Chile Pt VI: Cost Summary

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We had three days in San Pedro de Atacama and spent a total of around 300 SGD each.

Cost breakdown

Accommodation
Average cost/person/day: 33.44 SGD

After Peru and Bolivia where activities were the biggest expenditure, accommodation was once again where we spent the most on in Chile.

Transport
Average cost/person: 45.32 SGD

Our 20,000 CLP bus from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta was the only transport expenditure that we had n Chile.

Food
Average cost/person/day: 29.06 SGD

Food was a close second to accommodation. We had quite a few meals which were around 20 SGD per person.

Activity
Average cost/person: 64.63 SGD

Our cycling excursion to Valle de la Luna and the tour to El Tatio Geysers were the contributors to this category.

Misc
Average cost/person: 3.63 SGD

Laundry (most expensive of the trip).

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Chile Pt V: SPA to Salta via Paso Jama

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SPA Bus station

While doing the research, I found that the information on traveling between San Pedro de Atacama and Salta in Argentina was limited. It seemed that there were several operators which ply the route every few days and they could only be booked at the ticket offices.

Hence, after arriving in San Pedro de Atacama, we headed to the bus station to secure our bus tickets to Salta. Andesmar, Frontera del Norte and Gemini were the bus operators with service to Salta but only the Gemini office was open.

Different companies advertising their services

Gemini has service to Salta on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays while Frontera del Norte operates on Mondays and Thursdays. It cost us 20,000 CLP each and would depart at 9am.

Offices were closed

On the day of departure, we said goodbye to Victor and Fabian and arrived at the bus station at 8.30am. It turned out that Johannes would be on the same bus as us as well. Interestingly, we also ran into four SMU graduates who were on their grad trip.

Finally the bus arrived shortly after 9am and we proceeded to board the bus.

The driver’s name was Sergio Escanilla and he had driven for 1 hour and 11 minutes. The other driver would take over later in the service.

Unlike what I had expected, we weren’t driven to the Chilean immigration office. Instead, the bus left SPA and started climbing towards Paso Jama, the northernmost border crossing between Chile and Argentina.

The drive took three hours to reach Paso Jama and we would need to disembark with our bags to clear the immigration and customs. The Chilean and Argentine immigration worked side by side; after getting stamped out of Chile, we would move to the next window to get stamped into Argentina, the 6th country (4th South American one) of this trip. We also lost one hour of time, due to Argentina being one hour ahead of Chile during winter.

Funnily, Ying’s Argentine entry stamp indicated that she entered a day early! We only realized that when we were back on the bus but decided to let it go since it was unlikely that we would have any issue with it later on.

Looking back: Chile

Ahead: Argentina

Many of the passengers were actually Chileans heading to Brazil to support the team in the World Cup.

Chi-Chi-Chi Le-Le-Le Viva Chile!

Gemini is a Chilean company so no problem with Chilean flag

After all the passengers were back on-board, snack packs were distributed. That would be our lunch.

Ubiquitous South American snack pack

Pat in Pack

I was awake for most of the journey to Salta. The scenery outside and Young Guns in Spanish took turns to keep me entertained.

Northwest Argentina

Rolling hills

The bus made a short stop at Purmamarca where several tourists alighted. The town is the base to visit Cerro de los Siete Colores, part of the UNESCO Heritage Site Quebrada de Humahuaca.

Purmamarca

Jujuy was the first major Argentine city from the border and more passengers got off the bus there. A second snack box was distributed after the bus picked them up at Jujuy.

More snacks

Güemes, final stop before Salta

It was already after 6pm when our bus rolled into Salta’s bus station. The service took around 8-9 hours and we were glad to arrive. Thankfully, Fernando, our Airbnb host at Salta, was already at the bus station to pick us up and we didn’t need to navigate Salta’s public transportation system.

