We weren’t entirely sure what to expect when joining our G Adventures tour from Buenos Aires through to La Paz. After all, we’d spent 7/8 weeks happily travelling alone, being social when the mood took us and taking time to relax and do not very much when we felt like it. We only had a day to get to know everyone in Buenos Aires before we set off on the first leg of our journey – from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama.
My sister had assured us having done this very trip in reverse on her gap year that it was really good value and that we’d struggle to navigate Bolivia alone, especially without speaking Spanish, so we had decided to go ahead and book a couple of weeks before leaving the UK.
Luckily any fears we had about our group were completely unfounded – it’s a weird feeling meeting 11 complete strangers that you’re going to spend pretty much all your time with for the next 15 days or so, but we were fortunate to have a really amazing bunch of people on our tour. A mixture of different ages and travel types, we were variously from the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Holland, Australia and New Zealand. Just like our Green Tortoise trip, it was awesome to meet so many new people from all over the world, and we had a blast with them the whole time we were travelling together.
The trip from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama was a real highlight – with some birthday parties, amazing sunsets and hilarious moments.
The tour was pretty action packed – heading from Buenos Aires to Salta, before crossing the border into Chile for a brief stopover in San Pedro de Atacama, after which we travelled on through a few different places in Bolivia until reaching La Paz. In 15 days. Yeah, the pace was pretty intense after our lazy travel style for most of our time to date, but despite some painfully early mornings it worked and we saw some great places.
This is blog 1 /3 – we thought it would be easier to break our adventures into some bite size posts for you – so we’ll start with Salta to San Pedro de Atacama before we move on later to talk about the incredible 3 days we spent in the Salt Flats and then a quick separate post on the 3 Bolivian cities we spent time in.
So after our first meal together in Buenos Aires, where I ate truly the most beautiful steak of my life, we got an early night ready for a 6.30am departure to the airport for our flight to Salta. I say we got an early night, some of us did, although our energetic new Ozzy friends stumbled onto the bus in the morning having returned from their night out just an hour or so earlier. Not going to lie, we suddenly felt wayyyy too old to participate in those kinds of shenanigans and wondered what we’d got ourselves into, but all transpired to be okay in the end as you’ll see in our later posts… (the suspense!)
After arriving in Salta, a beautiful city in the North West of Argentina packed with old Colonial architecture, we dropped our bags and headed out for a city tour. As it was Sunday, the town was pretty sleepy, so we had a mooch around the main square to look at some of the architecture on display, including the old town hall, the museum of contemporary art and the museum of high mountain archeology – renowned for its small collection of Incan mummies.
Sadly we didn’t get to visit, but it’s probably worth checking out if you’re in the area. The most impressive buildings in the city are the Church of Saint Francis and the main Cathedral – they’re built in the neoclassical style and are really stunning buildings, very elaborate and colourful.
The next day, half of us opted to visit a local ranch for some horse riding followed by an Asado where some of the others would come and join us. This was amazingly good fun and a great opportunity to get to know each other better – a little more expensive than Mendoza at around 1100 pesos per person, I’d still say it was worth every penny, especially when you consider the unlimited free wine that does the rounds with the barbecue. I don’t think I’ve seen people get through so much red wine and steak before – our new group putting the last ones in Mendoza to shame! This was one of the best days of our Salta to San Pedro de Atacama journey.
We capped off our last night in Salta with a red wine fuelled hike up to the top of the cable car route to see an absolutely beautiful sunset. Drunken hiking is again another great way to get to know people much better in a short space of time, and was great fun.
Our next step of the journey was to start our long trek from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, where we were to spend one full day exploring, following a cheerful 10 hour bus ride across the border. Not only was this the scariest bus journey I’ve ever experienced, with more narrow mountain roads and steep cliff edges than I ever needed to see, but the border and much of the area afterwards is located at a hefty 4,800 metres above sea level. This is serious altitude, and the first time that most of us had reached such heights on this trip – for context, altitude sickness can start anywhere from 2,400 upwards. Symptoms of altitude sickness vary but are generally pretty unpleasant and include anything from dizziness, nausea and mild breathlessness, to severe headaches and even brain swelling, so we were pretty nervous and hopeful that we wouldn’t be affected too badly.
Luckily we were mostly alright, although we certainly all noticed that the slightest exertion was pretty tiring, and some of the group suffered with headaches. Our guide prepared us pretty well – giving us coca tea to help out and encouraging us to drink tons of water and keep our sugar levels up which definitely helps.
By the time we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, a sleepy desert town that seems built for tourists but somehow manages to retain a kind of cool, laid back (hippy?) atmosphere, it was becoming clear that Rob was getting really sick. Whilst not related to the altidude, I don’t think it helped the situation, and he headed straight to bed whilst I went searching for an ATM and a pharmacy to load up on paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Excitingly, our only full day in San Pedro happened to be the 22nd birthday of one of the Norwegian girls we were travelling with – the lovely Thea! This was the first of 3 birthdays on our trip, and we had a fab day to celebrate. We started with sand boarding in the Chilean version of “Death Valley”, assisted by some lovely hippy guides, which was amazingly good fun and something I can’t wait to try again in Peru. Then later in the day we proceeded to explore the Valley of the Moon and witness the most amazing double sunset. This is a pretty cool phenomenon where we watched the sunset over the mountains ahead of us with some beers, before swiftly turning round to see the opposing mountain range turn a striking pink-red colour and the moon become incredibly bright.
The day we spent here was another one of the best days of our trip so far, and we got to explore everything from caves in the desert to hiking up enormous sand dunes – definitely worth a visit even for just a couple of days. It really was an amazing place to reach and travelling from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama was an awesome way to start our G Tour.
The next day we were due to collect some more ink in our passports and cross over into Bolivia – so with Rob still suffering from a dreadful case of man flu, we decided to call it a night pretty early on and get some rest. If you don’t have these places in your South America itinerary, we’d highly recommend making the journey from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama.