Best cycling routes around Atacama from San Pedro

 Cute little village, called San Pedro de Atacama, lies on a high plateau of Andes in northern part of Chile. The area around creates the most outstanding landscape on the planet that includes desert, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and salt flats, found only in this part of the world. Surroundings make the scenery around San Pedro to be worth seeing at least once in your life. Together with Easter Islands and Patagonia, stands as the top places to visit once in Chile. The area is known to be one of the driest places in the world which leads to the fact that there’s not much green around, yet the unique geology structure creates there something so beautiful that is beyond anything, anything I saw so far. Not even mentioning that you can also easily see a magnificent milk way at night too.

17200665_1292084894203901_1503145630_o.jpgSmall town San Pedro, with population just under 4,000, tends to be a very popular destination, so it`s packed with hotels, hostels, restaurants, shops and anything travelers need really. Please be aware that beds are always in high demand, so you really have to book your stay in advance. I did not know about it, and I had to stay longer in Santiago to spend my new year there, not in San Pedro, as planned. It happened because all was already booked up. I got there on 3.01.2016, and it was still full of tourists. Once you’re lucky claiming your accommodation, go to look around. Village is very small and feels very cosy. Whoever decided to name the streets wasn’t really in his clear mind, so you can get lost very easily at first, but after some time you will know your way around well. In the center you can have a good meal or just a nice coffee. You can buy some clothes, hats or a tasty local alcoholic drink, called pisco (actually Peruvians are a bit angry, as this drink has been made first by them…or so they say). The prices around main street are not so high, but clearly set for tourists. I have found a very cool little area to eat, in far east, that travelers don’t know about (you’re welcome). Meals there cost around 4$, are very local and very tasty. san-pedro_23957283880_o.jpgThere are a few small restaurants (if you can call it like that) next to each other, and every single one got something different to offer. There`s one internet cafe in the center too, if you need, and broadband is really not as bad as backpackers complain about! Apart from that, main street is loaded with tourist agencies. You can book loads of amazing trips there at a very affordable price. Please note that you need some spare Chilean pesos with you, as there is always something extra to pay on your trip (usually entrance fee). It’s good to book few. However, for me, the highlight of my stay turns to be cycling around Atacama Desert. Except for 3 days tour I took around all lagoons, geysers and salars, but that was on Bolivian side, so I will write about it in section about that country.

  Cycling. You can hire a bike literally on every corner in San Pedro. They are in a very good condition, and you are getting an extra gear with them too (spare tube, helmet, pump and map). Prices are not so high, and they do depend on length of time, you are planning to rent your bike for, and the quality of your vehicle. You can hire it from an hour up to 48 hours. Loads of hotels do this service too, which makes it easy to return it and just to go straight to your room after. I used one agency to rent and once my hotel, and prices were very similar. As far as I remember, it was around 5-6$ for the whole day. So, as I mentioned, you will be given a map with routes you can do. It really is easy to find your way around, but please keep your map with you, as you wont be meeting loads of people on the way to ask for directions. Take also loads of water with you. It’s a very hot area, and climate is extremely dry. Stuck up on some snacks too, shops are only in San Pedro! The field is elevated, so better to use sunglasses and sun protection cream. Now…AGAIN! I have lost all my photos from there. I realized that while writing this blog. I was devastated, and I almost cried. I really captured such an amazing moments, and I took really great photos! This place is so so special for me. I have only few from my phone left. It is the same situation, I have had with my photos from Mexico and Belize, when 2/3 of my pics just disappeared from my SD card, just like that. Did anyone got the same problem? Can I fix it? I still got all my SDs, and they are full, so photos are there, somehow. Help me readers, you’re my only help!

