When I was organising our trip to Chile, I discovered that many incredible excursions in jeeps were organised between San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni in Bolivia.
I started to look for reliable companies and read many horrendous stories about tourists throwing up at every stop, guides that did not have enough food, noisy and freezing dorms, jeeps breaking down in the middle of the desert… Not really reassured, I decided to go for the travel agency recommended by the Guide du Routard: Estrella del Sur.
We arrived in San Pedro on a Tuesday and booked our return trip leaving on Friday morning for a negotiated amount of 120 000 Chilean pesos. We also bought 34 000 bolivianos in one of the many exchange centers. (Don’t hesitate to negotiate the exchange rate too!)
On Friday morning, the minivan came to pick us up at our hostel at 7.30am. We passed through Chilean immigration and then went on to the Bolivian “border control” (meaning one tiny house in the middle of nowhere).
So yes I was feeling extremely sick, like there was so much pressure in my head it was going to explode. However this may be my fault. Everybody told us to drink a lot of water, to sleep well, and not to drink alcohol the night before. Well… we did exactly the opposite… we were invited by locals to watch Chile – Colombia the evening before the trip. Not the greatest idea I must admit but yes we had great fun!
There we received a very nice breakfast (bread, cake, guacamole, biscuits) and I forced myself to drink coca tea (mate de coca) to try to feel a bit better. We were then dispatched in several jeeps; we ended up with a rather calm but nice French couple in their 30s.
Be ready to hear a lot of French if you travel with this company as, as I said earlier, it is the one recommended in the most renowned French-speaking guide.
We then entered the National Park. Well basically we entered heaven…. one breathtaking laguna after the other, so many spectacular landscapes… I don’t even know how to describe them. Just take a look at a few pictures below:
We spent the night in a hostel right next to the amazing Laguna Colorada that looked more like a shelter with no warm water (no shower that day) and basically no warmth at all. We ate with our jackets on and slept with tights under our pyjamas and coats on top of our beds.
To be honest, the cold was not a surprise. We had been told to take thick jackets (I traveled with my snowboard jacket) and sleeping bags if possible.
We were actually also advised to bring some water (we bought a 3-liter bottle as everybody does in San Pedro), toilet paper and sun cream (you can easily burn in deserts even if it’s cold and windy).
By the end of the day, we were exhausted but really happy to be in such a unique place far away from civilisation. Day 2 here!