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Siloli - Lagoon Colorado - Chile - San Pedro de Atacama

Crossing the border to Chile

View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We're the last guests in the restaurant for breakfast this morning, at 07:15. We chat with a group of Americans at the next table, and it seems they had a much worse night than I did – they were struggling with the altitude to the point that they were on oxygen all night. David, of course, slept through it all, as usual.

Despite having taken the antibiotics for a few days now, I don't appear to feel any better, and my SP0² is still dangerously low.

During the Pandemic, the NHS recommended you ring 999 if your blood oxygen level dropped below 90.

The Americans leave just as we finish eating, and when we come to depart, we find they've left one of their bags behind in reception. There is no telephone signal, nor wifi, here, so we have no way of getting in touch with them to let them know, so we decide to take it with us and hope to catch up with them later on. Most tourists take the same route from here, and stop in the same places, so it should be doable.

Arbol de Piedra

The name translates as stone tree, and is named after its unique appearance which resembles a surrealist vision of a tree, the five-metre-high rock has been formed by erosion and sculpted by the wind over millions of years. The reason for its top-heavy mushroom shape, is that it consists of two different rocks: the bottom is quartz, which is softer than the top part that is made up of iron. This area experiences strong winds that carry sandstone from the desert and salt particles from the salt flats, which speeds up the erosion.


Part of this creation has already fallen off and rests beside it. The 'tree' has been declared a natural monument to protect it, although the small stones placed around it is not likely to stop anyone intent on causing damage.

There are several more bizarre stone formations in the immediate vicinity. You can see just how large these rocks are by comparing them to the size of the people below.




There are several other cars here when we arrive, but the lonesome bag does not belong to anyone in those vehicles. Curiouser and curiouser.

We see another of these cute chinchilla-type animals sunning itself on a nearby rock.


Lagoon Colorada

One of the most amazing lagoons I have ever seen, the colour of the water in Lagoon Colorada varies between deep blue and dark red. Add some white borax islands and stands of pink flamingos, and you have the most picturesque scene you can imagine.


Legends suggest the red colour is the blood of gods, the truth is not as exciting, of course, as the bright colour is caused by red sediment and algae in the water.


Apparently, in summer the lake is covered in flamingos, mostly the rare James' flamingo, but also Chilean and Andean. Today there are still a few birds left along the shoreline, mainly the weak and old or those who do not have the strength required for the migration to warmer climes.









I am stunned to see the puddles in the car park still have ice on them, it is already 09:15, the sun has been up for a while, and it is not really that cold any more (warm enough to just wear a short-sleeved top)




We finally meet up with the bag-less traveller and reunite him with the owner-less bag. I do love a happy ending.

The last couple of days we have been driving on gravel tracks, with lots of loose dirt that swirls up from the car tyres (ours and those of any passing traffic. This is the result on the rear window of the car.

There is a car under that dust, honestly!

A rift caused by erosion. Note the snow on the mountaintops in the distance.

High Point

This is the highest elevation we will reach on the Bolivian part of the journey: 4,950 metres (16,240 feet) above sea level.


There is no pomp and circumstance here, no grand car park with a fancy sign or a snack truck, just a few cairns constructed by passing travellers. Today there is just us, and it feels very remove, very surreal.


Sol Mañana



We smell it before we see it. The distinct aroma of sulphur reaches my nostrils as we approach Sol de Mañana (Spanish for Morning Sun).

This huge geothermal area is full of pock holes with rising steam and bubbling mud pools.






Situated at an altitude of 4,850 metres (15,912 feet) above sea level, the otherworldly landscape at Sol Mañana takes your breath away – both literally and metaphorically. At this altitude, there is 40% less oxygen than at sea level – no wonder I am struggling to breathe.


The hot steam emitted by the geysers can reach heights of up to 15 metres, and forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.


You have to be careful where you walk, as the crust is thin and one false step can send you into boiling mud! Not a pleasant way to go.



Would you believe this is the main road in these parts?


Geothermal Power

It seems obvious to take advantage of the natural resources here and create electricity from the many geysers in the area. The plant is ready, they just need to connect the pipeline before it can become operational.



