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Why San Telmo is the Best Neighborhood in Buenos Aires

Why San Telmo is the Best Neighborhood in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires feels a little bit like New York City when you first arrive. An energetic buzz pulses through the streets – streets that go on for as far as the eye can see. The neighborhoods are many, and varied.

San Telmo seems a little far from the hot neighborhoods of Palermo and Recoleta, but it’s worth the subway ride. The European style cafes, antique markets, and cobblestone streets give San Telmo an old world, not-at-all-touristy feel. Not to mention that the hostels are, in general, more affordable than other neighborhoods (we stayed at Puerto Limon).

The Charms of San Telmo:

The Sunday Market

On Sundays, Calle Defensa turns into an antiques/crafts/flea market. Every time you think the market must end on the next block, it goes on for another! Food vendors sell empanadas and fresh squeezed orange juice. We were on the hunt for an antique cameo – Will’s present to me for my birthday – and found many to choose from. At one end of the market we were treated to tango musicians and a New Orleans style jazz band. It was tempting to buy more souvenirs with all of the beautiful leather, wood, and textile crafts, but we already hit our souvenir limit for South America. If you are planning to buy souvenirs in Buenos Aires, the San Telmo Sunday Market is where you should do it!

Antiquing

Buenos Aires is a hub of international antique dealership, and San Telmo is where it all happens. The antique shops are many, with beautiful window displays. There are also several permanent markets where antique dealers have stalls. We saw stalls filled with vintage clothing, beautiful jewelry, old knives, and creepy mid-20th century dolls and doll furniture. We even saw a dealer selling out of print money – like francs and a bill with Saddam Hussein on it. Crazy. Even if you aren’t in the market for antiques (we certainly aren’t) they are fun to look at.

Buenos Aires San Telmo Market

Parrillas (steakhouses)

Okay. You can find a good steakhouse almost anywhere in Buenos Aires but some of the best are in San Telmo. Twice, we had an incredible lunch next door to our hostel at a small counter place with the grill and meat in full view. But, as Americans, we felt we should go big or go home in the red meat department – so we also went out to a fancy, do-it-up, parrilla (pronounced par-EESH-a) meal. Within walking distance of our hostel, we enjoyed La Brigada, a famous spot where they cut the meat with a spoon. Please, go to their website. It’s amazing. Parrilla is a style of steakhouse where you order off an a la carte meat menu. We had the small sausage, kid tripes, and the special beef – which was a huge cut of meat prepared medium rare. Will exclaimed in awe, “Babe, this is the biggest steak I’ve ever seen.” For more on parrillas, check out Gringo In Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires Parrilla

Final Note

San Telmo is also close to the famous Plaza de Mayo, the location of the May Pyramid (the obelisk) and the home cathedral of Pope Francis. This is also close to where you exchange your money on the blue rate. The blue rate is the black market rate for dollars and euros that extends those currencies by a third. For a guide to getting the blue rate, check out this website. Our tip: ask around about what rate people have been able to get and be prepared to walk away if the cambio doesn’t give you a good rate. Chances are they will continue to negotiate.

Ciao,

Elizabeth

The Best Tango Lesson in Buenos Aires

The Best Tango Lesson in Buenos Aires

If you’re looking for a tango lesson in Buenos Aires, La Catedral is definitely the place to be. It’s a little out of the way, and you won’t get the added frills of a professional tango performance, but the spirit and ambiance can’t be beat.

We took the metro to Medrano on a Saturday night and then walked a couple of blocks. From the outside La Catedral looks like an abandoned warehouse. The sign that reads ‘Tango’ is worn and hard to notice. But from the moment we stepped inside the main room, we couldn’t help but smile. There’s a long, old, wooden dance floor that leads to a bar and tables in the back. The ceiling is so high it almost disappears above you. Everything is cast in shadow, and the wine is cheap. We arrived ‘just on time’ but ended up being able to drink an entire bottle of wine while we waited for things to officially get going. This place isn’t catering to tourist expectations.

