Chile, South America, Travel

Visiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de Atacama

February 4, 2015

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.

Visiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de Atacama

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.

Visiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de AtacamaVisiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de Atacama

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.

Visiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de AtacamaOur 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.

Visiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de Atacama

Visiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de AtacamaVisiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de AtacamaVisiting the Driest Place in the World, San Pedro de Atacama

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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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

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 CarmenThis 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 TeA 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.

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23 Comments

  • Reply Stephen Jones - A Thousand Miles February 4, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Absolutely amazing! And such stunning photographs. I’d first heard about the Atacama, when Michael Palin did his Full Circle travels. Ever since, I’ve wanted to go there. I so can’t wait!

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 6, 2015 at 10:07 pm

      Thank you for your kind words Stephen! If you love nature, you’ll absolutely love the Atacama! 🙂

  • Reply Lizzie February 4, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Looks amazing! It’s how I imagine mars/the moon/other planets would look like 🙂 Great photos – the sky looks so lovely and blue!

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 6, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      It was incredible Lizzie! That’s exactly what I was thinking while I was there – it’s what I imagine Mars to be like! 🙂

  • Reply Talia February 5, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Wow, what an amazing place to visit!! I would love to visit South America, and this is definitely on my list of places to go once I’m there.
    #teamwanderlust

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 6, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      It really was, Talia! Yes, it’s definitely a place in South America you must see! 🙂

  • Reply Grace | The Beauty of Everywhere February 5, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Your shot of the sun is amazing! Moon Valley looks and sounds incredible. I can’t wait to explore South America.

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 6, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      Thank you, Grace! South America is an amazing continent! 🙂

  • Reply Marie @ Marie Away February 5, 2015 at 9:43 am

    This looks amazing! I’m heading there later in the year and you’ve really pumped me up for it! The photos are stunning, the landscape is amazing.

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 6, 2015 at 10:28 pm

      I hope you have a wonderful time there later this year, Marie! Thank you! 🙂

  • Reply Jessica @Triple T Travels February 6, 2015 at 3:01 am

    Kelly,
    I love the way you write, you paint such a lovely description. I felt like I was there with you. I’m going to be traveling to South America next and I am just loving reading all your adventures there.
    xx
    Jessica

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 6, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      Thank you so much Jessica! It’s lovely to hear that you enjoy my writing! That’s so exciting, you’re going to have an amazing time! I’ll have to keep up-to-date with your adventures 🙂

  • Reply Jack Johnson February 7, 2015 at 6:19 am

    Great photos! The Atacama desert does look extremely dry! Hope you had good lip balm! 🙂

    Jack Johnson

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 9, 2015 at 11:59 pm

      Thank you Jack! Yes, my Papaw Ointment definitely came in handy! 😛

  • Reply Ashlea Wheeler February 9, 2015 at 8:29 am

    These are some awesome photos Kelly! Looks like a photographers dream 😀

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 10, 2015 at 12:00 am

      Thank you Ashlea! Yes, it was an incredible place! I took SO many photos! 😛

  • Reply Lisa Lewicki Hermanson February 9, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Looks like a spectacular place ! Love those volcanoes !

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 10, 2015 at 12:04 am

      It was Lisa – such incredible natural surroundings! 🙂

  • Reply Lisa Lewicki Hermanson February 9, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    What a spectacular place !

    • Reply Kelly Ross February 10, 2015 at 12:05 am

      Absolutely! 🙂

  • Reply Crossing the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats & Deserts of Bolivia • Endlessly Exploring March 12, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    […] Along the border of Chile and the base on a volcano lies the impressive Laguna Verde. As with Laguna Colorada, this lagoon gave another splash of colour within the barren desert surroundings. The minerals of the water give this lagoon a brilliant, turquoise green appearance. This was our final stop along the tour before making our way across the Chilean border to San Pedro de Atacama. […]

  • Reply Liz March 31, 2015 at 10:56 am

    The pictures are amazing – it almost looks like you could be on another planet. Thanks for sharing – it is good to hear that there is water nearby, because it does look incredibly dry – I’m parched already!

    • Reply Kelly Ross April 17, 2015 at 11:47 am

      Thank you Liz! Hahaha it’s a bit like that! Definitely worth a visit! x

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