Routs

  • Valley of the Moon

   Valley of the Moon, or Valley de la Luna, as a part of the Salt Mountain range, is one of the most visited places in San Pedro area. tapetaThe name, probably, came from the fact that the place really looks like from different planet. The whole plateau does! The valley is accessible from the town by car or bike. It is only 10 kilometers away, and you will get there via main road. There are loads of signs on the way pointing directions towards valley, so you will easily find your way. You could walk too, but the whole area of the valley is quiet large already, so you might get tired a bit. The valley also got a spot where you can do a sun-boarding. The entrance fee is just 3,000 Chilean pesos, that’s around 4.5$. The ground around is so dry that there is no any living creature. So again, remember to take plenty of water with you. Well, as far as I remember, there is a little shop by the entrance too, in case you will run out of drinks. With your ticket you will get a map with all highlights on it, so even with no guide you wont miss anything. I don’t even want to start here how things are looking around there, because I know I already use word “amazing” way to often here. Basically, you will see few beautiful canyons, sandy desert, unusually structured rock formations, snow looks-like a ground (minerals under the soil are responsible for the white cover) and caves. Here, I have to say that after the earthquake in Nepal, I was a bit scared to go trough that tiny little dark caves, but I got over the fear while half way trough there. With the tour, you will end your trip watching the sunset over the amazing valley. So, as you know by now, I did book my tour to see the valley, but I also got there one day on a rented bike. Two ways of doing so got pluses. With tour you will go with a nice group and a tour guy. He will take you in some caves too. But while cycling there alone,  you will be very flexible. 20160104_183323_23553236203_oYou will stop anywhere you like, and you will lose loads of calories, as there are loads of hills to climb. The big minus is that after the sunset its dark, and you will have to cycle back like that. The climate, like geological structure, is diverse too, so as soon as the sun is gone, it`s getting very very cold very very quickly. To be honest, sunset over the valley is something you can’t  miss. Well, anyway, you will decide! I guess it is worth doing it twice in both ways, if you have a spare time there. Why not to see the magnificent scenery twice.

  • Devils Throat

 Devils Throat is the name of a cycling path around another stunning valley. The entrance is just little bit further from Pukara de Quitor, on a right hand side. The trial is 18 kilometers long, so with the road back it`s 36. Every company, you will hire your bike from, will give you the map with the road on it. It is very easy and pleasant path, a bit rocky at times, but mostly flat. Just in few places you will face some hills, but they are not so high at all. The land around is a bit green, with the little river that will accompany you trough the whole trail. You can see some houses on your way (watch out for angry guarding dogs :). 20160104_201140_23812279689_o.jpgIt really is amazing that people lives in such a peaceful and remote area. Just to warn you, that there will be no phone signal, so cycle carefully please. I did this trial with my lovely friend, I’ve  met on the top of Pukara de Quitor-Dorit. An amazing girl from Israel. So anyway, because I was not alone, we let ourselves a bit, and we went way further than the Devils Throat trial. We crossed the river three times, holding our bikes in hands, and we got, probably, where not many tourists get. And really, again, watch your way around. I still have a big scar on my knee as a souvenir from there 😀 The whole experience was amazing, and the hills around your way will make you breathless. Me and my friend both had shoes and pants wet, but who cares. The area is so dry, nothing stays wet for too long. Dryer is definitely not needed for locals there.

  • Pukará de Quitor    

  So what stands behind this funny name?  An archaeological site just north of the town. It is so close (3 km from San Pedro) that you can easily do it with Devils Throat in one day. The side is looking interesting even without the ruins. But they do add the ancient vibe to the area. It`s known that it has been structured by precolombian Atacameño people as a fortress against Inca people. The road there is very straight forward, and even I remember it by now, a year after. Just cross the river on the north-east area, to take the road along the bank of the stream. Then after some time, you should already see the signs pointing the direction. The entrance to the park is very affordable at just 3,000 CLP. You can find there also a small museum with some artifacts that have been found in the area, and a brief view of the history of the place and people who lived there and created it. received_958400954238965_23573065793_oThere is also a place to lock your bike. The ruins are all over the little hill, you will hike. To be honest, it is not so spectacular as rest of the valley, but you can learn loads of interesting facts by reading all the descriptions. Once you’re done with it, please hike a bigger hill just next to it. At the top you will find a mirador (viewpoint), that will give you the opportunity to look at beautiful valley beneath. The road to the top, again, is not difficult, takes around 30 minutes, and its build of rocky steps. At the top you can find a little structure and some faces sculpted in the rock. They look pretty cool. When your eyes feel satisfy with the surrounded view, you can start heading back to San Pedro for a tasty lunch to satisfy your stomach now :p

