We decided to change our travel plans in San Pedro de Atacama. We had originally intended to take an overland tour to Uyuni in Bolivia, then go to La Paz and through to Lake Titicaca. But the main reason to go into Bolivia was to see the Salt Flats, which are much larger than the ones we visited in Atacama. La Paz really didn’t appeal and the challenge of the 4 x 4 trip to Uyuni for 3 days didn’t float out boat. We’d had a fab time in the Atacama so decided to go through Northern Chile to Peru and avoid gritty Bolivia completely.
The bus journeys north were pretty spectacular in an arid sandy kind of way. From San Pedro de Atacama the dusty road headed through miles of moonscape rock formations, sand dunes and canyons to Calama. This copper and lithium mining town looked a bit like something out of the Wild West and along the road were plenty of abandoned miners huts.
Once our bus hit the coast it was a right turn north. This is when the journey was pretty interesting. The road hugs the coast with the Pacific Ocean smacking up against dirty flat beachland but on the right huge sand dunes have settled over insanely high walls where the south american tectonic plate pushed upwards. It all looked a bit ‘Game of Thrones’ apart from the tarmac road that just kept going north.
Then suddenly out of the desert we came across the oasis sunny seaside town of Iquique. This saltpetre mining town was wealthy in the early 19th century and an important hub for Bolivian silver to be exported. It’s a hotchpotch of shanty shacks on the outskirts, historic centre, new modern developments and a wide boardwalk sandy beach perfect for surfers. But this is a town where you need plenty of life insurance – earthquakes and tsunamis are regular occurrences. Surrounded by the giant dunes it certainly looks like a town that defies logic and seems to be a mirage, don’t forget it’s right on the edge of a massive desert!
After a spot of sunbathing in our bargain sparkly hotel with Christmas carols playing in the background it was time to head to Peru.
We took a collectivo car from Arica across the border. This car service cost just £2 each, you share with 3 other strangers, all go though the Chilean exit and Peru entry customs together and get dropped off in Tacna bus terminal. Easy! Gracias Chile.
Next up – Arequipa, Peru.