The Atacama Desert in Chile is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve seen anywhere in the world and the best way to explore it is to rent your own car and make your own adventures. Once you’ve made your way to San Pedro de Atacama, of all the numerous day trips you can take, Piedras Rojas is an absolute must.
Situated around 2hrs drive south of San Pedro, the breathtaking wilderness is not the only thing that makes this place worth the visit – the drive down here will excite even the non-drivers amongst you (I know because I’m one of you!). Word of advice first of all – there are no fuel stations between San Pedro and Piedras Rojas so don’t leave town with anything less than full tanks!
Leaving San Pedro, the road stretches across mile after mile of desolate wilderness, disappearing straight ahead into the distance as you look across the salt plains to the mountains beyond. It then starts to climb up into the hills, barren salt-plains giving way to colourful flowers and shrubs and shades of green run up the sides of the snow capped volcanoes.
Another thing which hits you is the absolute silence. Take some time to stop the car, turn the engine off and you’ll understand what people mean by the term ‘deafening silence’. No birds, no aircraft, no hum of distant traffic. Absolute. Silence.
The perfectly tarmaced road ends abruptly and it’s onto dirt tracks for the last 45 minutes – here is where the real fun begins! My advice would be to spend the money and get a proper 4×4 car as the surface can be somewhat ‘rugged’. Beware when follow cars in front as huge dust clouds will obstruct your view, even a hundred metres behind.
Then, as you crest another hill, the stunning lake rises into your view.
Now, this view is just so spectacular that I’ll be honest, my writing isn’t nearly good enough to describe so I’ll just let the photo below do the talking…
Make sense now?! Good!
Find you way off the main road and just stop there car anywhere – it’s just a lake, there’s no car park or any other tourist facilities here – and head out and explore. I’d recommend bringing a jacket as the wind can get quite strong and even though the air temperature isn’t too cold, the wind can be really biting.
The first thing you notice is the deep iron-red of the rocks you step out onto – hence the name, Red Rocks. They roll and undulate down towards the water where they briefly give way to a crunchy salt shingle where the gentle waves lap back and forth.
There are a few great spots to take some photos, if you haven’t got someone with you to take the shot for you, make sure you bring a tripod to get the best results. Another tip – it’s windy. Your tripod could well be blown over. Like mine was. Don’t make the same mistake! Luckily there was no damage to my camera but if you’re going to set yours up on a timer, make sure you weigh the legs down with a bag or something equally heavy.
The drive back always seems longer so stop off in one of the small villages as you near San Pedro and drop into one of the local food houses which serve a menu del dia, normally consisting of a soup followed by a chicken type stew. Super tasty and just what you need after a long morning exploring.