Chile, Atacama Grande

We arrived late in Antofagasta on the coast after experiencing our first taste of the real Atacama desert. Another large city! We went just north to Juan Lopez, a small coastal resort, to look for a place to stay. Arriving after dark with headlights blinding us on the way, we had no idea where we were. We eventually stopped outside a crowded pub to see if we could get help. Solveig asked a policeman. He suggested we spend the night right where we were parked, there was no problem and we would be safe. We did just that and had a few drinks and made supper.
We awoke early after a good night’s sleep, emptied the potty into gutter and drove to a beach and cliff area to make breakfast.

The natural beauty of the coastline around Antofagasta was another onslaught on our senses.

Words cannot express how this trip has turned out.

Everybody we encounter is so friendly and helpful. Including the truck drivers! The Pan American highway made this journey into an experience we’ll never forget. The distances melt away. The frequent rest zones, which I’ve mentioned before, and safe places for us to shower, ablute and sleep after a long day’s drive, shared with dozens of truck drivers, make the trip so much more enjoyable.
There were a few more places to explore at the coast before going to San Pedro de Atacama.


Isla de Santa Maria, a small coastal town which has recently been turned into the largest container port in Chile, and also serves Bolivia, still has retained its old charm. We wild camped on the beach nearby.

On the way we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn…..


Our trip to San Pedro de Atacama took us off our route north. The town was a must see in the guide books because of its amazing landscape. We didn’t want to miss it. Along the way we came upon this large wind farm.


En route we had passed many of them located in windy spots. Much of Chile’s electricity is generated this way. With absolutely no impact on the environment and a continuous supply, Eskom could learn a lot from Chile and put in more wind generators than planned. In fact there’s much that South Africa could learn from Chile, but you could write a book on that subject alone.

The trip was heavy going with many steep passes. The brakes started to make grinding noises. We’d have to sort it out in San Pedro.


I think that when one flies into a new area it makes more impact because your perception of the place changes immediately. By driving overland the change is gradual. So when getting to San Pedro we found just another tourist town….


It was Sunday so we had to wait to have the brakes repaired the next day and spent the day exploring the town. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit any of the nearby attractions as we were grounded. The camping manager suggested a repair shop, the only one in town. We were horrified by what we found. An oil soaked dusty dump. No way we’re we going to entrust our safety by using them to repair the brakes! I decided to rather return to Antofagasta. We took it very slowly, using the gears to do the braking. Arriving there just after midday we saught help at a filling station. A truck driver came to our assistance and drove in front of us to a nearby ‘frenos’. What amazing people in Chile! In no time at all we had new brakes fitted, and at a price far cheaper than in South Africa too. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn again and headed north as it was still so early. Wild camped at Hornitos on the beach.


Hornitos was an amazing upmarket seaside resort, very private with some lovely homes.

After a sound nights sleep having been calmed by the sound of the sea and gulls, we continued on up the coast to Iquique. Had a wonderful hot shower on the road at a truck rest stop. Amazing what Chile does for its truck drivers. What you give out you get back. The truckers are better behaved on the road than we’ve experienced elsewhere before.
Camped once again on the beach, this time at Iquique, virtually in the city.


On our way to Arica, the last town in Chile before the border with Peru, we dropped in at Humberstone. During the Nitrate boom the north of Chile had mines springing up everywhere that Saltpetre could be found. Today this has resulted in a number of ghost towns, Humberstone being one of them.
Arica was similar to the other coast towns in the desert. Much bigger than expected. Met young Canadians in a 6 litre Ford Van with high roof which had been converted into a 4×4 camper by Robbie, the owner while we camped on the beach yet again…

We refuelled, restocked and had our vegetables confiscated at the border the next day….. AGAIN !! Will we never learn????

Author: Ian & Solveig's Overland Adventures

Although we never achieved our original goal of reaching Norway overland through Africa, our experience was so unexpectedly rewarding that we've not been able to settled down again! So we added new destinations to our lust for adventure. We hope that you will join us in sharing new exciting places and encounters with the amazing people we meet along the way.

One thought on “Chile, Atacama Grande”

  1. Sounds like an absolutely wonderful Country to be in. Nothing like having a truck stop to be able to refresh ones self. South Africa can definitely learn from this. Amazing trip, hope you get to enjoy many more natural sites as you go. This young nomad is following in your footsteps.
    Happy Travels

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s