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San Pedro de Atacama
From the original scout there have been several minor revisions to the route. San Pedro de Atacama is a new addition and certainly a new highlight of the tour. The scenery here is as hallucinogenic as the cover of a Yes album cover. Whether you are an astronomer, archaeologist, geologist, adrenalin junkie or just enjoy sipping the finest cappuccino in a shady adobe café, this desert oasis will make for a fantastic rest stop. Smoldering volcanoes tower over this tourism mecca. The dusty cobbled streets are lined with restaurants and cafes that prepare a variety of local and international delicacies. Looking down the alleyways reveals a myriad of colour as the local artisans pawn their handicrafts and alpaca garments, yet the main plaza is cooled by the shade of mature trees. Bordering the plaza is a post card perfect quaint little church. Local tour operators host a range of day trips including sand boarding, climbing an active volcano, visiting the steaming geysers, soaking the buoyant waters of a salt pan lake, or touring through the incredible sedimentary and aeolian formations of the Valle de Luna. The climatic conditions here provide for some of the best star gazing in the world. What a crazy place! Historically this town was just a pit stop on the trading route between the highlands and the coast. It became established when it was visited by Pedro de Valdivia in 1540. A complex irrigation system sourced from ground water supports local agriculture and some farmers today are still using terraces that are over 1000 years old. Tourism is the main economic input these days. In fact when I arrived I had to ask five different people for directions because the first four were all tourists. This will be our first exposure to life on the Altiplano, not a bad start.
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