San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile was an absolute highlight of not only my six months in South America but the whole years travel. We spent five days in San Pedro de Atacama and loved every minute of it, we took advantage of all of the amazing excursions on offer and were so pleased with everything we did and saw there. It also helped that we met people who we carried on travelling with for the next six weeks so it was a pretty awesome place for us overall.
This town is literally in the middle of nowhere, it is without doubt one of the most remote places we have visited and at times it felt like another world. San Pedro de Atacama is one of the last remaining ‘frontier’ towns but is the perfect jump off point to explore the Atacama desert.
How to get there:
We arrived into San Pedro de Atacama by bus from a town called La Serena, it took 16 hours on an overnight bus from La Serena to Calama and from Calama you then pick up another bus that takes you to San Pedro de Atacama in two hours. It is worth noting that the bus station we got dropped off at isn’t the same one that operates buses to San Pedro so we had to walk into town and find a bus company. The buses run only three times a day so it gave us some time in Calama to buy some fresh fruit and vegetables and other supplies to cook with once we got to San Pedro as I had read that food in supermarkets wasn’t very fresh and it was expensive.
San Pedro de Atacama is 2500m above sea level so you will definitely notice straight away the distinct lack of air and I felt out of breath straight away just walking around town. But with plenty of water and taking it easy we eased into life at altitude. Going on various excursions is also helpful with the altitude as you go up and down throughout the days so it does help you to not get altitude sickness. Snapchat has a great feature where you can track what altitude you are at, at one point we were at 4000m which is crazy!
Tips: Make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen and have lip balm at the ready and also wrap up warm once the sun goes down because temperatures plummet.
San Pedro is quite quaint, there are lots of bars and restaurants and the typical tourist shops and markets and it is a nice place to just wander around. There are LOADS of tourist ‘touts’ so be prepared to be accosted the moment you get into town. It is worth visiting a few tourist outlets to compare prices on excursions because all of the trips go to the same places there really is no need for prices to be hugely different.
We found a guy just off the main road selling from a small little shop in a back alley who explained every trip into the Atacama desert in great detail and gave us a really fair price for everything in comparison to other quotes. The more trips you booked the better deal you get as well and as we were there to see and do everything it all worked out really well for us. In future blog posts I will cover each trip in more depth but for now here is a quick look at the trips on offer in San Pedro de Atacama but it is worth mentioning that all of the trips mentioned cost us £75 in total (for two people) so it was really affordable.
Valle de la Luna
A great afternoon trip that is close to town, climb through caves, walk up sand dunes, visit a place that feels like Mars and see the sunset over Moon Valley. This was a great trip and offered some insane landscapes that made you wonder where exactly in the world you were.
Cost: 3000 pesos (£3.50)
The Atacama Desert is the best place to in the world to star gaze. Tours are offered at 9, 10 or 12pm, we took the latest one for the best opportunity to get a clear view of the stars. You are driven for 15minutes out of town to an area where there are four massive telescopes set up. The guide talks you through what you’ll be able to see and sets the telescopes up to see the moon and various different planets. For my husband this was a dream come true for him as he is really really into astronomy.
Cost: 15,000 pesos (£17)
This is a photo from the companies Facebook page that we went with. As you can see, it really is the best place in the world to see the stars.
A full day tour that took us to some of the most beautiful landscape that consisted of mountains, lakes, volcanoes and a frozen salt lake. Up until that point of the trip it was the most amazing scenery (that was until Bolivia) and I was completely blown away by the sheer size and beauty of the Atacama Desert.
Cost: 5500 pesos (£6.50) This included breakfast and lunch.
El Tatio geyser
This particular trip consisted of being picked up from our hostel at 4am and shivering in freezing cold temperatures to watch the sun rise over the geysers but it really was a wonderful trip and well worth the conditions to see this natural phenomenon.
Cost: 10,000 pesos for the trip + 37,000 pesos entry into park (£50)
The ALMA observatory
ALMA was something I had to book quite far in advance but it was worth it because we got to visit a fully functional observatory with full time astronomers working and making discoveries every day. It was a truly unique experience and it was so wonderful to see and be a part of something very special. The tour of the ALMA observatory is absolutely free, you just need to book online in advance. If it is full on the day you want to book you can turn up to the meeting point as there are many no shows.
You can find out more information about the ALMA observatory here.
Where we stayed
This guest house was just a short walk (5 minutes) out of town and was family run, we were the only guests for the first few days so it was very quiet. Always hot showers and rooms were cleaned, there was a kitchen available for us to use and the owners were super friendly (although no English). San Pedro de Atacama was without question one of the most expensive places to stay in all of South America, we paid £140 for 5 nights accommodation.
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Where to next?
From San Pedro de Atacama most people pick up a 3 days/2 night tour from San Pedro to Uyuni via the famous Bolivian salt flats. Not only is this is a great way to see more incredible scenery, it gets you over the border to Bolivia and provides food and accommodation for two nights along with seeing the salt flats on the third day. Again, there are so many different tour companies offering this in San Pedro, just wander round or pick up a tour with other travellers you’ve met. I will share more on this leg of the journey soon.
Have you been to San Pedro de Atacama?
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