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a VirtualTourist member from Brasília

South America

Atacama, Easter Islands or Cusco?

Have you recently visited the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Easter Islands in the Pacific Ocean or Cusco in Peru? I am planning a 6-9 day trip and would like to know your impressions. Nature must be astonishing and unique in the desert, as must be the Inca civilization remanescent buildings in Cusco, and the historical significance and nature of the islands... Having a hard time deciding!

6 Answers

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Singapore

If u are going to Machu Picchu, u will most certainly be coming from Cusco. A couple of days is enough there. Its nice, a world heritage site but very touristy. So is Atacama especially the cowboy town of San Pedro de Atacama. U must like desert and sand dune and gazing at the stars to really enjoy Atacama. They have a few lagunas too. 3 days at most. U can cross the border to Bolivia just next door from Atacama and go to the awesome salt lake at Salar de Uyuni and the Altiplano. U will pass by hot sping, geysers and red and green lagunas near there. Sorry have not been to Easter Island.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Puerto Princesa

Having driven through the Atacama Desert it intends ro be a little boring after a day or two. Cusco and Machu Picchu are very interesting with a lot more to do than visit MP. I have never been to Easter Islands so that would be my choice. I imagine that it would be a place to relax and explore leisurely on foot!

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Brasília

thanks david and walkietalkie!

david, Easter Island seemed interesting because it would be like a taste of Polynesian history, even if a sad one, not very far from S.America - a few hours flying from Lima, Peru or Santiago, Chile. And it's a peculiar place, with their characteristic stonework, the moai. Indeed, it seems to me as well a place for leisure and relaxing with a fair climate.

But, perhaps after 4-5 days things get repetitive, monotonous.

walkietalkie, if going to Atacama, i will include the excursion to Salar de Uyuni and Altiplano, thank you. These looks seem unreal, ideal place for some seriuos photo taking there. And if i man up and take a bath in the thermal waters in the freezing cold, what i cannot guarantee, it will be easier getting in than getting out. :)

and david, thanks, i will be looking for further Cusco an MP reviews, i have a fascination for Inca history after i read a book that i throughly enjoyed, a couple of years ago: Kim MacQuarries's "The last days of the Incas". Even knowing beforehand how the inevitable end would be...

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Toronto

I apologize in advance for the long post, especially the San Pedro part since I was just there in December. I have been to all 3, but Cusco was almost 7 years ago, so my memory was definitely fading. Also, I seemed to have a weird case of altitude induced hangover, so I was pretty much sick the whole time and had to stay close to the hotel. Point of that is that you should drink in moderation until you know for sure you won't get sick. From what I remembered, it was a fun town and has lots of interesting historical sites nearby. And there is MP. I hadn't researched much into the Inca history before the trip, but it was fascinating trying to imagine the significance of the place. Are you planning to hike though? You'll need to book way in advance or pick a trail that's not Inca Trail.

I also think Easter Island is cool and it was a bit of a bucket list place. A couple of days is good, but it does get a bit boring after a few days (as you mentioned yourself). We basically saw most of the sites in 2 days. The stuff you see are very unique and is definitely worth a trip there. Had we stayed longer, we would try some hiking or diving. It was also very expensive comparing to the rest of the country. I am a bit of a city person though, so in generally, I get restless after a few days at the more out-of-the-way locations.

I'd say San Pedro de Atacama is made for people who enjoyed outdoor adventure / sports. The town itself was pretty much a big booking agency. There are travel agencies and restaurants. That's pretty much it. Now, if you do plan to go to Salar de Uyuni (usually on a 3-4 day tour), I will highly recommend that you start from Uyuni and then end in San Pedro. The landscape there is quite out of the world. That hot spring (after the geysers on the way to San Pedro) got to have one of the nicest views in the world. It's a really small pool, but you get to soak (even just your feet) and looked at the mountains and the pink flamingoes grazing in the lagoon. It was quite cold coming out of the water and it was in December (their summer)! There was a good 20C difference between San Pedro and the Altiplano. We were wearing a winter jacket the morning and in tank tops by the afternoon.

Sorry, I digressed. The reason why I suggest going the other direction is because of acclimatization. Basically, the Uyuni / Altiplano region in Bolivia is between 3,600 to 5,000m in elevation, while San Pedro is about 2,600m or so. The road from the Bolivian border (4,600m, I think) to San Pedro takes 30 minutes. This mean if you are going from S.P. to Uyuni, you'll be climbing 2,000m in a very short time span with very little opportunities to get back to lower altitude if you are sick. It is a bit more hazzle getting to Uyuni first - you probably have to fly or take the bus from La Paz to Uyuni. We had some flight issues and had basically an 8 hour flight delay. You can find tour companies that take you from there to San Pedro. I recommend either booking a private tour or just book something when you get there. We did our tour with Ruta Verde, an agency based in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

We did find that the scenery is quite similar in San Pedro, so we ended up doing a 5 hour horse riding tour through the Valle de Catarpe & Valle de la Muerte with Atacama Horse Adventure instead of the usual geyser, salt flats, moon valley tours offered by most agencies. The 5 hour horse riding tour was something else and highly recommended (if you don't mind descending a huge sand dune with a horse). So was the sun and the subsequent sunburn on my wrists.

Anyway, if you have a chance, go to all 3. :) In theory, you may be able to fit in 2 of the places in your 6-9 day trip, but that'll be very ambitious and leaving no time for issues, even I'm not crazy enough to propose that. But is there any chance for you to extend your trip to 2 weeks?

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Brasília

Thanks for the enlightening post, militurtle. About MP, i was planning to hike, indeed, and now i realize it's possibly already too late to book the Inca Trail. That is, with 1-1/2 months left.

I am inclined to take the Uyuni/Atacama trip, afterall. Your advice seems wise, since there is a potential problem of altitude "acclimatization". So, i would begin coming from the higher Uyuni/Altiplano region, staying there awhile (2 days) in less physical demanding activities, and then proceeding to the excursions, and, finally, proceeding to San Pedro.

About the schedule.. Unfortunatelly not, i won't have 2 weeks... at most 10-11 days.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Toronto

Sounds good, Alex. I don't know if you have experience with altitude. We were in La Paz for 1 night then moved to Uyuni. I was mostly ok but my friend had headaches for the next 4 days. She took sorochi pills. I was taking a small dosage of Diamox. So you may want to consult a travel doctor. La Paz is all rolling hills, which made it more challenging to sightsee.

Amaszonas have daily flights from La Paz to Uyuni. I had a lot of trouble with them but that seems like it was the exception. It still beats riding the bus for 10+hours, I guess. Good luck with your travels

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