The Atacama Desert is known as the driest desert in the world, with as little as 15mm of rainfall annually and some places with no recorded rainfall at all. In the midst of this vast desert, that spans over 1000km across Southern Peru and Northern Chile, lies the small carefree town of San Pedro de Atacama. Despite the towns isolated setting, San Pedro de Atacama attracts many tourists from around the globe because of its incredible natural surroundings. I spent a mere two nights in this laid-back town during my time in South America.
After passing through the immigrations office, we were greeted by the dry air, glowing orange flats and mountainous landforms. From the town we had the perfect view of the volcanoes in the distance. Although San Pedro de Atacama has a growing (unofficial) population of 5000, the town itself was quite small and could easily be navigated by foot. The dusty red streets were lined with white one-story Spanish Colonial mud brick buildings, which resembled the streets from an old Western movie.
In that instance we already had picked up the vibe of San Pedro de Atacama. It was an exceptionally calm and relaxed place – it had a real ‘hippy-style’ atmosphere. The streets were pretty quiet, most people walking around were either trying to sell tourists excursions or were tourists themselves. Stray dogs roamed the streets and you would pass the occasional tourist-turned-local with long dreadlocks sitting around playing some tunes on an acoustic guitar.
Most of the activities to do in San Pedro were around the outskirts of town, rather than within the few streets of the town itself. We hired bikes from a tourist agency on the main street, Calle Caracoles, and spent the morning riding around the back streets of the town and past the local ruins, Pukará de Quitor.
That afternoon we set off on a tour through the most well-known attraction of the town, a moon valley tour. Our first stop was at Cuevas De Sal Cañon, also known as the Salt Caves. We scaled above, through and over these large red formations, the majority of which were made of salt. They were sturdy to walk on unless in the presence of humidity or water, which causes the salt caves to constantly change formations as the walls erode. Behind the outside layer of sand, you can see glimmers of salt crystals inside the crevices.
Our next few stops on the tour were through the main crater of the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) and Tres Marías (Three Mary’s). We then made it to our final stop for the night at an incredible view-point over the Moon Valley. It was super windy and getting quite chilly, but it was a fantastic place to watch the sunset while sipping on a Pisco Sour.
Although we had a great time in San Pedro de Atacama for two nights; there were still plenty of activities to do around the town. We could have easily spent a few more days there, exploring the surrounding lagoons, geysers and salt lakes!
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Where did we stay?
- Hostal Puritama • Calle Caracoles, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Where did we eat?
- Barros: A popular place for tourist and locals, and the closest thing to a bar you will find in San Pedro de Atacama. You can choose a meal from a three-course set menu from $3500 (approx $7AUD) or from an à la carte menu. The focal point of this restaurant is the local bands who play popular music from around South America.
- Las Delicias de Carmen: This restaurant had huge servings, so we shared meals between two. For $8000 (approx $16AUD) we shared a quinoa tabouli, french fries and vegetable lasagna. This restaurant also has a selection of pastries – including alfojores, biscuits, lemon meringue pies and brownies.
- O2 Salon De Te: A popular breakfast restaurant amongst the tourists, with a nice courtyard out the back. There was the choice of a set breakfast menu or individual items. For $3650 (approx $7AUD), my set menu included yoghurt and cereal, toast with marmalade and butter, orange juice and coffee.
How much did we spend on tourist activities?
- Bicycle Hire: $1000 (approx $2AUD) for 1.5 hours, $3000 (approx $6AUD) for the entire morning.
- Moon Valley Tour: $12000 (approx $25AUD) for the tour, $2000 (approx $4AUD) for Park Entrance.