Getting to Chile from Bolivia is a long journey, especially when you are travelling from Uyuni. We did a four day tour through Uyuni salt flats which ended at the Chilean border, but I’ll write more about it in another article.
Crossing the border
After short visit at Bolivian border office we said good bye to our friendly guide Lino. That was followed by change of cars, our loyal and reliable (but little bit broken) jeep for minibus with chilean license plate. It took us few hundred meeters to chilean border office.
We were required to fill in some forms, they are especially interested in food, fresh fruit, vegetables and animal products. It feels like these items are prohibited and if you don’t declare them, you might be fined. Because we forgot our “tasty” granola and energy bar, we had to fill the forms twice. Luckily we had a lot of time, as we were waiting for more than 30 minutes.
Once we got to the building, we waited little bit more. Group in front of us just had all their luggage checked. It was little bit scary, as our dirty underware was all over our bagpacks. Our first steps from the minibus led to small office. Police officers checked our passports and asked some questions (where in Chile are we going and for how long).
Now was time to check our luggage. Chilean lady put on a gloves and asked me to open the bagpacks. She did not want me to take all the stuff out, instead she inserted her hand into the depths of my backpack and was feeling for some prohibited items. She did not find anything, not because I hid it in my pockets (they don’t check clothes you are wearing), but because I did not try to smuggle any. In the end she smiled and wished me “buen viaje”. This was the difficult part.
Welcome to the desert
Sixty minutes later, we arrived to San Pedro de Atacama. Descending two kilometers on high quality highway (really high quality when compared to roads in Bolivia). It was really hot in town, especially after very cold morning that day, when we had to wake up at four a clock and get out into the freezing darkness (it was ten degrees sub zero).
Number of turists in town was shocking, we have not encountered that many of them in one place in past two months. Another shock came shortly after – prices were a lot highier than in Bolivia. We managed to exchange rest of our bolivianos, for 400 of bolivianos we got roughly 40.000 chilean pesos. It would have gotten us quite a lot of cheap meals and hotels in Bolivia. In San Pedro we found one of the cheapest lunch menus for 8.000 (for one person at restaurant Lola). Another surprise was 10% service fee automatically added to the restaurant bill, it looks like a common thing in Chile.
With half of our money gone we knew that we’ll need more cash. We found two different banks, one had limit of 200.000 chileanos and fee of 4.000 (Banco BCI). Withdrawals were free in Bolivia, so we did not like it at all (4.000 chileanos is roughly £4). We went to another bank, their limit was higher – 400.000 and fee was around 5.000 (Banco Estado). After that we were hoping there will be lot of places in Chile which will allow us to pay by card.
Then we spent some time walking around the town exploring little shops, looking for cheaper diner options, checking tour prices and bike rentals (I’ll write more about it later). Compared to Bolivia all was a lot more expensive. We read that San Pedro is most touristic place in Chile, so maybe in some other parts of the country prices will be more friendly.
After all day of driving, walking, freezing and burning in the Sun (San Pedro is very hot during the day) it was time to go to hotel to get some rest. I booked mine accommodation beforehand. It was one of the cheapest one bed accommodations I was able to find (I did not want to spend Christmas in dormitory with 7 other people). I paid $45 for three nights (tax included), hotel name was Hostal Vendana Andina. It was 10 minutes walk from the center, quite quiet with well equipped kitchen and friendly staff. Dormitories are little bit cheaper, three nights were for $38 in 8 people dormitory in Hostal Atacama Tatais (or Hultur on Booking).
What did I see and where did I go in San Pedro will have to wait for another post. See you there.