Where the time goes slow

 How about this time we will land our flying, curious, and always hungry minds in Belize. Sounds good? I hope so, so welcome there! We will scratch the surface of the landscape, lifestyle, activities and we will have a little bite of Caribbean cousins. So where exactly are we? In a place in the world where you can have an adventurous time, or where you can just relax, and all that being surrounded by a beautiful scenery.  How fortunate was I to be there, explore and feel? Certainly, very. Belize still gives me some goose bumps when I am memorizing my time there. Gorgeous beaches, jungle, people…all that raise my heart beat again. I can taste the salt from the sea, I can feel the heat, I can see a friendly faces. A piece of a heaven and a slice of a paradise.

 Belize is a very small country in Central America. The population stands at just 368,310 (are they even too lazy to increase that number?…perhaps). The official slogan there is to “go slow”. Everything seems to be calm, relaxed and people look happy. They are not nervous, always joking a lot, chatting to you, trying to be helpful, trying to give you some tips, if needed. Nobody will ever turn his back on you. I adored Belize straight away, not so sure if it was because of the beautiful Caribbean cost, jungle, waterfalls or just the vibe, I was getting there. Highly possible it was the last. My stay there became as a great resting period during my backpacking trip trough Central America. I am not going to lie, I really loved the fact that all locals speak Spanish and English as well. dollar.jpgBelize also got the coolest currency ever, a dollar with Queen Elizabeth the II on it. The reason for this unique looking money lays in the fact that Great Britain controls Monetary Authority in Belize. The exchange rate is very easy: 2 Belize dollars are worth 1 US dollar. Please be aware of it, as this country uses both currencies, so always ask if the price is in B$ or US$, as you can be easily mistaken. Some Belizeans knows it and sometimes try to trick tourists on prices, but I’ve never been mislead there by anyone. I arrived to Belize from Flores in Guatemala, and as far as I remember, it took me around 4 hours to get to Belize City, where I stopped for one night! Yes, one or 2 nights are enough to look around and to try some tasty Caribbean cousins that satisfies almost every mouth.20160507_143749_26877422045_o.jpgYou can also do some shopping, if there’s anything you are missing on. Once you’re ready to go, catch a boat from docks to get to Caye Caulker island. There are three companies that operate water taxis between lands. I think prices are very similar of two of them, but one (the biggest one by the bus stop) is way more expensive.dfdf.jpg All boats are really the same, to be fair. It takes only 30 minutes to get to the island. All companies there sell organized trips too. I really would recommend to look at it, as you can do anything from Mayan ruins and temples; hiking, canoeing or kayaking down the river; cave walking; finally to the one of most amazing places in the world, The Great Blue Hole. I have to admit that I didn’t do much there. I went straight for a relaxed week in Caye Caulker. I’ve seen Tical in Guatemala, so I was already satisfy with Mayan history, but I really do regret that I haven’t seen Great Blue Hole. So please, if you are reading this and planing on going there, don’t miss it.