Chile Pt IV: El Tatio Geysers

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El Tatio

Victor, owner of our hostel, offered tour booking services. We decided to sign up for the El Tatio geyser tour (18,000 CLP each) which would depart from SPA at 4am in the morning.

The tour bus picked us up slightly after 4am and made a few more stops around town before heading out to the geysers which was around 100km away.

The drive took almost two hours and I was asleep throughout.

I woke up when our bus reached the entrance to El Tatio Geothermal Park. The guide came around to collect the entrance fee of 5,000 CLP from the tour participants.

After the guide was done with the fees, we were driven to where the geysers were. It was really cold.

Too cold

Apparently early morning is the best time to see geysers

Beside ours, there were many tour groups as well. There were easily 200 tourists at the geysers that morning.

Apparently early morning is the best time to see geysers

The guide did some explaining but I was too cold to pay attention. Breakfast (sandwich and hot drinks) was served outside our bus and both of us were happy to seek refuge from the icy winds on the bus.

Ham and cheese sandwich

Breakfast station

Culpeo

After breakfast, we were driven to a hot spring where the water temperature was nice enough to let humans have a dip in.

Hot spring

Since we had experienced the hot spring in Bolivia, we were fine to just walk around the area.

Careful not to step on the ice

Geyser

Patrick’s happy to visit the geysers

Steam emitting from the ground

Explanation

After around 40 minutes at the hot spring and a toilet stop at the ticket office, we were our way back to SPA.

Ticket office

Chilean vehicles are definitely newer and nicer than Peru’s or Bolivia’s.

Unlike the drive there, the guide would talk more and share more information on the sights and animals en-route.

Our guide in action

“Wah vicuña!”

More vicuñas

Putana river

Vado Putana

Can you spot the vizcacha?

Gorgeous mountain – not that different from the ones over in Bolivia

There was a short stop at the village of Machuca where tourists could pick up some alpaca kebabs.

Machuca

Alpaca kebabs

Sadly it was sold out before we even joined the queue.

The rest of the ride back to SPA was uneventful and we were dropped off at the town centre by around 1pm.

Nearing SPA

It was lunch time and we decided to try out La Casona.

La Casona

We took the set lunches – ribs for me and chicken for Ying. Very impressed with both the quantity and quality.

Soup

Ribs

Grilled chicken

Happy diners

Ice-cream for dessert

The meal came out to be a very reasonable 23,000 CLP or 40 USD with drinks. Definitely recommended!

Both Ying and I didn’t enjoy the tour to El Tatio geysers every much although to be honest it was through no fault of the tour operator. The day started too early and it was really too cold at the geysers.

Furthermore, we were at Salar de Uyuni before coming to San Pedro de Atacama and therefore found the sights (still very beautiful) slightly underwhelming. Nevertheless, El Tatio geysers is still an interesting attraction and is worth a visit.

Chile Pt III: Cycling to Valle de la Luna

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Valle de la Luna

We had decided to spend our second day at San Pedro de Atacama cycling to Valle de la Luna or Valley of the Moon.

Before setting off, we had breakfast at a restaurant along Caracoles.

Huge sandwich for me and pancakes for Ying

Co-incidentally we ran into Johannes and Kelli again. As it was Johannes’ birthday, we bought him breakfast and reminded Kelli to treat him dinner later in the evening.

They were also renting bicycles for half the day (3,500 CLP for six hours) but we were heading in different directions. Ying and I cycled around the town for a while to test the bikes and she decided that the seat was too high. However neither of us could adjust it and she rode back to the shop where the rental shop man knocked it down with brute force.

Following the simple map provided by the rental shop, we figured our way out of SPA and headed towards Valle de la Luna.

Desert

Great road (at the start)

Mountain

Early pit stop

Turn right

It took us around 25 minutes to reach the entrance of Valle de la Luna from SPA.

Ticket office

We paid 2,000 CLP each as entrance fee and the staff told us the time needed for us to cycle to the different sights. We would soon find out that it was wildly optimistic.

