On our final two full days in San Pedro, we made two longer excursions. The first (and my favorite, even though it came early after a night of watching American football in a rowdy backpackers’ bar and imbibing appropriately), brought us to the Lagunas Altiplanicas.
True to the name, these lakes (Miscanti and Miñiques, named for nearby volcanoes), are very high up– more than 12,000 feet. And they were lovely. The namesake volcanoes were in the background and from certain angles, different parts of the lakes were colored green or red from copper and iron in the ground.
On a related note, we were both impressed with the the preservation efforts going on here and at most of the places we visited. Visitors were clearly instructed to stay in certain areas, and there was a lot of focus on keeping various animal habitats / sand dunes / plant life / salt evaporation sites undisturbed. (In contrast, on the Isla Damas trip we couldn’t believe how close all of the boats came to the dolphins, although they didn’t seem fazed.)
After the Lagunas Altiplanicas we traveled to Laguna Chaxa, home to three types of flamingos, of all things. This was highly entertaining.
We tried to get to bed We early that night, aware that our 4:30 pickup to see the geysers would be brutal. It was. Maybe it’s because it was so early in the morning, or our fourth day in a row on some type of organized excursion (kind of necessary in San Pedro but generally not our favorite thing), the extreme altitude (4,320 meters) or because the Wyomingite among us is something of a geyser snob… but the geysers at El Tatio, considered a must-do activity in the area, were probably our least favorite of the four outings.
They were still impressive, however. The extremely pre-dawn pickup allows for time to travel to the geyser field in time to arrive before sunrise, the cold (it was below freezing) and the sun rays starting to peek over the mountains make the steam from the geysers most impressive. It’s the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere (and third largest in the world) with more than 80 active geysers. Brian (the aforementioned Geyser Snob) would dispute that some of the slightly steamy holes in the ground really deserved the designation, but we can’t all have Old Faithful in our backyard.
We finished up with a dip in the somewhat warm “hot springs” nearby, a welcome change from the frigid morning– until, of course, it was time to get out. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere about foresight.
The following day, we said goodbye to lovely San Pedro, gathered provisions, and settled in for the 24-hour bus ride back to Santiago. After that, the 2.5 hour ride to Valparaiso and the city bus ride to our hostel were a breeze. We’re loving Valparaiso so far– it’s nice to be back in a city, with cool coastal breezes as a bonus.