The real Atacama Desert

Today was our chance to see the real Atacama Desert and it started at 4am with a tour of the natural Geysers and hot springs. It was absolutely FREEZING, about minus nine or ten degrees and so it’s safe to say I probably had every single warm item of clothing I own here, on me. We are lucky though, Juliet and I were warned about the cold and so we have coats and jumpers and were prepared, some people on the tour weren’t nearly as wrapped up and literally turned blue. Our tour started off in one of the biggest geyser fields in the world, we had a chance to explore them all and even walk through some, using the steam to warm ourselves up.
After touring round the huge geyser field for an hour or so and watching the water bubble and spurt fountains and looking at the mud baths, we headed over to the natural hot springs for breakfast. Here people had the opportunity to swim in the huge natural hot bath (although apparently it was more warm than hot) while the rest of us explored the other hot springs and geysers that the area had to offer. We then visited the wet land, a huge river with islands and home to a huge number of different wildlife, before going to the village near by. The village literally had nothing in it apart from a beautiful church and some thatched houses and we wondered how they could possibly stay warm at night before spotting the solar panels and heaters. It might be a third world country but it’s in the modern world and obviously they have electrical power.
We arrived back at the hostel at lunch time, just in time for us to head to the local market and buy an abnormal amount of vegetables in order to make a stir fry. The grand total was 4000 pesos and as there are four of us, it was 1000 each (£1.10) wooopie!






Tour number two of the day was at 3pm in the afternoon and it was to the Moon Valley in the desert. We had a bet going as to why it was called moon valley – I guessed because it trapped moonlight – but actually our friend was right and it’s simply because the surface of it looks like the moon!
We spent a fair amount of time exploring it by foot, walking down and huge long straight road taking in the incredible surroundings – it felt like we were on another planet! Then our guide showed us a cave and before we entered she asked if anyone was claustrophobic – Juliet is – but she assured her that it’s fine and you can stand up the whole way. It was quite a long and very dark cave and about five / ten minutes in, we had to crouch down and crawl through the tight passageways with low hanging ceilings. Juliet wanted to turn back but there was a huge traffic jam building behind us and eventually she knew she’d get out – and she did! Mission accomplished. We then explored more of the moon valley (it really is so so huge) before headed over to the overlooking canyon, above but facing into the valley, in order to watch the sunset. I love places like this because when watching the sunset you don’t watch the sun but what it does to everyone else, changing the colours of the sky and the rocks to every single colour of the rainbow.






It’s been such a great day getting to really know and learn about the Atacama Desert and this is exactly the same as for San Pedro de Atacama. It really is such a different but exciting town and it’s been such a pleasure getting to know the people, eating the delicious food and staying in such a fun hostel with great friends and I am going to miss it so much. San Pedro has definitely been my favourite place in South America so far and I have truly enjoyed exploring it’s beautiful Atacama Desert.

Tomorrow at 7.30am I am off on a three day tour to the Bolivian Salt Flats. The temperature will get as low as minus twenty five but hopefully it’ll be worth it! If I don’t blog tomorrow it’s due to lack of wifi and I will tell you all about my adventures when I’m back in a civilised country!

Star Gazing San Pedro de Atacama

Today was another very relaxing day, filled with warm lentil soup and South American empanadas (basically Spanish pasty’s), errand shopping with friends, where Juliet and I found some of the most hilarious souvenirs including gnome hats and rude wooden toys and some hilarious stories.


Firstly, our vegetarian empanadas (as stated on the menu under the vegetarian section: filled with cheese and season vegetables) had more ham in than anything else. Definitely NOT vegetarian! We were tempted to tell the waiter but we thought the message might be lost in translation…

The next hilarious story is actually a story that we heard off another girl, and although the actual story shouldn’t be funny, it really is because it’s so stupid. An American girl (clearly very stupid) went cycling on her own into the desert the other evening. As the sun was beginning to set, she left her bike and walked down some random streets to get a good photo of the sunset. Obviously once the sun set it went pitch black, what did she expect she’s in the desert! But she couldn’t find her way back to her bike or just back in general. She didn’t have that warm clothes on and she was stuck in the middle of the desert… So she started filming goodbye videos on her phone as she thought she wasn’t going to survive the night. The story is funny because she did and when the sun rose she found her way back, but seriously what an idiot! Who cycles into the desert alone at night, then leaves their bike and wanders off. The bike is still yet to be found…
Story number 3. Chile is actually a favourite to win the World Cup, yes guaranteed we are in chile so of course the Chileans are saying that, but that’s statistics are in their favour.
So no European team has ever won on South American soil because of the humidity and climate. That rules out a whole load of teams. No favourite has ever won a World Cup – that rules out Brazil. Leaving Argentina and Chile. Argentina currently don’t have a decent coach and it’s a known fact that Messi (their only good player) never plays well when it’s for his country – leaving Chile to win! So everyone get betting.

Finally our evening.
Tonight we went on a star gazing tour as the Atacama desert is the clearest place in the whole world to see stars. Although you can’t see England’s pride, the North Star, this is actually replaced by the southern cross – unbelievably clear and bright – which we can’t see in England. We drove into the desert and arrived at a fenced off area with two huge telescopes, one manual and one electronic. The electronic one was amazing, the man typed in what constellation he wanted to look at and it moved itself. We saw nebulas (remains of exploded stars left in the sky), triple star constellations that spin around themselves, the brightest star in the world after the sun and even.. Wait for it.. Mars and Saturn! Mars was glowing bright red when we looked at it through the telescope and basically looked like any other star without the telescope. However on zooming in you could see it was special, with it’s orange and red glowing tinge. Then there was Saturn, this was literally the most unreal thing I’ve ever seen. We were so close you could literally see it’s rings, so clearly, and individually, wrapping themselves around the planet. Then, on closer look you could also see it’s moons – Titun, it’s biggest was glowing bright above it, with the others close by (it actually has 49, we could see about 10).
The last event on our tour was having an extremely close up look at the moon. We were able to see it’s craters and the different shadows within it. We also got the opportunity to take photos of the moon through the telescope… You would not believe the images.









We finished off the amazing evening with a delicious meat platter to share, with steak, chicken, mushrooms, onions and millions of chips we are going to bed with full stomachs. I also enjoyed my first World Cup coke!


Up at 4am tomorrow for our next tour, so seeing as that’s in four hours, it’s definitely time to sleep now.

Errand day in the desert

Today it’s safe to say that although we got a lot done – a lot of errands – we basically did nothing.
I actually (as usual) woke up super early but fell back asleep soon after and at about 9ish Juliet and I were both up. 9 might not seem that late, as far as lie in goes, but when we went to bed at 10pm the night before, an 11 hour sleep was well deserved.
After having the biggest and most ridiculous stress this morning about what we should do in terms of getting to Peru – I basically wound myself up a huge amount, we finally have a plan and our flights are in the process of being booked. We are now going to Lima, the capital of Peru and are going to spend some time there. We have extra time on our hands as we’re now not visiting some of the Bolivian towns we’d planned on, but we’re both actually really looking forward to Lima now, and have read up all about the shopping and amazing Peruvian restaurants that it has to offer.
Our errands for today included: 1) having a lovely omelette brunch for £3 (not really an errand but very necessary. 2) Buying some gloves, we figured as we’re going to be putting our bodies through minus twenty five degree cold, the least we could do is give our fingers a chance. We went to a local market and bought some double layered, super warm alpaca gloves for £2.50. (Even though we were given free ones before, they are fingerless and very thin and we just didn’t believe they could do the job). 3) Exchanging some money into Bolvian bolivianos. We need 200 (about £17) as a entry fee for the salt flats and it is recommended to bring 50 more (about £4) incase we want to buy souvenirs/water/snacks etc. (the fact that we only need £4 shows how cheap Bolivia is!). 4) Our last errand was to get some toilet roll – we’ve been warned that this is a must as there is absolutely none in any of the hostels we will be staying in while on our salt flats tour. Lucky for us (so stingy) but our hostel has piles of toilet rolls in their bathrooms so we didn’t need to actually leave to hostel to complete this errand.
We also booked our Atacama deserts tours for the next few days.
Tomorrow we are planning on exploring ourselves, either by foot or by bike (which seems like a popular option) and then in the evening we have a star gazing tour. The at scams desert is the best place in the world to see stars and so we figured that this is a must.
On Monday at 4.30am we are going off to see the Geysers in the desert and the natural hot springs. We’ll come back for a couple of hours in the middle of the day and then in the afternoon we, along with three other girls we’ve made friends with, actually have a private tour of the Moon Valley. (It cost 1000pesos each – £1 – to make the tour private)
Then on Tuesday we are off to the Salt Flats!
We heard that the climate here actually drains your energy and as we both had naps this afternoon and were in bed by 8pm this evening.. I’m beginning to agree!


