hot chocolate

Perhaps not the easiest activity to do with little children due to the late time and the relatively long time you spend standing around, but we all loved it nonetheless. We went stargazing in an observatory in Australia back in October but this was even better. The english speaking bus from Atacama desert stargazing left San Pedro at 7.30 and arrived at the observatory 20 min later. We all gathered round our extremely knowledgable Canadian guide who was telling us about the star constellations, planets and solar system using a laster beam to point it all out. The light pollution is close to zero here and so the night sky is simply stunning. After 40 min gazing at the stars it was time to see the most interesting planets, stars and galaxies up close on a permanent set up of 11 telescopes, 1 of which is the largest public telescope in all of South America. There were enough telescopes to go round avoiding any queues. Ingrid and Scott loved walking round looking at all the stars and planets, excited about those they could recognise from our session in Australia. It was getting cold and so after 45min of telescopes we were invited into a a little hut for questions and a hot chocolate. Home in bed by 10, what a great evening! Sorry not to post any photos here but it was pitch back and impossible to photograph.

Horse riding in the desert

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Rancho Cactus outside San Pedro de Atacama

As Scott was too little to go in the hot air balloons a few days earlier, the two of us went horse riding one late afternoon to make up for it. It was something I had been longing to do and so was very happy to organise our 2 hr desert horseback ride with Rancho Cactus. The actual ranch was just 10 min drive from the centre of San Pedro and offered more stunning views of the landscape with snowcapped volcanoes in the background.

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Scott and I loved our 2 hr desert horse ride

Pablo, Scott and I packed our saddlebags with water and set off. I was worried Scott would get tired or bored but he was such a star, loving every moment.  We spend 30 min heading out of town towards the riverbed. I was surprised at how confident and relaxed he was as he had only just had a coupe of 5 min pony rides in London before. Even when packs of wild dogs came running barking at us he stayed cool as a cucumber and so did the horses. We rode along the riverbed for 1 hr letting the horses stop for a drink and a break then spent 30 min getting back to the ranch. After 2 hrs on the back of the horse my bum and I were both ready for a break.

From -8 degrees celcius to +38 at Tatio Geysers

Scott and I did not go to Tatio Geysers as it was a 5am start and a trip up to 4200m altitude. We had a lazy morning doing play-doh instead. Below is an extract out of Ingrid diary from the trip to the Geysers with Paul, Granny and Uncle Ad.

IMG_8512“Toady we woke up early to go to geysers El Tati. We got into the minivan and because the english speaking guide didn’t show up Granny became the guide. When we stopped for the tickets it was freezing outside, it was -8degrees celsius.A t first it didn’t feel that cold but suddenly it was freezing. We forgot to bring my puffer jacket so I was wearing daddays fleece instead.

 

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Lovely soak in the water heated by Geyser Tatio

We got back into the bus and drove to the Geysers. First we had breakfast consisting mostly of hot chocolate and then we went to look at the geysers. It had to be quick otherwise my feet would have frozen completely. We saw one geyser erupting. Back in the car daddy warmed up my feet then it was time for the volcanic hot springs. You could only swim in it for 30 min because of all the minerals from the geyser. Me and daddy got changed and when we walked outside to the water the coldness of the stones burned into my feet. We got into the water and it wasn’t that warm so we swam closer to the geyser and it was amazing. We were next to some Australian and Irish ladies.

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Llama skewers taste great

After the swim we got dressed and got into the van. We drove for a while until we came to a little village where we had delicious llama skewers and goats cheese empanadas. I loved both of the but my favourite were the empanadas.”

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