Chalviri Hot Springs


The springs here are popular with travellers for the experience of bathing in a natural spring (although it is reinforced with concrete) that keeps a constant temperature of 35 °C, while admiring the surrounding scenery.


I will not be partaking, for several reasons:

1. It means getting wet. Which means trying to get dry again before getting back in the car
2. 35 °C is not hot enough for me. We keep our hot tub at 40 °C in winter.
3. The changing rooms are closed, and I am too arthritic and too fat to try and change under a towel (although the mineral content in the water is said to help soothe arthritis)
4. We haven't got THAT much time here, and I'd rather be photographing the birds.
5. The ambient temperature is at the woolly hat and gloves level, with ice still on the puddles and a biting wind.

The modern changing rooms - closed

She's wearing a padded coat while he is stripping off into his underwear

Ice on the puddles

As I am taking pictures of the birds with my long 100-400mm lens, Juan is approached by a park official who complains that as I am using 'professional equipment', I should have paid a 'professional fee' to enter the Eduardo Avaroa National park. Juan manages to convince the guard that despite having some good equipment, I am just a keen amateur.

White Winged Cinclodes

Chilean Flamingo

Andean Gulls

Like yesterday's picnic, there is a covered area here for us to enjoy our lunch. We are glad to be out of the wind and cold.


Salvador Dali Desert

Also known as Dalí Valley, thus named for the supposed resemblance of the famous artist's painting Naked Woman in the Desert.


See what you think in the comparison below – I have tried to recreate Dali's scene using my own photos and a bit of creativity. It is certainly not meant to be a masterpiece, it is just a bit of fun.


My original photo:


Laguna Blanca

Laguna Blanca is a salt lake in an endorheic basin at an elevation of 4,350 metres above sea level.


The striking white colour of the lake is caused by the extensive amount of minerals suspended in the water.


There is also ice around the edge of the lake.


I would love to send my drone up here, but after the telling off by the official at Chalviri, I decide against it (this place is also within the Eduardo Avaroa National Park).

Laguna Verde

A narrow causeway separates the White and the Green lakes. The lake is full of magnesium, carbonate, calcium, and arsenic, which give it its unique colour. It also renders it toxic (hence why no birds feed here), and stops it from freezing even at temperatures as low as -20 °C.

In the background, you can see the inactive volcano Licancabur (5,868m), a near-perfect cone that is considered a holy mountain to the local people.

Hito Cajón

This remote mountain pass is the point at which we are leaving Bolivia, Roger (driver) and Juan (our Bolivian guide) behind and heading to new adventures in Chile and Argentina. The border officials are having lunch, but the gate is open so we just drive straight through. At immigration, we have to get out of the car and walk into the small building, where a quick in, stamp and out process sends us across the border.


Here a minibus (on the left of the picture above) is waiting to take us to San Pedro de Atacama, and the driver, Pedro, helps Juan and Roger to transfer all our stuff from one vehicle to the other while we settle ourselves, and our hand luggage, into the van. It all seems rather rushed, and I really hope we have got everything with us from the car.


A few hundred metres later, we arrive at the Chilean customs. Juan warned us that they can be quite pedantic, so I only risk a quick photo through the front windscreen of the minibus.


The customs office is closed. This sounds familiar. Fifteen minutes later the huge doors open and we drive into the hangar along with another minibus. Pedro and the other driver go off somewhere, and we present our goods to the customs officers. They are so thorough, and want all the luggage out of the van – but are happy for me to stay in the vehicle. The CPAPs confuse them, but thankfully we have letters from the hospital explaining about their use. The official insists that we have to register them here on arrival to the country, and gives us a letter to show on exit. 55 minutes after we arrive, we are through.

We've been spoiled for the last few days with Roger's gentle and courteous driving. Pedro is the complete opposite, his favourite driving style seems to be cadence braking while chatting incessantly on the phone. The 26-mile (41 km) road from Hito Cajón drops 2000 metres in a series of sharp switchbacks before arriving in San Pedro de Atacama. It is anything but a comfortable drive.