I’m missing everyone at home lots but am looking forward to the next few days!
Shout out to my amazing parents at the Darby races today… Especially my beautiful mummy who came out with winnings!! (Unfortunately daddy didn’t do so well.. Hehe)



Leaving comforts

Today we decided it was about time to leave the comfort of the Las Condes apartment and travel away from Santiago. Valparaiso is only two hours away by bus so we decided this would be our first destination. After getting the bus to Estacion Central, where we knew the bus station was, we couldn’t find it. We kept asking people directions and they kept saying ahead and it wasn’t ahead. It actually became so stressful and for a good hour maybe more, Juliet and I were walking round in circles asking people where we were meant to be going and ending up on really dodgy looking side streets with broken houses which we refused to wonder down aimlessly. Eventually (thank god) after what seemed like forever we just put our heads down and walked all the way down the street until we arrived at the bus station. It’s actually the next tube stop along, so we’ll remember that for next time. When we went to book the bus we were pleasantly surprised that there was one to Vina del Mar as we thought we were going to have to go to Valparaiso and then get the tube to the neighbouring scenic beach town. Once we were on the bus my stress died away and I was able to have a snooze and also see the beautiful Chilean scenery. (The photos do not do it justice)


After two hours we arrived in Vina Del Mar and were immediately approached by taxi drivers asking where we were going. Ignoring them, we headed to the tourist desk and found out we were a five minute walk from our hostel. Half an hour later we were still wondering down streets, again lost due to huge huge huge building sites and roadworks blocking the streets and forcing detours. We were stressed again and after maybe forty minutes we were back on the correct street but we gave up hostel hunting and headed to a cafe for lunch. Our moods changed after eating, probably because we were hungry, but also because the food was delicious and we soon realised our hostel was right across the street. There was a single white door with a sign above it and a stair case behind it and so we went up and found the cosiest and friendliest hostel – we were so happy. We’d booked, so checking in was easy and as there were no lockers in our 12 bed dorm we got upgraded to an 8 bed with wifi that currently only houses one girl (who is yet to be seen… Basically our own massive room). We then set off to explore the town and we were pleasantly surprised. This side of the road works the houses are beautifully coloured and disneyesk and despite the cold drizzle that is the weather, I can really imagine this place in the summer as it is such a beachy town.


It’s not pristine and there are some dodgy looking buildings and graffiti but hey, it is South America and this town has a lot of character. At the end of our street, by the sea, we found the beach and a beautiful view of the bay and the presidential palace.


We also saw the famous flower clock that is solidly made out of flowers (except the hands) and actually works!

On our way back to the hostel, we went the wrong way (again) and ended up on top of a hill, giving us an amazing view of the cramped, colourful Chilean houses all tightly packed up the valley.

It’s safe to say that today was a stressful one, but it’s also safe to say you can’t judge a place immediately as Vina del Mar definitely grew on us once we’d seen it’s beautiful architecture and scenery, and it’s beach town vibe. This evening was the opposite to the morning, as it was extremely relaxing. We cooked ourselves dinner in our cute little hostel, had a pampering sesh with facemasks and nail polish and then watched Bridesmaids in bed, perfect!

Exploring on our own

After having basically our own private tour guide yesterday, Juliet and I decided to try and navigate our way around the city on our own today. We took a few wrong turns here and there, ended up on the wrong tube line at one point but all in all it was a successful day. We started early and headed straight to the Santa Lucia statue of the Virgin Mary, which is situated on top of the Santa Christobel hill. We took a cable car up the to the very top and here we could enjoy the 360degree view of the Chilean mountains and the Santiago hills.





Once we’d returned to ground level, we (after a few attempts) found our way back to the market from yesterday so that Juliet could get some last minute winter wooly gear, I actually did end up buying some alpaca wool socks, and then we headed to the beautiful Tobalaba again for lunch.
Apparently there are snow storms in the Salt Flats and as the only warm clothes that Juliet and I have are a pair of thermals, a jumper and our new wooly clothes, we decided coats would be very necessary. We went to Costanera, a huge shopping center that is situated in the tallest building in South America, and Julie bought a big puffa coat and I bought a fleece lined waterproof – so now we are all set to face any cold weather that comes our way!