Tango Buenos Aires Bar

The lesson itself was different than the other dance classes we’ve experienced. There’s a lot of closing your eyes and trusting your partner to move you around the room. Tango is known for its passion, but its spirit is smooth and calm. Most of the lesson we just walked and shifted from side to side. When the traditional tango ‘box’ was finally introduced, it was done as something that can be worked in organically. Staying fluid, and wordlessly responding to the pressure of a leading hand, that’s where the passion comes from. Learning tango, apparently, isn’t about ‘drilling the steps.’ It’s more like tuning into a particular style of movement.

But after the lesson is when things really started to get going. The volume went up and dancers who really knew what they were doing started to take the floor. Locals arrived in a steady stream and we felt grateful that we had arrived in time to stake out a table. We ordered some food, and another bottle of wine. We befriended the only other English speakers around (they also got this recommendation from someone who lived here), and every few songs we ventured onto the dance floor to try out our limited repertoire of moves. We left at a bit past 1AM and the place was still filling with new arrivals.

Bottom line: if you’re in Buenos Aires you need to tango. The shows are impressive but if you’re not content to be a spectator, then La Catedral is the place to be.

Ciao,

Will

 

Biking to Wineries in Mendoza

Biking to Wineries in Mendoza

The hum of rubber on the flat pavement. The gentle movement of a sun-warmed breeze past your face. The buzz of how many glasses of wine? Wasn’t counting. This is why we came to Mendoza.

Mendoza is known for producing that famous Argentine Malbec wine everyone has heard of. We spent four days soaking up its laid back vineyard vibe- but we hadn’t taken a wine tour yet. On our final day there we decided to scrap the formal wine tour, rent bikes, and have a leisurely pedal from winery to winery.

We took the city bus to Maipu, where all the wineries are located, and headed straight for Mr. Hugo’s bike rental. Mr. Hugo himself fitted our bikes and sent us on our way. We were lucky – we arrived just as a bike ban had been lifted due to strong winds in the morning. By 1pm, all that was left was a pleasant breeze.

Mendoza Wine Tour 02

The streets of Maipu have dedicated bike lanes with curbs, and the roads are completely flat. We started our afternoon with empanadas at the local beer garden before heading to Trapiche, one of Mendoza’s most famous wineries, for a tour and tasting.

We saw antique wine making machinery, original to the winery. Will even got to taste some unaged wine straight from the tap.

Mendoza Wine Tour 13

As we made our way to the sleek tasting room, we were lucky once again– our tasting of 3 wines somehow turned into 5. I tried Grappa for the first time, though I will likely decline it in the future.

Mendoza Wine Tour 29

Thank goodness we were on bikes, because the Olive Oil Factory – surprise of the day – got us a little drunk. What we found was not a factory tour, but a tasting room. I don’t know if the olive spread we tried was the best thing I’ve ever tasted, or if I was just a little intoxicated – either way, it was amazing.

Mendoza Wine Tour 42

After introducing us to 10 different liquors, the Olive man asked “Would you like to try some absinthe?” “Sure!” we replied. “Where is it from?” Will asked after we had taken our shots. “I made it!” he exclaimed. Needless to say, it was very strong.

Mendoza Wine Tour 46

We rounded out our day with a stop at a winery museum and a 5 tasting special at another wine bar. In the end, we bought one bottle of olive oil and received two free bottles of wine. The only thing that could have made the day better was more time.

Mendoza Wine Tour 56

If you go to Mendoza, skip the formal wine tour and skip the organized bike/wine trip. Head to Maipu (or better yet, stay there!) and go see Mr. Hugo. The freedom to pedal where you wish in this flat, safe town is well worth the city bus ticket!

Ciao,

Elizabeth

 

Sorry, I Just Didn’t Like Valparaiso

Sorry, I Just Didn’t Like Valparaiso

Listen, I know everyone loves Valparaiso.  It’s trendy, romantic, filled with street art and hilltop views and fully endorsed by Pablo Neruda himself. When we told people we were going to Santiago, the response again and again from fellow travelers was, “oh, make sure you get to Valparaiso.” But here’s the thing.  I just didn’t like Valparaiso.

There were some specific activities in Valparaiso that I absolutely loved. Among them were visiting La Sebastiana (Pablo Neruda’s house), tasting several Carmeneres at Antonia’s Wine Boutique, and enjoying churros and chocolate at one of the many adorable sweet shops. Unfortunately, these things could not overtake the things I hated: the dirtiness of the streets, the graffiti on every building (not the street art, that’s different), and a bad run in with another guest at the hostel.