  Once I arrived by the boat to the island, I easily found my way around with only one main street there. I literally got to my hotel in  5 minutes. You can really see the sea on both sides of the road at some points on the island. That`s how small it is. That is why I will never understand these people who were hiring golf cards and were riding all around, but whatever. 20160507_144738_26784142472_o.jpgSo yes, the island is very calm, but cute as hell. I knew straight away that I will have a great time. Now please note, as I mentioned, the island is very small, of course packed with places to stay, but they are almost all booked up, so I would strongly suggest to reserve your place in advance. Luckily, that was what I did, and my hotel was fully booked! There`s loads of American tourist around too, I guess it is a very popular destination for them. Of course it is not as crazy as Montanita in Ecuador, but there are loads around to see and do anyway. Nights are busy too with loads of night clubs open till late hours. It really is very good to go out, as you can see the different side of the island. Loads of food stands are only open in the evening, if you are a local street food lover, like myself. I think the longest bar open at night is Reggae Bar in the northern side. I stayed till 4 am there and walk back to hotel alone. It really is not a problem there! The whole area feels very safe. If you are not too hangover in the morning, go to do some fun stuff. There are loads of agencies around that offer organized boat trips to do some diving and snorkeling. You can dive at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and few more nearby reef locations. Loads of trips include a lunch stop in San Pedro. You can also visit a near by Turneffe Islandsby. Several dive certification courses are available. You can do a very cool cave diving, but note that it can be explored only by experience divers, ideally with a local that is familiar with the cave.

  As you see, you wont get bored, and you can turn your trip to be a magnificent experience. If you are lazy, like I was while there, just go to chill on the beach, swim in the crystal clear sea, get some tan. The split is most popular place for it, usually fully packed with tourists all around. The separation of the island started off as a channel, which was widened by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. There was another big hurricane, just months after I left, and loads of places got badly damaged (I will upload a video from my friend showing what happened).

 At the Split is a restaurant/bar with some tables half way trough the water, lightened at night. Even cooler fact is that at hours between 18.00 and 20.00 you can buy half price drinks, as of happy hour. That area tends to be as the best spot to watch sunsets, you can really capture on your camera stunning photos. Good to combine both – having a tasty white rum in the water and watching a sunset. 20160510_130950_26336732394_o.jpgIt really is a magical experience. So as I mention, this is a very overcrowd place, so if you’re not keen on that just go elsewhere. You can find a nice empty beaches in the island too.

  So overall, I really do recommend To visit Belize. It can be a great stop on your busy backpacking trip where you can just chill for a few days, do nothing. That is how it turned for me. I am always walking around for hours to see things, so this was a great time for me to charge my batteries before heading to Mexico. You have to  Belize me!!!!

ps Very sadly I`ve lost all my photos from my camera of Belize. The few remaining ones, I have, are from my phone camera, so I do apologize for the quality of them, and the fact that I can not advertise this magnificent country better.

Easy guide to do Santa Ana Volcano.

  The magnificent volcano of Santa Ana is one of the top must see places in El Salvador. It is also in top five on my list of most amazing nature wonders, I have seen so far. Though, the landscape of the whole country is geologically interesting, with wonderful sandy warm pacific coast beaches and islands, the volcano will probably turn as the highlight of your trip. In this quick guide I will tell you how to rich it yourself in nice and easy way, and why it is better not to take an organized tour.

 The Volcano, also named Ilamatepec (from Spanish), at 2,381 meters above the sea level holds the title of the highest in El Salvador. It’s located west of Coatepeque Caldera. It is an active one, so please just in case, do check before if its open to the public view and possible to hike. Thought, it is very unlikely not to be able to trek it, the volcano got the history of violent eruptions. The last one, in October 2005, killed at least two people, injuring several others. It’s been reported that during the eruption volcano spat rocks for over 1.5 km that were the the size of a car. Before 2005, its known that the last big one happened in 1904, so obviously  not so often, but you never know.

