Cooking, reading, writing and just in general being at the Hostal Tatai’s in San Pedro de Atacama I met many travelers who had opted for renting a camper van to explore the nearby scenery. Of course, my FOMO immediately kicked in. It didn’t take long before I was obsessed with the idea. Now, only to find five more people to join me… I had one down already in the friend I was visiting and 10 minutes later… I met two girls at the hostel, pitched the idea to them and they were in! Voila! We were four!
With only two more people to complete our caravan, we felt confident enough to rent a car for six people. Surely, we’d be able to find two more who’d be dying to come along. And right we were! The very next morning before picking up the girls to grab the camper van they had recruited two more guys, one who very conveniently turned out to be a tour guide.
We rented the six-seater rooftop camper van through Wicked. For obvious reasons, I had my eyes set on their Mystery Van from Scooby Doo, but as you might imagine it was already rented out. Instead, we ended up with a Chilean cartoon.
These vans are absolutely excellent for road tripping, they come with a kitchen, rooftop tent and seats that transform into beds. And extra sleeping bags. How glorious!
Below is a pricing chart of the different ones offered. All prices are in CLP.
While driving out of San Pedro something incredible happened.
I spot Tom (you might recognize him from some of my previous blog post photos). He was wandering around the town alone with his backpack looking for a hostel and must have just gotten off the bus from Salar de Uyuni. Tom and I had been traveling for about two weeks, we met on the Huayna Potosi trek but then parted ways later in Sucre. I immediately screamed out his name.
“Josie! Is that you? What are you doing in that car and why are you driving it?”
“Come with us, we’re going on a road trip!”
“Where? For how long?”
“It doesn’t matter! Just get in!“
Next thing he’s in the van and we’re all scrambling to make space. The more the merrier, right? It’s such an amazing feeling reuniting with fellow travelers because you never really expect to. We all have such different itineraries, paces and most importantly, it’s so easy to get distracted.
We head out in the van and we are all singing, talking, and having a merry time on our way to some gorgeous gorgeous sites. None of them really require an entrance fee which is completely OK with all of us. Word of advice: bring a wind breaker. It is far from calm out there.
The rental company had suggested two different routes, a southbound and a northbound one. We took the south one. As we had our very own guide with us, we were able to hit up a lot of spots very quickly. In two days we saw Piedras Rojas (Salar de Capur), Laguna Iscanti, Salar de Atacama and Cordillera del Sal.
Not a bad place to start the trip. This spot set the bar pretty high.
Many agencies in San Pedro offer tours here but going by yourself is so much more rewarding. We went early in the morning and were lucky to be the only people there.
Conclusion: the rocks are indeed pretty red.
Salar de Atacama
Our next stop was this part of the salt flat that looks like ice. We jumped around from salt-pile to salt-pile. I gave up after a bit as I figured my challenging balance would at some point give in and, knowing me, I would be sure to at least bruise myself. Surely.
Cordillera del Sal
These stunning canyon views forced me to almost pull a Tokyo-drift move stopping the car in the middle of the highway. Worth. It.
This almost deserves to be in a post of its own BUT as I want to try to stay somewhat organized I’ll include it here. On our way to set up camp in a random canyon (I forget which one), Momo (our tour guide friend) stops us as the sun is setting. We get out of the car and all end up staring around ourselves, wandering in circles, mouths open before all of a sudden we break out into a hysterical laughter and tears as we admire its beauty. If someone had passed us they must’ve thought we were high on some kind of substance. And I guess we were. On life.
The colors ranged from green to pinks and purples. Again, just like my trip through Salar de Uyuni, I found myself back in a painting. Painting numero 4. The state of hysteria and bliss I felt at the mere sight of this rapidly changing sunset (it just kept getting more and more beautiful, which also meant the tears were creeping up faster and faster) made me think: why exactly do we perceive nature to be so beautiful?
It’s an interesting thought. As far as I know, every culture throughout time can relate to the beauty in nature. But why is that? Why is almost one of the purest forms of beauty found in the mountains, the oceans, the sunsets and the trees? No matter how much we try to create beauty in the form of man-made art, we always seem to drift toward nature. Is this a bio-chemical phenomenon? A product of nature’s calmness and consistency juxtaposed with our busy city lives? A deep rooted yearning? A plea to be reunited with nature after having distanced ourselves from it for much too long? Why is it so beautiful?
With these thoughts bubbling up in my head, we proceed to cook dinner and drink some wine (or should I say, ambitiously drink wine with a side of dinner) by the camper van.
After missing the sunrise the next morning we all decide to take a naked picture with our baby (I mean, we had to, the company did offer us a 10% discount…). So, slightly chilly we all get undressed in the desert sun. And the picture did come out pretty fantastic.
“Cool story, bro. But how much did it cost”
Food and wine (two meals): 7,000 CLP
Van rental: 30,000 CLP –> 4,286 CLP per person
Total: 11,286 CLP