10 Days in Chile | 48 Hours in Atacama: Day 1

It was a short two-hour flight from Santiago to the airport in Calama, which is basically almost at the northernmost bit of Chile. From there, we picked up our rental car and headed on the road towards San Pedro de Atacama, which is the town everyone stays in when they're exploring the Atacama desert, basically because it's the only choice but also because it's really charming.
The arid climate immediately became apparent as soon as we deplaned and I was immediately parched and my lips became chapped almost instantly. I resorted to paying an exorbitant amount of money for a bottle of water at the airport (almost $6 USD for a liter) and chugged it all at once.

We were ravenous by the time we landed so we dropped our things off at our hotel and headed out into town to get some grub. We ended up at Adobe because we thought it looked nice.
We were given a basket of hallullas, which are Chilean biscuits, and a ramekin of pico. The biscuits were actually pretty delicious, though, I couldn't understand how to get the pico onto my bread without a utensil.
For my entree, I got the lomo a lo pobre, which basically translates to poor man's steak. It was served with fries, fried eggs, and grilled onions. The meat was under-seasoned but this meal still hit the spot.
L went for the merluza a lo pobre, which was the same as my dish except with fish.
N opted to get the salmon with a side and the side she chose was a salad, which was an elaborately set up lettuce cup filled with different vegetables. She said it was delightful.
After dinner, we were all so tired we passed out immediately upon returning to our hotel and it wasn't until the morning that I'd realized I'd forgotten to photograph our room prior to destroying it with our mess. I have to say that we all really enjoyed our stay at this hotel. The owner is a lovely, sweet woman who runs this business quite smoothly on her own.

The only complaint I have is that there is no built-in heating. Instead, they provide little gas heaters and they instruct you not to leave it on throughout the night (because it's dangerous and they don't want you to die of an explosion or something) which meant it got quite chilly during our sleeps. The blankets are quite warm, so it was really just my face and ears that got really cold.
They also serve a free breakfast every morning, which consists of eggs, sausage, various breads, cereals, juices, teas, and fruit. It was rather enjoyable.
We rented our car through Avis because it was the cheapest rate I could find. We got an economy car (manual transmission; all three of us are capable of driving manual) and it was $86 for two and a half days, which I thought was a great deal. The only thing is that the car rental place has some truncated hours and they close at 8PM so we had to call ahead to arrange to have someone available at the desk for us since we'd be landing after hours. No one actually spoke English and they were rather uncooperative with my request for them to speak more slowly so that I could communicate with them so I had to have L call and make the arrangements which worked out well. I have no idea what non-Spanish speaking people would do.
There's only one gas station in San Pedro and everyone recommends filling up before heading out for the day lest you run out in the middle of nowhere, which would be terrible since cell reception is spotty out here. Gas is sold by the liter so keep that in mind when you're figuring out costs.
Our plan for this first day was to head in a southerly direction. We saw all sorts of landscapes on our drive including just barren wastelands of dirt and sand, fields of tufted yellow grass, and of course, gorgeous mountains and volcanoes.
An hour into our drive, I noticed white along the sides of the road and asked L and N if they thought it was salt or snow. We pulled over to check; it was snow.
Our first stop of the day was to Piedras Rojas, which translates to "red rocks." There are a few different pullover points from which to view this gorgeous site so just keep your eyes peeled for car-safe areas.
Our second stop of the day was to this gorgeous creamy blue salt lake. The colors are unreal in person; I feel like my photos do not do this place any justice.
This lake nestled between Piedras Rojas and Laguna Tuyajto.
You have to climb a little hill to be able to see the salt flats. When we were there, the wind was out of control to a point that I had to cover my mouth so I wasn't breathing sand and my sunglasses became like safety goggles.
Our final stop before heading back to San Pedro was to these two lakes. This was the first site where we had to pay an entrance fee, which was $2,500 CLP ($3.85 USD) per person.
We didn't see any flamingos; one of the staff told us that you're most likely to see flamingos here from December through March. However, we did see these little horned coots, which was still cool.
This place is super majestic and I read that there is a high potential to see all sorts of wildlife here, like the local deer and llamas and all kinds of birds.
We could have stopped at Laguna Chaxa, which is known for having flamingos year round, but we were too hungry so we headed back to town. On our way, we spotted a bunch of vicuñas and llamas. In the photo below is one lone, blurry llama which I tried to snap whilst we were driving.
For lunch, we ate at a little restaurant on the main strip in San Pedro. We were lured in by the really good lunch deal which featured a giant plate of fries, various meats, caramelized onions, and eggs; this preparation is called a chorrillana, and it's a typical Chilean dish.
To offset the greasy dish of fries, we ordered a salad but were kind of disappointed when just a sad piece of lettuce piled high with chicken and cheese arrived instead.
We tried to go to the Valle de la Luna to see the sunset but we got there after they'd officially closed and were no longer letting cars in. The man at the gate told us to go to the Piedra del Coyote (coyote rock) instead and we were stunned by the views.
Not only was the sunset itself gorgeous, but the way it lit up the backdrop was breathtaking. We were all freaking out and loving it.
We were still pretty full from our late lunch so instead of getting dinner, we decided to go out for drinks instead. We headed to the only bar in town (which means it's the only place that exclusively serves alcohol, including beers on tap, with just a few munchies instead of every other restaurant which has a full food menu on offer with just a handful of cocktails).

At the recommendation of a girl sitting next to us, we ordered a pitcher of the Kunstmann, which is a local beer. It wasn't anything to write home about, but we had a great time sipping and chatting.
After we were sufficiently happy-buzzed, we stopped by a little bodega so N could pick up a snack and then we headed back to the hotel for a deep sleep.