This guys whose house we’re staying in, decided to attempt to make the Peruvian speciality: Ceviche. This is basically raw fish with lots of garnish such as tomatoes and onions and then lime juice, which the fish basically cooks in if it’s left (I’ve described this really grossly, it’s actually not that bad). It was actually surprisingly not disgusting, we could even say it tasted nice, so Juliet and I will definitely be trying the real version in Peru!

Discovering Santiago

This morning after an amaaaaazingly long sleep we shot out of bed… It was 12pm and we decided it would be slightly embarrassing if the people we’re staying with came back from work on their lunch break and we were still in bed…
We’d planned, with one of the girls that we’d met the night before, to meet for lunch and so we made our way to Roger de Flor at Tobalaba. The lunch was actually with a big group of people meaning that we met even more year abroad students and the restaurant was in the typical Chilean style that you pay a set price for a three course meal and a drink. Our set price happened to be 4000 Chilean pesos (about £4.50) for tomato soup, chicken escalope, caramel flan and a diet coke. Obviously it wasn’t Michelin star food but it was pretty good for the price! After this, the girl who we’d planned to meet, Katie, took us to Almeda del Libertador (basically the very center of Santiago) and here we went to a Chilean market. The market was quite small and so cute, selling clothes, jewellery, bags and fresh fruit and everything else possible that can be made out of alpaca wool, table clothes, table runners, scarves, gloves, hats, you name it.
As Juliet and I have recently discovered that the Salt Flats and the Atacama Desert are absolutely FREEZING (we’re talking current snow storms) we decided that wooly jumpers are a must and so purchased some warm clothes of our own from the market, and the cute market lady (who apparently is friends with Katie) gave us some gloves for free!
These are my purchase.. (All alpaca wool)




We then went to a very famous ice cream shop in las calles which is in the top twenty five in the world (as it tells us on the sign).

After going back to Katie’s house and raiding the clothes she’s planning on leaving behind for more warm clothes for our travels, we went back to the flat with everyone for hundreds and hundreds of pieces of sushi – all delivered to the door! In Chile apparently they can have everything delivered, even things like macdonalds!
After being stuffed full of sushi and saying our goodbyes to everyone, I enjoyed the view of the city strip from the apartment balcony, before collapsing into bed once again.



Welcome to Santiago…

After the longest flight of my life, 4 hours to New Zealand, an hour in transit then 12 hours to Chile, we finally arrived in Santiago. (This is ofcourse after we ran for, and queued for, a flight to LA, only realising that it was for LA and not Santiago after handing over our passports and being turned away). Once we’d arrived, after getting off the plane there was a huge queue at passport control (a real one this time… Or so we thought), with a big sign showing different nationalities and prices, England wasn’t on there but we got in the queue anyway as we figured it was because we’d flown here from Australia, which was on the sign. About an hour later when we were finally at the front of the queue, the man took a look at my passport before shaking his head and saying Stephanie… No. I was so confused as he pushed my passport back along the desk towards me, until it happened to Juliet as well and the English guys behind us, long story short, basically we’d been in the immigration queue for those having to pay to enter the country, when actually because we’re from England, we could just walk past it.
Then we got to baggage control, and waited for or bags, and waited, and waited until there were no bags left. So we freaked out and I went on a search to see if they’d been taken off the conveyer belt somewhere. They hadn’t they were still going round the conveyor belt just the next one along, as we’d been waiting at the WRONG belt.
Getting the airport transfer was so easy as our bus had been booked already for us so we just paid and picked up our tickets and got on the bus to where we were staying.
Luckily I have a contact in Chile and so we have a place to stay here and don’t have to worry about finding a hostel. After dumping our stuff we set off to explore the area and ended up in a beautiful park in the sunshine and a shopping centre to buy very needed handbags (can’t be walking about in South America carrying our purses). That evening the guys flats who we are staying with took us out to meet their friends and for a drink in a local bar. We tried a Chilean speciality called “Terremoto” which is an alcoholic drink with grenadine and ice cream, it was so nice! (But also extremely, extremely strong)
We went back to the apartment and literally collapsed in bed, so tired after our sixteen hour flight from the night before. We needed to stay up and go out to avoid jet lag (and crashing) but now it was bed time we were so happy!
Turns out we really needed the sleep as we woke up at 12pm today!