End of good roads

Although the distance seemed short, the terrain was punishing. We stopped a few times before reaching the first attraction: the canyon.

Painful to the rear

We locked our bicycles at the bicycle rack and made our way into the canyon.

Entrance to the canyon

Canyon

Tired

There were parts which were pretty narrow. Ying said that it reminded her of BBC Knowledge promo ad.

?

Nice to be in the shade

I was reminded of Jordan

Back on the bicycles and the terrain would get even more punishing.

The road ahead

The slope got so steep that we had to dismount and push the bicycles up.

Up the slope

We weren’t the only ones

Catching a breather

After more pushing/stopping/cycling, we made it to the sand dunes.

No bicycles

Our bicycles were parked below

Sahara?

Patrick was tired too

We decided to push on, hoping that the terrain would let up.

Obviously it didn’t.

What’s the white stuff?

Still bumpy

Finally we surrendered and decided to turn back. We wouldn’t have enough time to cycle all the way to the next attraction (Tres Marias) and made it back to SPA in time.

Place where we turned around

Shag faces

Going back

With less pressure, we stopped several times for photos.

Moon

Jump!

Between the hills

Our Giants

How long more…

Posing

Hitting the bad roads again

View from the saddle

On the right track

There was a section where there were some scary dogs and Ying’s bicycle had problems. It was definitely a hard work out for us both.

Boy were we glad…

After returning our bikes, we decided to have an early dinner.

Ended up at Ckunna where we ordered the pasta set dinner for two (12,000 CLP).

Ckunna

I don’t know why the Chilean bread and salsa are so awesome

Creamy pasta – enough to feed the whole village

Fancy desert

The friendly waitress came around and chatted with us after our meal. We made her guess where we came from and we were very surprised that she almost got it right on her first try!

It turned out that she had visited Southeast Asia around six months earlier and we were even more impressed that she had been to Singapore as well.

After the long day, we would turn in early. We would also need to be up by 4.00am the next day for our tour to El Tatio, the tallest geysers in the world.

Chile Pt II: San Pedro de Atacama

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San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

While we spent quite a lot of time resting at our accommodation recovering from the Salar de Uyuni tour, having three days in the area meant that we had more than sufficient time to explore the town and its surrounding sights.

The main street of Caracoles was where most of the tourist-centered businesses were located. Travel agencies, restaurants and hostels were very visible around the area. It probably took one around 10 minutes to walk from one end to another.

Our first day at San Pedro de Atacama (SPA) was mainly spent on settling administrative stuff. We would need to get some Chilean pesos (CLP) and there were many casa de cambios around Caracoles.

Casa de cambios

We randomly picked one of them and exchanged 300 USD’s worth of CLP. The rate was 552 CLP to 1 USD and we also exchanged our remaining Bolivianos for CLP (75 CLP to 1 BOB). We would exchange another 200 USD’s worth of CLP two days later at a better rate of 554 CLP per 1 USD.

Then there was an important matter of lunch. Cafe Adobe was one of the top-rated restaurants in SPA and its set lunch was pretty good value.

Cafe Adobe – not very busy on a Thursday afternoon

Bread and salsa

Choice between this ham and cheese appetizer…

… or mushroom soup

Grilled salmon as main

Creme brulee

The total bill came up to be 18,000 CLP (around S$40), which was pretty good value for the three course meal. We were so full that we skipped dinner that night.

After lunch, we asked for directions to the bus station which was actually pretty near to our accommodation. We would pick up our bus tickets to Salta and retired back to our room to rest for the day.

The road to the bus station

Day 2 was spent cycling at Valle de la Luna while we went on a tour to El Tatio Geyser on day 3 and we were done with it by early afternoon. Took some pictures of the town on our way back to our accommodation from lunch on day 3.

Market where we bought some bananas

Walking in the direction of our accommodation

School which we kept walking past

We finally remembered to take pictures of our scrabble set on the final evening of our stay in SPA and we set out to take them.

