A ridiculous 6am flight meant we had to leave Santiago at 3am to be at the airport in time for our flight North to Calama.
Arriving in Calama we took the short 1 hour transfer to San Pedro with Licancabur which dropped us at the 'Mirador Hostel' just on the edge of town. San Pedro de Atacama, at 2438m was our first introduction to the altitude we would be facing over the next month or so. Surrounding the small town are a number of tourist attractions, sand boarding, salt flats, geysers, the Licancabur Volcano at 5960m is also visible from most places in town.
San Pedro was mainly on our travel plan as it offers a base starting point to cross into Bolivia via the now famous Salt Flats. However another reason for visiting the town was that at this altitude, in the middle of nowhere the stars were very visible which has lead to a few people buying very expensive telescopes and running star gazing tours from their back garden....not as dodgy as it sounds.
We decided to take a tour with 'Time travel Atacama', namely a bloke called Rodrigo for 20,000 pesos (£25). Thinking the sky would be darker later on we went for the 11pm tour and sure enough bang on 11pm we were picked up and driven out to Rodrigo's house about 15 minutes out of town. Still not really knowing what to expect we were relieved to see a few other people already waiting in Rodrigos home made outdoor cinema on arrival.
After a short but in depth presentation on his projector about the big bang and what makes up the universe we were lead out into the garden to his telescope. Strangely there was even a man playing spooky space music on a keyboard in the garden for added affect. Rodrigo showed us a few constellations including how to find south using the southern cross (not very useful in England mind) along with Jupiter and even got us some cool photos of the moon with our phones through his telescope.
After watching the moon set over the horizon (a real thing!!) we were treated to amazing views of the milky way and then some nebulas and even Saturn using Rodrigos telescope. Like a pure geek i took along my tripod to try and get some cool milky way shots, having never tried it before i was quite pleased with the results and even got lucky with a shooting star in one one my photos.
A portrait photo and a hot chocolate followed before being dropped back off around 1:30am, only a few hours before we were being picked up for our salt flats tour.