5 Day Ride & 4 Night Camping
Day 1: Cejas Lagoon
After a copious breakfast, we shall leave San Pedro and ride south towards the Salar de Atacama, a huge salt depression of 320 000 ha, which builds a unique landscape. This Salar, the biggest of Chile, was 4 000 years ago a gigantic lake and has nowadays always an underground water network, which allows the formation of all these turquoise blue lagoons. A great variety of Flamingos, birds and ducks live and fly among these virginal lagoons.
For our first night of camping we will stay in the heart of the Atacama Salar, on the edge of the Cejas Lagoons, where the scene of the turquoise water against the white crust of salt is reminiscent of an expressionist painting.
Depending on the season, you will have the opportunity to swim in these lagoons, which have a concentration of salt equal to that of the Death Sea (40%). Don’t worry, there is no need to know how to swim. You will appreciate tonight a wonderful sunset on the Licancabur Vulcan (5 916m), located just on the border with Bolivia. This Vulcan will be your landmark all along the trail.
This first day will already give you a general idea on the desert and on the progress of the trail, which keeps us many other surprises.
On that day we’ll spend 6 hours riding.
Day 2: Beter ruins & Tulor ruins
We shall ride towards the ruins of Beter, where the Spanish built the first colonial village. You will discover there the antic village, buried under the sand dunes. The first inhabitants, settled this sector already 11000 years ago. These remains are fantastic relics of the archeological past of this sector.
Our trail follows then towards the Ruins of Tulor, a 3 000 year old settlement, established by the Lickanantay culture (native people of the sector). It is still possible to see ruins of ancient houses, characterized by their circular form, which were preserved thanks to the sand dune that covered them but also contributed to their destruction. This real open-sky museum is composed of a conglomerate of 22 circular constructions, each of them having their own function. From here, the culture of San Pedro extended itself: its ceramics, basketwork, metallurgies, ritual customs, legends, myths and religious ceremonies.
On that day we shall spend the night at the oasis of Tulor, where once again you will have the possibility to have a relaxing bath in the oasis’ irrigation canals.
Riding time today: approximately 6 hours.
Day 3: Moon Valley + Death Valley
Today we cross the mysterious Moon Valley. As its name points it out, its geological formations and colors curiously remind of the Moon. Canter across its sand dunes and passing through its impressive tunnels, natural caves and holes will amaze you. If you listen carefully you might hear the rumble of the rocks that creaks as if they were trying to whisper us something when there is some temperature’s change.
Leaving the Moon Valley behind us, we reach the ledge of the Salt Cordillera. It is a pre-cordillera, created by the erosion that further East turns into the majestic Andean Cordillera. The wind blows there in strong gusts, building each time new natural sculptures. From its heights we overhang the whole death valley and its huge sand dunes, where people practice Sandboard. Also well-known as Mars Valley, this enigmatic place invites you to contemplation and admiration.
That night camping shall be at the Petroglyphs next to “La Piedra de la Coca”, a gigantic stone, where formers atacameños spat coca for a good journey. It’s now still possible to see this chewed coca leafs but most of all to observe Petroglyphs, rock drawings, representing formers hunting scenes. These archeological remains are the proof that antic Caravans used this same way several years ago. Through these engravings, representing distinct forms and symbols, they tell us about their history, about their way of life. Like messages carved into the rock, theses symbols are the matter of many theories.
We shall ride between 7 to 8 hours on that day.
Day 4: Rio Salado, Petroglyphs
Passing through lovely landscapes, we shall cross the Rio Salado (Salt river), where once again you will find ancient Petroglyphs, representing: Lamas, foxes, Caravans, Shamans. Some of these Petroglyphes have more than 2 000 years. We will transit today on all these formers ways crossed several years before by nomad tribes accompanied by their animals.
Early afternoon we reach “La Quebrada del Diablo” (the devil’s-ravine), a narrow ravine located inside the Salt Mountain Range. This real natural labyrinth offers landscapes worthy of the North American westerns. We shall reach later on the River San Pedro, which is responsible for the luxuriant vegetation of the Catarpe valley, creating a surprising contrast with the dryness of the desert. In this area we will cross the way of some shepherds, leading their animals to pasture (sheeps, goats, cows, llamas).
We shall establish our second camp in this green Catarpe Valley next to the San Pedro River, where you will have the possibility to take a bath or simply rest and relax.
Riding time today approximately 6 to 7 hours.
Day 5: Riding back to San Pedro
Our last day riding shall be a quiet day. After following the River San Pedro for another while we shall enter into the second part of the devil’s ravine, which is even more spectacular. After we reach the entrance of Catarpe valley we will cross the village center of San Pedro and ride back to the ranch.
We shall finish our trip passing through the town of Quitor, where an ancient stronghold (Pukara de Quitor) of the 12th century is located.
This fortress has a strategic place; located on the top of a hill. It dominates the whole area as well as the river San Pedro. Nowadays this place is a national monument, archeological remains of the pre-Inca architecture. These incredible constructions, built 700 years ago were used as a defensive gate by the natives against the Incas and later on against the Spanish, who invaded it in 1540.