Leaving Santiago and riding North brings you slowly to The Atacama Desert. The farm plots get smaller and more concentrated around rivers and streams, while the trees on the hills slowly give way to scrub and then become completely denuded. Before long you are riding through a vast emptiness, more reminiscent of the rocky Syrian desert than the classic grand dunes of Egypt.
Beyond the leavings of years of mining, there is little hold you for much of the ride. A classic travelers photo stop, The Mano del Desierto, is an exception- mostly I think because by the time travelers arrive at it they’re desperate for anything that breaks the monotony of the ride.
It’s after this, once you’ve swung East towards Argentina and San Pedro de Atacama, things start to perk up.
You know your long ride is coming to an end when you start a steep decent from the high plateau into a valley with other worldly views.
Views that become more fantastical the closer you get- earning the name of Valle de la Luna.
After riding through this and down into the valley, you reach San Pedro. A town that is being consumed by tourists, a town fighting the loss of tradition while embracing the wealth that tourism provides. The main streets and shops are all geared towards tourists, with North Face stores facing restaurants like Blanco. Though if you wander a couple of blocks out of this tourist ghetto, you can still catch glimpses of what the town was before being ‘discovered’.