For rent

Stopped by Babalu Heladeria for some ice-cream.

All the different flavors

Ice-cream cone (3200 CLP)

Finally the picture.

San Pedro de Atacama

On hindsight, we should have taken them during our excursions.

Chile Pt I: La Casa EcoExplor

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La Casa EcoExplor

An hour after departing Bolivia, we rolled into the town of San Pedro de Atacama. The Chilean immigration was located at the edge of the town and the customs guys were pretty thorough in making sure that no agricultural products were being brought into Chile.

The bus driver dropped half of the passengers near the central area and we said our goodbyes to Kelli and Johannes. The rest were dropped off nearer to their accommodation and the friendly bus driver made sure that we reached our accommodation at La Casa EcoExplor.

We had booked the accommodation with Booking.com for three nights at 29,500 CLP (67 SGD) per night (tax included). Chile was definitely more expensive than Peru and Bolivia.

The friendly owner Victor checked us in and showed us the place. While our room was quite small, the outside was quite comfortable with many area to lounge around.

Our colourful room

Lounge area

There was a kitchen where one could cook but we didn’t utilize it during the stay. We also got our laundry done at a pretty reasonable cost.

The bathrooms were shared but they were always kept clean and dry. Both of us really enjoyed the warm showers after roughing it out in the Bolivian altiplano for the last couple of days. We also got reconnected with the pretty stable wifi connection throughout the compound.

Location-wise, the accommodation was around 700m away from the centre of the town and it usually took us around 10 minutes’ walk to get there. It was quieter without the foot traffic of the centre although we could faintly hear noises from some parties on one of the weekend nights.

Fabian is Victor’s pet dog and we identified him with his scarf.

Fabian

Taking the picture

He got really friendly with Ying and even snuggled up to her.

another new friend, Fabian, at Hostel Eco Explor in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. it was so cold in the morning that he burrowed into me *melts* #travel #chile #SPA #shyhyingrtw14 #dog #cute

Our three-night stay was pretty comfortable. We recovered from our Salar de Uyuni tour and were well-rested by the time we departed San Pedro de Atacama for Salta.

Boliva Pt V: Salar de Uyuni

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Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni was the main reason why we visited Bolivia. I only learned about it through Milesglu’s excellent trip report and Ying was sold immediately after I told her about its existence.

Our tour operator Red Planet Expedition had arranged a taxi to meet our flight (30 BOB) but its office wouldn’t be opened until 8am. The taxi driver dropped us outside a cafe where we would spend the next hour or so. I noticed quite a few familiar faces from the flight.

Breakfast (35 BOB for both of us)

After breakfast, we made our way back to Red Planet’s office.

Weird sculpture in Uyuni

Red Planet’s office

We paid the tour fee (1200 BOB each) and were told by the staff that the tour would leave at around 10am. We had the option to explore the town but chose to stay indoors due to the low temperature outside.

Ying getting some warmth

Ying managed to entertain herself by playing with the staff’s daughter.

Pic 1

Pic 2

When the temperature became more bearable, Ying and I went out to pick up some supplies at the supermercado. By then more tour participants had arrived and the office was getting packed. Those who traveled by bus had an interesting tale to share; there was a blockade and the bus couldn’t be driven into the town. The passengers had to trek around 15 minutes to reach the office. Our decision to fly was vindicated.

At the end of the tour, the tour participants could either choose to travel on to Chile or return to Uyuni. For those returning to Uyuni, they could store their bags at the office. We were traveling on to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile so our bags got up to the top of the vehicle instead.

Preparing the vehicle

There would be a total of seven of us in our jeep. I would get to know them better over the next couple of days.

  1. Ever, our Bolivian guide/driver
  2. Babar, Lucknowi chemical engineer based in Houston (who used to work in Singapore)
  3. Sanaa, Babar’s Mumbaikar other half who’s moving to Detroit
  4. Kelli, American graduate student in Rio de Janeiro
  5. Johannes, German graduate student from Munich
  6. Ying
  7. Yours truly

Ever hard at work

Selfie

The first stop of every tour was the train graveyard located just outside Uyuni.