Terrantai Lodge

I am very relieved when Pedro drops us off outside the lodge in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama. As soon as we are out of the vehicle he drives off, leaving us standing on the narrow pavement with all our stuff. The door to the hotel is locked shut (which is common in this part of the world), so we ring the doorbell and wait. And wait. And ring again, and wait. And wait. We try knocking. And wait. I feel like a down-and-out, tired from the long journey and lack of sleep, grumpy from the formalities of the border crossing and the jerky drive down from there, dirty from the dust thrown up from the sandy tracks, and desperately wanting to lie down as I am struggling to breathe still, coughing frequently and violently. After the third VERY loud knock, the door opens and we are beckoned in by Kristian, who I assume is the manager.


Kristian's friendliness and helpfulness soon put me in a better mood, even though I am exhausted after walking to our room, which seems to be the one furthest away from the reception. The lodge dates back to the 19th century and forms part of the historic centre of town, and despite being right in the middle of it all, remains a bastion of peace and tranquillity, with walled gardens surrounding the grounds, rooms and a small swimming pool. It's a bright, comfortable room, and I feel much better after a refreshing shower.


We later meet up with Gastón – our new guide who will be with us now until the end of the trip – for a briefing in the courtyard where the hotel is providing complimentary wine and cheese for its guests.

Astronomy Observation Tour

We are picked up at 19:30 and taken to a private property with large grounds outside town where there is very little light pollution. San Pedro de Atacama is said to be one of the best places in the world to observe the solar system – not just for the lack of lights, but the altitude makes the air thinner, and it has over 300 clear nights a year.

We sit on benches outside, covered with blankets against the bitter cold, looking up at the sky while several aspects of the galaxy, planets and stars are explained to us. I spend more time coughing than listening, and really struggle to take it all in.


Later we are invited inside a small office where we are served drinks and snacks with a chance to warm ourselves up. We are then taken back outside to view the stars through a couple of portable telescopes, before being able to take photos of the Milky Way from the grounds.


Lastly, the guide takes a few pictures of us with the scopes and the amazing night sky behind us.


The guide returns us to the hotel and I collapse into bed, completely exhausted and feeling rather rough, despite the fact that we are now at a much lower altitude of 2475m.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this breathtaking trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:14 Archived in Bolivia Tagged snow desert ice hot_springs chile lagoon border_crossing geothermal picnic bolivia erosion cairns geysers atacama south_america flamingo planets iron rock_formation san_pedro_de_atacama laguna_blanca laguna_verde altitude gulls immigration customs quartz galaxy astro laguna_colorada arbol_de_piedra astronomy salvador_dali sulphur licancabur oxygen sulfur antibiotics valcano mud_pools colorada undiscovered_destinations lost_bag astro_photography astrophotography picnic_lunch chest_infection sp02 oxymeter tayka siloli tayka_de_desierto pacific_rim_of_fire blood_oxygen_level stone_tree lagoon_colorada gravel_track mountaintops sol_manana chalviri chalviri_hot_springs changing_rooms cinclodes salvador_dali_desert naked_woman_in_the_desert lagoon_verde green_lake white_lake inactive_volcano hito_cajon immigration_control terrantai terrantai_lodge astronomy_observation_tour solar_system

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I was confused by your previous entry which seemed to have skipped a day, but now here we are back on track, so I'll back-peddle to that in a moment :) Meanwhile I enjoyed seeing more of the Bolivian landscapes, which here seem more reminiscent of those we saw in the Atacama. The stone tree is very like formations we visited there, one of which had been vandalised by a tourist, so no wonder the authorities are concerned for this one.I remember seeing Licancabur from the Chilean side. And I love the colours of the different lagoons and your beautiful shots of the flamingos. Your San Pedro accommodation looks lovely and more central than our (also very nice) one.

by ToonSarah

I have to agree with Sarah, your pictures of the lagoons are very beautiful. I have in the area, but seeing them, I just want to jump in a plane and go back!

by Ils1976

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