We arrived on Saturday around noon to find the city rainy and 10 degrees colder than Santiago.  Determined to love Valparaiso, I remained upbeat as we checked into our hostel and set out to find some lunch.

Valparaiso Street Art 1

En route, we gingerly danced between the puddles and ridiculous amount of dog poop that filled the sidewalks.  The rain made the slimy streets worse, and it was hard to enjoy the stroll. We finally found a place called Mastadon that specializes in Chorillana, a dish invented in Valparaiso. A little heavy, but fully embraceable by a couple of Americans.

Valparaiso Chorrillana

As night fell, the rain stopped, and we found a route with less dog poop – up a cobblestone street to this adorable corner:

Valparaiso Streets 06

We located Antonia’s Wine Boutique, recommended to us by an Australian couple we met in San Pedro.  We opened the place up at 9pm, tasting an incredible Carmenere.  The owner/host chatted with us about what type of wines we like and brought us a complimentary meat and cheese platter.  We had a great view of street art and the rolling blocks of colorful houses.  Things were looking up.

Valparaiso Street 20

Back at the hostel, Will and I passed out on our hostel bunk beds at midnight.

Around 5am, I awoke to someone shaking me. I opened my eyes to the lights on and a 20-somthing girl yelling at me in Spanish.  The bunk bed was very low, so I couldn’t sit up, just lay there being yelled at.  When she took a breath, I said “I don’t speak Spanish,” to which she responded “English then, speak! Speak!” Will and I finally gathered that she thought the bed I was sleeping in was her bed.  After she continued to yell at a staff member for another 10 minutes, and took several photos of me in the bed, she was finally ushered out of the room.

Here’s what happened: When you stay in a hostel dorm, most hostels record which bed you claim. For example: Bed 3 – Elizabeth, Bed 4 -Will. This hostel does not record which beds are claimed, so they can’t tell you which ones are available when you check in. It’s just guessing.

This girl thought she claimed the same bed I had claimed. I checked in first (and went to bed 5 hours earlier) so I don’t feel bad about keeping the bed. Additionally, there were two more free beds in the room, available for claiming when she arrived back from the bar. This is how a hostel works. You take a free bed. You certainly don’t shake a stranger awake. If you have a problem you go talk to the staff person at the desk.

The girl was with an older gentleman who generally looked mortified. Later, the hostel staff tried to act like the girl was sorry, but didn’t know how to say it in English.   It was evident from her demeanor that she was not sorry in the least. Was I hurt? No. Was I pissed? Yes. Will wanted to confront her in Spanish, but I suggested we just get an early start and vamos.

So we headed to Plaseo 21 de Mayo – another enthusiastic recommendation from our Australian friends in San Pedro. We took a tram to the top of the hill and looked out. The harbor full of shipping containers just wasn’t enough to lift my morning funk.

Plaseo 21 de Mayo 03

Although this view was nicer.

Plaseo 21 de Mayo 10

The sky looked like it would hold out against the rain, so we decided to walk across downtown to La Sebastiana. On the way, we took note of the street art (while trying not to step in dog poop- seriously, it’s everywhere).

Valparaiso Street Art 02

Valparaiso Street Art 04

Valparaiso Street Art 03

Finally we reached Pablo Neruda’s house. Here you can see Neruda’s morning view as he awoke.

Valpariaso La Sebastiana 12

We ended our afternoon with churros and chocolate on our favorite cobblestoned corner before catching the bus back to Santiago.

Valparaiso Churros and Chocolate

I know, I know. The incident at the hostel and the weather were not Valparaiso’s fault. Perhaps I went in with expectations that were too high. Perhaps the dirty streets (I saw a roadkill rat blocking a street drain) prevented me from feeling the romance of the city. Perhaps I simply prefer the urban style of Santiago.  In any case – there are wonderful things to do in Valparaiso… it just wasn’t the city for me.

Ciao,

Elizabeth

One Day Walking Tour in Santiago

One Day Walking Tour in Santiago

Santiago greeted us with a beautiful, sunny, 72 degree day – perfect for our self-styled walking tour.  We were staying in Barrio Brasil at La Casa Roja – an old mansion turned hostel.  Barrio Brasil is just off of downtown, which made it the perfect location to start our walk.  We passed through the central business district, with its pedestrian streets and kiosks selling snacks and philosophy books, on our way to the other famous barrios of Santiago.

Santiago Downtown Travel

We ran into Plaza Moneda, the location of the presidential palace, or La Moneda.  We looked on as a protest took place.  We didn’t yet know that this was a major site of the 1973 military coup.

Santiago La Moneda Travel

From the downtown we headed toward Bella Vista, one of Santiago’s most popular neighborhoods.  Just before reaching this barrio is the National Museum of Fine Art, where the collection of sculpture particularly moved and intrigued us.

Santiago Art Museum Travel

From the Art Museum we headed to San Cristobal Hill, which took up an enormous green area on our tourist map.  The hill is extremely steep, so we took the San Cristobal “Funicular” up instead.  The Funicular begins and ends in matching castles at the top and bottom of the hill – with one intermediate stop at the Santiago Zoo.

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

When we got off the tram, we could see the true expanse of Santiago.  Seventy-five percent of Chile’s population lives in cities – and Santiago is by far the largest.  The view was amazing.

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

Looking up, we could see the Chilean flag with the statue of the Virgin Mary behind it.  We weren’t at the top yet!

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

The path to the top wound through gardens and various sections of an enormous outdoor church, including an outdoor altar and amphitheater.  Finally, we reached the Virgin Mary.

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

The Funicular was less crowded on the way down.  This old-timey tram made me a little nervous in all its Industrial Revolution glory.  Can you spot my anxious grip on the rail post?  Will loved it.

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

On the way back to La Casa Roja, we took particular notice of the street art in Barrio Bella Vista.  Here are some of our favorites.

Santiago Street Art 03

Santiago Street Art Travel

Santiago Street Art Travel

Our one day walking tour in Santiago was blessed with beautiful weather for exploring.  A quick recap of the the highlights: the National Museum of Fine Arts, San Cristobal Hill, and street art in Bella Vista.

Other highlights from other days in Santiago include: the lovely park Santa Lucia Hill, dining in Barrio Lastarria, visiting the Museo de la Memoria, and drinking lots of Carmenere wine.

Santiago is a complex, intellectual, passionate, and reserved city.  It leaves you wanting to know more about it, and feeling completely at home at the same time.  I would go back any day.

Ciao,

Elizabeth

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 2)

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 2)

“Lesson study is the way change has been able to come to elementary,” explained Shannon Watt. “We plan our lessons as a team. And we’ve done it, so if it doesn’t work it’s the team’s responsibility, not just one teacher. Lesson Study is what’s enabled us to open our minds, make mind shifts, to leave the traditional.”

As she spoke, Ms. Watt began to pull books on Lesson Study from the shelves in her office and slide them towards me over the desk. Lesson Study is a Japanese methodology where teachers plan and analyze their lessons together.

“And the best thing is that lesson study makes them open their classrooms, so now we have middle school teachers who go to see elementary teachers. Which is great because now they feel empowered. Observers come, and they are impressed and then they adapt what they see for older students. There’s more sharing ideas.”

But Lesson Study is a difficult system to get going in a school. In the West, teachers are famously attached to their autonomy. In a system that makes them feel embattled on all fronts, it’s often all they have to cling to. Even in a more affluent school like Southern Cross, teachers often invest a tremendous amount of personal pride in their particular way of doing things. Getting teachers to plan and evaluate lessons together, to get them innovating, is often a tremendous challenge. The “Team Time” in my first school back in 2006 often devolved into a round robin airing of grievances. Many of the teachers I’ve worked with over the past few years have shared similar experiences.

Lesson Study - International education

When Shannon Watt first introduced Lesson Study, she knew that she had to be delicate. She first started with a team she thought would be more amenable. Only after they shared how much they liked it, did she encourage the more skeptical teachers to try it out. There were problems at first. It’s only now, in the third year, that she feels Lesson Study is working as it truly should. All of the teachers are engaged and invested. They see how Lesson Study helps them. The issues with group work, which resulted in the slow but enthusiastic adoption of Kagan strategies, were originally surfaced in Lesson Study meetings.

Spending a day with Ms. Watt at Southern Cross, and talking with her teachers, was extremely illuminating. She seems to have created the kind of professional culture that many schools in the States aspire to with a kind of wistful idealism, an unstated recognition that the barriers are actually too great.*

More and more, people are beginning to realize that teaching needs to be a more collaborative profession. Just the night before, I was at a talk with a Chilean Education Professor who discussed how teachers’ tendency to view their classrooms as independent fiefdoms was one of the major barriers to reform. More collaborative faculties not only give people more opportunities to collaborate and share ideas. It also helps with morale.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]
Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is much more thoughtful. It’s characterized by a patient perseverance that is far too rare in most schools.[/pullquote]

In the last post, I mentioned that the Harvard Business Review has found that having opportunities for professional growth and feeling trusted by one’s supervisor are two of the most important factors for job satisfaction. A third factor highly important factor is having close collaborative relationships with one’s colleagues.

The importance of collaboration is something many schools in the U.S. seem to know without understanding how to make it a reality. Too often the strategy is to block off time on a calendar without any context or guidance. Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is much more thoughtful. It’s characterized by a patient perseverance that is far too rare in most schools. And it’s an approach that’s created results.

As an 18 year veteran teacher I met at Southern Cross told me, “I’ve worked at a lot of schools. And what I’ve learned is that the role of the instructional coordinator is really very important.”

– Will

*There is a very real barrier in many U.S. schools though. Mainly the amount of time teachers are expected to be with students. At Southern Cross, the teachers told me they spent 27.5 hours a week with students. In many U.S. elementary schools that number is closer to 34 hours. Those extra 6 hours a week for things like Lesson Study can make a big difference.

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 1)

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 1)

The teachers Shannon Watt works with talk about her in tones of grateful reverence. If you’ve spent much time in teachers’ lounges, you may appreciate how unusual this tone of voice is. Especially when the topic of conversation is school administration.

“She trusts us. She gives us freedom,” began one, 18-year veteran, teacher.

“But its freedom with responsibility,” added another.

“Exactly.”

We got to this point after I asked them why they think the culture at Southern Cross (one of the best private schools in Chile) is so strong. First, they spoke about the strong relationships between students and teachers. They said teachers aren’t seen as a ‘big authority,’ and that it’s important to help students understand that behavior corrections are meant to help them become better people. But they quickly switched to talking about their own development.

“And the teachers here are always studying.”

“It’s tough, but nice. Like Kagan… It was difficult at first but now I love it.”

By ‘Kagan’ the teacher meant a set of cooperative learning strategies that are quickly gaining popularity in the United Sates as well.

“Cooperative learning started because the teachers wanted it,” explained Shannon Watt. “They saw that kids didn’t know how to work in groups. They made group work and it didn’t work. The kids had to learn how to work in groups.” Ms. Watt is also a trainer for Singapore math and, interestingly, it was a teacher from Singapore who recommended Kagan. So Ms. Watt bought the book, travelled to the States for training and then returned to try the strategies out with her own class.

“So, I tried it. The first weeks I thought, ‘this is terrible, this book was phony.’ Everything was ‘Ahhh!’ I didn’t know if it was going to work. And then the third week kids started engaging and it went well. I saw them working. And then I invited other teachers to come see my classes. They liked what they saw and that was the way we put it in.”

Shannon Watt
Shannon Watt

I think there’s a lot to learn about effective administration from this account.

  1. The teachers identified group work as a priority. The reform wasn’t coming down from out of the blue.
  2. Shannon did exhaustive preparation on her own and then piloted the strategies in her own classroom. In this way, she was in a position to truly empathize with the challenges her teachers faced later.
  3. She stuck with it for three weeks before it started to work. For me, this emphasizes the unwavering expectations she holds her students to. I’ve seen many teachers from working-class schools attempt and then abandon Kagan strategies after a few days. They say the initial disaster is proof that these strategies won’t work in ‘their environment’ or for ‘their students.’ It’s worth noting that a veteran teacher at a prestigious school encountered the same difficulties, she just reacted to them differently.
  4. Before pulling teachers into trainings, she invited them to her room and allowed a ‘buzz’ to build around the techniques. When the training finally started it was something they were eager to learn.

It’s not hard to see why her teachers love working with her.

The Harvard Business Review has done a number of studies about why people do or don’t like their jobs. Two of the most powerful factors for job satisfaction they’ve found are:

  1. Feeling trusted by your supervisor.
  2. Opportunities to develop professionally in a meaningful way.

Too often in the United States administrators limit their communications with teachers to discussing evaluations and obligations. This approach fairly quickly chips away at the trust most teachers initially feel toward their administration. And it’s a cliché by now for teachers to be bombarded by new waves of ‘teacher proof’ classroom strategies every few years; strategies devised without their input, and without any concern for the specific dynamics of their classroom. Teachers end up feeling that the school or district doesn’t understand them and doesn’t care to. The idea the district ‘trusts’ them is often almost laughable.

Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is clearly different. Her teachers love working with her because they feel trusted. And the way their development is set up makes them excited to grow in their craft. It’s amazing the differences happy teachers make.

But before Shannon Watt helped her teachers create a collaborative environment for her students, she first had to work on creating a collaborative culture amongst her teachers. Shannon is quick to point out that the above story never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Lesson Study. For more on that story, check out tomorrow’s post.

  • Will
Museo de la Memoria (Santiago, Chile)

Museo de la Memoria (Santiago, Chile)

I had no idea, entering the Museo de la Memoria, that Chile shares September 11th with the US as a day that lives in infamy. On September 11th, 1973 the military coup that would place Chile under dictatorship for 17 years ripped through the nation and resulted in the executions, disappearances, and torture of thousands of Chileans.

The museum is dedicated to telling the story of the coup, dictatorship, human rights violations, and citizen resistance. I went into the museum only knowing that there had been a military dictatorship and that some people said the CIA was involved. I came out with more questions than answers – wondering, thinking, and feeling many different things.

As we entered the museum, we were greeted by life-sized cut outs of individuals who had disappeared, holding up their identification cards.  These cutouts continued throughout the museum. One of my first reactions was surprise at how little I knew about these events. Even Will, who received a Latin American History certificate in college, knew very little about the coup and dictatorship. Both of us moved through the first major room – dedicated to telling the story of the coup – astounded by what happened in Chile. We repeatedly used surprised tones to exclaim to one another “and then they bombed the presidential palace?!?”, “wait – Salvador Allende (the president) shot himself?!?”, and we huddled around the screen that showed his final radio address.

Chile1973

What struck me second was how honest and thorough the museum is in describing the human rights violations and honoring those who suffered. These exhibits are particularly powerful because they do not hold back detail and frequently involve first hand accounts of torture, which also makes them hard to stomach. This is an approach that we’d never see in the US. Here is a beautiful museum dedicated to telling the story of human rights atrocities that were committed by the government. Even our civil rights museums focus on the struggle of the oppressed rather than the wrongs committed by the system. It’s inspiring that Chile wholly owns and mourns these events at the same time.

 

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]This is an approach that we’d never see in the US. Here is a beautiful museum dedicated to telling the story of human rights atrocities that were committed by the government.[/pullquote]

 

We got kicked out the museum before we were finished – right as we started to learn about the clergy, women’s

groups, and worker’s groups who began to protest and question the mass disappearances. We had been there 90 minutes but hadn’t reached the end by closing time. I left wanting to know the history of Allende’s elected government, more information about who Pinochet (the military dictator) was, and details on who disappeared and why (it’s implied in the exhibits, but I wanted to know more.) We speculated on how involved the US had been in the coup and dictatorship and talked about the destructive cold war anxieties of our government. We talked about how the military dictatorship ended with an election rather than more violence – and why that is not what’s happening after the Arab Spring.

Museo de Memoria is powerful, disturbing, and inspiring. It tells a story that raises so many questions and thoughts about Chile and the greater world. If you are in Santiago, please go. Just get there at least two hours before closing time. You’ll need it.

Note: The featured photo is attributed to Francisco Javier Cornejos here and is under this Creative Commons license with some rights reserved. We used some minor cropping to fit the photo to our site.

Valle de la Luna: San Pedro de Atacama Day 4

Valle de la Luna: San Pedro de Atacama Day 4

The Valle de la Luna (or Valley of the Moon) is San Pedro’s most famous attraction. The valley gets its name because of its terrain, which is said to be the closest thing to a lunar landscape on the planet. It’s also fairly close to town so, instead of a tour, we opted to rent bikes and get there on our own.

Bike to Valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The ride was about 15km with ups and downs and nice scenery.

Biking to valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The Valle de la Luna is part of a mountain range made almost entirely of salt. The first feature you see when you arrive are the salt caves.

valle de la luna salt caves san pedro de atacama

Looking close, you can see the salt crystals more clearly.

valle de la luna salt caves san pedro de atacama

At parts, you need to contort to get through. And other parts (no pics) are completely dark.

salt caves in San pedro de atacama valle de la luna

When you emerge from the caves, you find a unique landscape. That white stuff is salt, not snow.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

Some parts inside the valley are too steep to bike.

biking to valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

Some places you see sand.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

Other parts are powdered with salt.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

And some parts just seem to say, “Peace, man.”

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

To prepare for sunset, we climbed to the top of the great dune,

san pedro de atacama valley of the moon great dune

and ate the avocado sandwiches we brought for dinner.

great dune in valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The view from up there was pretty great.

valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

Eventually the sun began to set.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

And we soaked it in.

sunset at valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

sunset valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

But the thing about biking and staying til after sunset, is that the ride back is completely dark.

biking back fro valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

The ride was both cool and nerve racking. Cool because we were alone in this wild place and the stars were bright and clear enough to see the milky way. Nerve racking because, well, it was pitch dark in a crazy place and we were miles away from town.

Eventually we watched the moon rise over the Andes and that brought enough light to see. We returned 2 hours later than we said and much more exhausted than we anticipated, but the evening was a perfect finish to our week in San Pedro de Atacama.

This day was a clear highlight of our trip so far.

Will & Elizabeth

Cathedrals of Salt – San Pedro de Atacama Day 3

Cathedrals of Salt – San Pedro de Atacama Day 3

On our third day in San Pedro de Atacama, we headed toward the Cathedrals of Salt. The journey took us into the Andes, across the world’s largest extinct volcano crater, past a number of volcanic rock features, and around several high altitude lagoons.

But first we had to drive toward the mountains. All of the peaks in the distance here are volcanoes.

San Pedro de Atacama Andes

We stopped to eat a breakfast of bread and cheese on the side of the road.

San Pedro de Atacama Andes breakfast

Eventually we passed by the volcanoes we had seen on the horizon.

San Pedro de Atacama volcano travel

We stopped at a lagoon.

San PEdro de Atacama lagoon

Where we played,

San Pedr de Atacama lagoon

and danced on the ice.

San Pedro de Atacama lagoon

Later we approached rocks made of volcanic ash that have been eroded into surprising formations.

San Pedro de Atacama monks

Can you make me out lounging in the shade of this one?

San Pedro de Atacama monks

Here it is a bit closer up.

San Pedro de Atacama monks

We were encouraged to use the shade and crannies of these rocks as our Pachamama (mother earth) toilet.

San Pedro de Atacama pachmama

Next we drove into the largest extinct crated in the world. Everything until the mountains is a crater and there’s as much space on the other side. The specs of black are pieces of obsidian that have been resting there for millions of years. (we were encouraged to take some home and we obliged)

San Pedro de Atacama volcano crater obsidian

Nearby we found the ‘White Monks.” The two distinct lines that run across these rocks, mark the 3 different eruptions that created them.

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

It’s cool to wander around them.

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

Eventually we arrived at the Cathedrals of Salt.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal

It’s a great place to stroll.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal

Or meditate.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal travel

Eventually we ended up at this lagoon.

San Pedro de Atacama lagoon

Where we watched vicuna. (an endangered species)

San Pedro de Atacama Vicuna

Our guide was the one who popularized this tour a few years ago. He told legends about the family relationships between the volcanoes. All in all it was a surprising and incredible day.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal travel

Check out our other San Pedro de Atacama Galleries:

Day 1 Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley

Day 2 Piedras Rojas and Atacama Salt Flats

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Will & Elizabeth