Setting off

There used to be a railroad which connected the silver mines in Potosi to the Chilean port of Antofagasta but it was no longer in use. The locomotives were all rusting in Bolivian altiplano now.

Abandoned trains

Abandoned trains

Abandoned trains

Of course there were obligatory tourist pictures.

Trying to break Olympic record

Swinging

Swinging

Standing on the tracks

The next stop was Colchani, an hour or so away. We passed through Uyuni again and got chased by wild dogs just outside of it.

Outside of Uyuni

Wild dogs

We also saw vicuñas

Crazy gringos cycling through the inhospitable terrain

We were given a tour of the salt-refining process at Colchani before settling down for lunch.

Colchani – the buildings were made of salt

Colchani

Ever explaning how salt was processed

Local man demonstrating how to seal the packet of salt with open flame

The man would take a long time to pack this hill into packets

While Ever went to prepare the food with the other guides, we spent some time wandering around.

Wares for sale

The cyclists had caught up with us – respect!

Old truck

Honestly we were blown away by the quality of our lunch. There were pasta, potatos, chicken and we even had cupcakes for dessert. The food turned out to be consistently good throughout the entire tour.

Pretty awesome lunch

Minutes away from Colchani was the beginning of the salt flats. We stopped at the mounds of salt where tourists would stop for photographs.

Entering Salar de Uyuni

Checking the salt out

Kungfu panda impersonation

One leg standing

Driving through the salt flats

The next stop was the abandoned salt hotel. There was a giant Dakar Rally logo made of salt that was built to commemorate the event which took place in January 2014.

Dakar Bolivia

Salt hotel

Flags

No Singapore though

The next part of the tour would be pretty fun; we could do all the funny pictures that all tourists would take.

Crystallised salt

Apparently there was a sandstorm not too long ago and the entire salt flat was covered in sand. Hence the colour of the salt seemed a bit off.

More brown than white

Ever helped us take some group photos before letting us to experiment ourselves.

Jump shot

Chased by dinosaur

Holding hands with Patrick

The making of the following picture:-

End product:-

Thanks Babar!

Ying balancing on my head

The final stop of the day was at Isla Incahuasi, a former island in the middle of Salar de Uyuni. It was famous for the giant cacti which grew on it. There was an entrance fee of 30 BOB and we spent around half an hour exploring the place.

Incahuasi

Incahuasi

Lots of cacti

Give us a wave please

Prickly

Direction lady

Salar de Uyuni from Isla Incahuasi

Salar de Uyuni from Isla Incahuasi

Hole

Toilet

We were rotated to the rear of the jeep and it was really tight. All of us would take turns sitting there.

Rear

Photo stop

Sunset

We would reach our accommodation for the night shortly before dark. Ying and I shared our room with two other tour participants.

Basic

My bed for the night

There was an attached toilet in our room but the showers (10 BOB) were outside. Both of us would utilise it and Ying was shivering after that.

The rest of the evening were spent chit-chatting over meals (tea and then dinner) before we turned in for the night.

Dinner

The thermal sleeping bag from Red Planet worked well and I had a relatively comfortable sleep. We were also introduced to dulce de leche, a ubiquitous South American confectionary.

Accommodation for the first night (taken next morning)

Poster for Dakar Rally

The scenery was different from the previous day’s.

Mountain

Mountain

A view point overlooking Ollagüe volcano was our first stop of the day.

Playing with filter

Jeeps all parked

Ollagüe

Portrait

The guides suggested that we had an early lunch because the original location would be too windy. Lunch was awesome as usual and we had new friends who joined us.

Rocky outcrop where we had our lunch

Vizcacha

Bird

Lunch – chicken and pasta

The next stop was Laguna Canapa, the original place for lunch. It was indeed too windy.

Laguna Canapa

Like out of a painting

Brrr

Vicuñas

Another lake: Laguna Hedionda or smelly lake.

Flamingos

Patrick’s happy to see other pink animals

Windy!

Sign

Out of this world

There was a hotel near the lake and there was even an advertisement for WiFi. I recalled that the fee to use the toilet was exorbitantly expensive.

WiFi in the middle of nowhere

Hotel

No idea what’s what

Giant Bolivian flag

We were back on our way through the desert and even saw a furry friend.

Culpeo

Desert

Snow from two weeks earlier

Like a painting

Árbol de Piedra or Stone Tree was our next stop.

Tree with no leaves

Portrait

Messy hair

Shadow play

Back on the road

After more time on the road, we would reach Laguna Colorada, where the entrance to Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve was located.

Laguna Colorada

Patrick excited as usual

The white stuff on the surface was borax

Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve

View point of the lake

Inside the building were some information on the flora and fauna of the region.

We had seen some of the animals

After enough photos, we were driven to the park office when we would pay the entrance fee of 150 BOB to the nature reserve. We were also asked to indicate if we would be moving on to Chile or returning via the same way.

With the sun low, Ever informed us that we would be visiting the geysers before going to our accommodation for the night. The geyser wasn’t much to see though.

Geyser

Geyser

Somehow I didn’t manage to take any photographs of our second night’s accommodation. I did take a picture of the sunset outside the accommodation.

Sunset

There was a hot spring outside the accommodation and Ying and I went to check it out before dinner. There was this guy of African descent already in the hot spring and he joked that he would have to charge us 10 Bolivianos before we could go in. Funny.

Ever suggested that we could go to the hot spring after dinner and we did just that. It was amazing dipping inside the hot springs while looking at the stars. Definitely one of the most surreal experience that we ever had. The wind was really brutal though when we were getting out.

The accommodation on second night was newer but there was no water in the toilet and was pretty disgusting to use. The six of us shared a room and Ying complained that it got stuffy in the middle of the night. It wasn’t so bad though since the next day would be a short one.

It was really cold the next day and there were stops where all of us were fine with taking pictures from the car.

Salvador Dali Desert

Mountains in the background

Beautiful

The final stop of the whole tour was Laguna Verde, with Licancabur in the background. Apparently it was very toxic with lots of chemicals in the water.

Laguna Verde

Enthusiastic despite the early hours

Covered with chemicals

Group photo

It was a short drive to the Bolivian border post. We bid farewell to Babar and Sanaa who were returning to Uyuni with Ever.

Migration Bolivia

Both Johannes and Kelli had gotten their exit stamps at Uyuni; we hadn’t and needed to go to the building to get them. There was a stamping fee of 15 BOB and it caught the tourists in front of us by surprise.

Sign indicating it’s Chile

There were no toilet facilities at the area and we would need to do our business in the open. Just as we were done with it, the buses from Chile had arrived. The price of the ticket was included in our tour fees and we were soon on our way.

Bus to Chile

The facilitator informed us in Spanish about the Chile’s customs requirements; apparently one couldn’t bring in agricultural products and drugs into Chile. He told us that if we had any, we would have an hour to consume these items before reaching the Chilean customs.

Referring to where the governments were leaning?

There was a world of difference between Bolivian and Chilean roads. After two days of bumpy Bolivian tracks, we were all happy with awesome Chilean tarmac. I saw quite a few Paraguayan trucks which were transporting cars from Chile’s Pacific ports to Paraguay.

Paraguayan trucks transporting cars

An hour later we would reach San Pedro de Atacama, our only stop in Chile.

San Pedro de Atacama

The tour with Red Planet was pretty awesome. Ever was a reliable driver and a great guide and at no time I felt unsafe. While the accommodation was pretty basic, the food on the other hand was really good. The sights were amazing and I was really glad that I managed to see them with my own eyes.