The second excursion I joined in San Pedro was a full day trip to the Lagunas Altiplanicas and Piedras Rojas. Pick-up was at 730AM (although I should really mention they are always late… they give you a time estimate (for example between 7-730AM) but depending on other people’s punctuality (which in South America doesn’t really exist), you’ll for sure end up waiting in the cold for a bit. Just brace yourself for it!) and we then drove for about 1h to a small town higher up in the mountains (I think it is called Socaire, heading down South of San Pedro). You can tell the place has been set up for tourist tours – you have one large restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch for groups, conveniently located right in front of 2 gift shops. And that’s about all there is. You can go and visit the church if you want!
After our warm breakfast we headed back up in the mountains and drove up to about 4200m, where we stopped for about 30min at the Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques. Again, the one thing I don’t particularly like about group tours is that you have very limited time in the places visited. The guide also walks around with the group but that limits the distance you will be walking/exploring too… so Guillaume and I just left the group as soon as we got out of the bus and started walking as far as we could to explore as much as possible of the area within our 30min stop. Some of the paths were closed because of the show (which I find really cute) so we just went around the areas that could be accessed. I have to say at this point it got my breath going on, as trying to walk as fast as I can for 30min at 4200m means I am out of breath basically as soon as I got out of the bus (ok not that bad… but on the way back up definitely). The area around San Pedro is full of volcanoes and once more the views were just incredible.
We then left for another little bus ride up to Laguna and the famous Piedras Rojas. The green vivid color of the laguna with the contrast of the red rocks makes it a wonderful spot for photos… and thank god this time we had a good 50minutes to enjoy the area before heading out. Some people went walking on the ice of the laguna close to the shore, which I would not necessarily recommend, but sure it does make great photos.
And off we went for another bus ride back to the restaurant where we had breakfast, this time for lunch. We were treated to a nice warm soup and 4 choices of entrees (even a veggie option). After lunch we drove down in the valley to go visit the Salar of Atacama – the view point is near to a few lagunas within the salar (such as Laguna Chaxa), and it is a place where many flamencos come to hang out. It was the first time I was actually seeing flamencos in the wild, and I have to say it exceeded my expectations. Some of them where just about 5m away from us, and we saw at least a dozen flying over our heads. We stayed until about sunset and Guillaume and I were absolutely crazy about the views and the landscape we had the chance to see. At this point I find our tour should have allowed more time here to enjoy the full sunset – instead we had to get back in the bus to drive to a small town on the way back to Santiago – Toconao. Honestly I still don’t know why we stopped there, as for me it is again a very touristy setting (gift shops and a small stone church) that isn’t worth stopping into… when instead you could be sitting outside watching sunset with flamencos flying over your head.
We got back in San Pedro around 730-8PM after a big day. I would definitely recommend this tour, although again, if you have your own car-truck I’d recommend doing it by your own means to really enjoy time in each locations. The roads can be a bit tricky but with a good drive you’ll be fine!