Saturday, July 9, 2016

San Pedro and the Atacama Desert

San Pedro with a volcano in the distance

The bus from Salta to San Pedro takes around 10 hours and it leaves at the antisocial hour of 1 am, so the first part of my journey was spent sleeping - but around 6 am I was awoken to landscapes high in the Andes mountains.


The road winds through the mountains that still had patches of snow alongside the road.

The road through the Andes

Snow on the side of the road

Until it reaches the Argentina - Chile border.

The border

And after the usual lengthy messing around with immigration and customs, begins to descend to the small town of San Pedro.

Volcanoes just outside of San Pedro

The town itself is a small village almost entirely dedicated to tourism.

A street in San Pedro filled with touristy shops

It is easy to see why, San Pedro is surrounded by areas of incredible natural beauty such as the Atacama desert and Taito Geysers. 

San Pedro is surrounded by the desert and a short drive away the town gives way to the incredible scenery of Atacama.

The desert just outside town

Further into the desert

Various rock formations dot the landscape 

The Three Marias formation

But by far the most impressive is the Valley of the Moon.

The Valley of the Moon

Which changes colour as the sun begins to set.

Sunset colours

Another angle of the valley 

As do the Andes in the background 
Volcanoes in the background changing colour 
The Andes changing colour
Panoramic view of the valley 
Until the sun finally disappears 

Night falls

The next day I got up at the exceptionally antisocial hour of 4:30am to begin the trip high into the Andes to see the volcanic Taito Geysers.

The geysers are around two hours drive from San Pedro and because they are at over 4000m altitude it was -9 degrees outside.

The geyser field

Steam rises from the boiling water, on occasion making it difficult to see.

Lots of steam

But a network of paths enable you to see the pools of boiling water.

Boiling water

Another pool

Erupting geysers 

A geyser erupting

Mini volcanoes 

Steam rises from a mini volcano

And pools of water coloured by extremophile bacteria 

The orange colour is caused by bacteria

Before taking a dip in the nearby thermal pool.

A very pleasant 26°C in the pool, around 0°C outside

Further down the mountain is a lagoon with a myriad of birdlife.

Birds walking on the ice in the lagoon

Overlooked by the only active volcano nearby.

Smoke hovers around the top of the volcano

When I returned to San Pedro there was some sort of festival going on


and dancing

Which went well into the night. However, unfortunately I was unable to join the celebrations as I needed to prepare for the 3 day journey accross the Andes to Uyuni in Bolivia.....

Friday, July 8, 2016

The trail of the Tren de los Nubes to the Salinas Grandes

The view from the train - well, the road next to the tracks

From Humahuaca I returned to Salta to catch the bus to San Pedro in Chile, but unfortunately the bus only leaves on Thursdays so I had a day or two in Salta. From Salta there is a famous tourist train - Tren de los Nubes which I wanted to experience but sadly the train was not operating but there was a tour that followed the tracks and went further to the Salinas Grandes Argentinian salt flats.

The train was a feat of engineering for its time - needing to haul goods through the Andes.

Rail bridge

The track consists of many rail bridges and a huge number of shallow switchbacks to enable the train to haul more goods due to the lower gradient if the tracks.

Multiple low gradient switchbacks

The train winds its way through the mountains through spectacular scenery.
Coloured hills
More coloured hills 
The road alongside the tracks
More cactus

And local wildlife:


Until it reaches the copper mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres.

San Antonio de los Cobres

From here the tour headed to Las Salinas Grandes - the Argentinian salt flats.

The salt flats are still used to mine salt - as can be seen by the huge pile of salt that greets you at the entrance.

The salt flats

And the salt pools:

salt pools

more pools

salt crystals in the pools

And because the salt pan is so flat

Looking towards the horizon

You can have some fun with perspective:

Yes, I am *that* flexible

From the salt flats the bus climbed further into the mountains 

Very high

Before heading down towards Purmamarca and then returning to Salta.

The road down the mountain 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The multicoloured hills of Humahuaca

Humahuaca Independence Monument

Humahuaca a small town around an hour further North of Tilcara. The town is dominated by the giant "Independence Monument" that towers above the little town square.

Looking down from the monument

The town square 

From the monument there are sweeping views of the town and the coloured mountains behind the town.

Humahuaca from the top of the monument

Also within the town is a 16th Century church (one if the oldest in Argentina) and the newer town hall which boasts an animatronic Saint who comes out the bless onlookers at midday ( yeah, it's a bit weird).

Humahuaca Church

The saint blessing the crowd from the town hall clocktower

The town itself is quite small and dusty as most of the roads are unpaved - when the wind blows, dust storms can be quite bad.

Dust storm in Humahuaca

However, outside the town are many beautiful treks into the multicoloured mountains that Humahuaca is famous for.

Just over the river is the short trail to the Virgin Medalla Milagrosa shrine.

The shrine

From the top of the shrine you can see views across the town and views back to the coloured mountains.

Humahuaca from the top of the shrine

Some of the coloured mountains

Just outside of town is the formation that the area is really famous for - The painter's pallette, also known as the Hornocal.

The Hornocal is around 23km from Humahuaca and is easily reachable by hiring a taxi from the bus station at a cost of around $ARS150 per person ($AUD15). The road winds high (4300m) into the mountains - so expect to feel the effects of altitude.

Looking back towards Humahuaca

From the top of the road you are able to see the beauty of the Hornocal.

The Painter's Pallette

Which is really quite spectacular.

The Hornocal from the lookout

For intrepid hikers there is a 5 day trail through the Hornocal but unfortunately, as it was getting towards winter, it wasn't recommend to do the trail due to cold weather conditions.

So, instead I opted to take a bus to the tiny village of Uquía to hike up into the "Las Senoritas" formation.

The trail leads from beside the Uquía church following the road from the town.

Uquía church

The road from the town

The trail then follows dry riverbeds into the formation.

The riverbed

Getting closer to the formations

Up close to the formations you can see the strange patterns left from the erosion.

erosion patterns

Looking up a dry gully

And the myriad of colours.

Multicoloured hills

A red creek bed

Orange and grey creek

Red and grey hills 

The colours of the mountains 

And the incredible views back down the valley through the many coloured mountains of Humahuaca.

Looking back down the gully