  To be able to trek you should stay for one or two nights in Santa Ana, the city just 2 hours away from San Salvador. But I understand that you may not have few spare days. The quick option, in that case, is to get a tour from San Salvador, so you will be able to do it in one day. But if you have a time, you need to get to Santa Ana. You can catch a coach from main bus station in the capitol. Ticket can be purchased in the bus. As far as I remember, it costed me around 1$. I forgot to add that US dollar is an official currency in Salvador. Once you are in Santa Ana, you have to stay somewhere overnight, as there is only one bus that goes to volcano side in the morning, and the return one comes at 4 in the afternoon.  Not a problem at all, lucky you, Santa Ana is a very touristic place. There are loads of hotels and hostels around, mostly located by the main square that is full of markets, mercados, street food stands and restaurants. Anyway, coming back to our trip…the morning bus leaves around 7.40-8.00 am, but please check the timetable for the current time. The bus number is 248, with directions to Cerro Verde National Park, from La Vencedora terminal. Ticket is very cheap again (around 1$), and the bus will take you right to the entrance of the park, where you will have to pay to enter. So basically, you will arrive early, around 9.40-10.00. The entrance fee of 3$ is for the base camp area where you will wait, but you can buy a coffee and a small snack around while waiting. I was there alone, so  a bit concerned that I will be trekking with no other tourists, but one big bus arrived just 15 minutes before 11.00 with other travelers. It was an organized trip. Once we paid, we were able to start. There is only one trekking session per day, and it starts at 11.00, so you will have to wait. But please be aware that it`s actually worth it, as you will be able to look around. You wont cant hike the volcano on your own anyway, you have no choice. Your safety is the reason for that, as you have to be assisted by the guide and one or two police man that will guard you right up to the caldera and the whole way back from the top. I’ve heard that it is because of the previous robberies that occurred in the park. I can believe that, as Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The climb is relatively easy, but remember to take a warm clothes that can withstand the wind. Its not so warm at the top. Please take snacks with you, as most of the stands with food are closed in the morning. Also the little restaurant in the base camp will be open around lunch time, so you can have a hot meal, but once you are back. Take loads of water, as hiking will take 2 hours each way. Have at least 2 liters, as you will sweat a lot, so better not to get dehydrated. Its not so difficult at the beginning. You’re are just walking trough the forest. You will be stopping at some view points to get some photos and to have a little rest, but not so often. The difficult bit starts after some time. I would say last hour is most difficult.

There is no forest anymore, so you just trek on the rocky little road. 30 minutes before finishing your hike, you will be able to smell sulfur. Once you’re on the top, you will be blown away by the beauty of the caldera. The volcanic water got an unusual intensive blue/green color, and you can see that it`s bubbling a lot. Take loads of photos. You will be given around 30 minutes there before the group will be heading back down the same way. Apart from caldera, you will have the opportunity to see a Volcano Izalco, beautiful panorama of Lake Coatepeque, Cerro Verde and, if the weather is good, the Pacific Ocean! The last one I could not see, I am afraid, but I`ve heard it is possible. It is truly breathtaking! The return bus will depart at 16.00 right from the base camp area. It will stop at the parking. The return way was very nice too, I was chatting with my broken Spanish with others, and, again, I was the only tourist there. Kind bus driver even drooped me off right by my hotel.

  So why do I say its better to do it by yourself?

 Well, for few good reasons. First one is the fact that you will be in the bus with just locals. This is something I am always looking forward to. Everyone has been so kind to me so far, and people are always so interest in me and vice versa. Second, you will have more time to look around. Especially when back from the top. You can also have a hot meal there made by two lovely ladies. Third, not so important to me, but of course you will do it twice, if not three times, cheaper. The organized group, I mentioned before, asked me if I want to come back with them in their fancy Mercedes mini bus, as they had a spare place. I kindly said thank you, but I refused. Hehe…they were shocked a bit. I really do think it`s better to plan everything yourself, it gives you the satisfaction that you’re doing it the difficult way. I will always regret that I bought a tour for Machu Picchu, as I’ve had only 4 hours at the top, and that is not enough. You need the whole full day to discover Incas ancient world around that mountain. And for last, common its not so complicated at all, use your head to plan sometimes!