SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
On arriving in the small town of San Pedro, it’s difficult to imagine that this bizarre and empty looking place could be one of the most fun, liveliest and action packed towns that you’ll visit in your travels around Chile. Immediately you’ll be struck by the desert surroundings of… well absolutely nothing and the ground and the oddly shaped buildings all seem to blend into one. However if you give San Pedro a chance and step through one of the uniform looking doors, you’ll arrive in an exotic and crazy world. The first door I opened led me into an incredibly atmospheric and hugely crowded open roofed restaurant with a gigantic fire pit right in the middle and live Chilean musicians playing and dancing between tables. The next matching door opened up into the cutest, tiny market with every single kind of souvenir you could think of – from alpaca ponchos to hand made water bottle holders.
With backpacker crammed hostels, delicious food, buzzing bars, tourist information and hourly tours into the desert, San Pedro definitely makes true the saying “never judge a book by it’s cover” and once you arrive in this wonderfully bizarre town, you’ll never want to leave.
Places to Stay:
Hostal Rural – There was absolutely no doubt that this hostel would be our top choice when visiting San Pedro. With a rustic and rural vibe, 4-6 bed dorms, reading pits, extremely friendly staff and tour discounts, it’s obvious as to why Hostal Rural is always fully booked. In a quiet location only 30 meters from the main and central street and with the words “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page” printed on their wall, this hostel is perfect for those who wish to explore the Atacama Desert to it’s fullest.
Hostel Mamatierra – If a quiet desert escape was what you were searching for in visiting the Atacama Desert, then this hostel is ideal. Located 6 blocks away from the central area of the town, the hostel has a peaceful and relaxed vibe, with an outdoor area full of hammocks and comfy seats to enjoy the desert sunshine.
Things To Do:
Visit the Salt Flats
This is the main reason that most people visit San Pedro, in order to see and experience the incredible Salt Flats. San Pedro town is the starting point for the world famous Salt Flats tour into Bolivia where, as well as passing hot springs, geysers, desert land, frozen lakes and a cactus island, you spend a day in the incredible Salt Flats and can have your chance to take the world famous salt flat photos. The smaller Atacama Salt Flats are also accessible on a one-day tour, as they are located just south of the town.
Voted the number one place in the world to star gaze, the Atacama Desert is filled with different astronomical lookout points with huge telescopes waiting to show you Jupiter and its rings, the southern cross, shooting stars and a ginormously close moon in all its glory.
(Photo below taken by my iPhone!)
‘El Tatio Geysers’ is a geothermal field located 4200 meters above sea level. The journey to visit them is quite long but SO worth it. Leaving at 4am you’ll arrive at the geysers just as the sun rises and the steaming craters, producing huge puffs of smoke, glow orange and red with the morning light. It’s absolutely freezing at that hour of the morning in the middle of the desert, but stand up close to one of the geysers and you’ll be warm in no time.
The volcanic hot springs in the Atacama Desert are a gorgeous 30 degrees Celsius with different waterfalls and pools within them. The hot water comes from the Puritama river and the springs are hidden in a small but beautiful, natural canyon.
The valley of the moon is one of the closer wonders within the Atacama Desert. Located in the Cordillera de la sal, it is famous because its whole surface is uncannily similar to that of the moon. Full of exciting hidden caves, moon like craters and a huge sand dune from which you can appreciate a stunning view of the valley.
The best known place in the world for practicing this sport is ‘Valle de la Muerte’ or death valley, located in the Atacama Desert, but don’t let this name put you off. With the desert full of brilliant sand dunes of different colours and textures, the steep slopes allow those who want to, to strap on a board, reach extreme speeds and enjoy the buzz of sand boarding. You can also practice this sport by starlight as the brilliant night sky, lights up the sand dunes.
Every Saturday night in the town of San Pedro there is a huge desert party. With only the locals knowing the different destination each week, you really do need to ask around to secure a friend to take you there (hostel staff will be more than willing to take to you to experience the real San Pedro night life.) With a make shift bar, huge speakers and crowds of people dancing under the stars, this really is once in a lifetime party to remember.
Explore the desert
If you don’t feel like taking an organized excursion, it is so easy to simply hire a bike in town and ride into the desert to explore it yourself! There are bike trails and paths and you could even strap a sand board to your bike and try out the sport on the local sand dunes, just be sure to take a map and be back before it gets dark!
Places to Eat:
Restaurant Blanco – With the best food in town, ‘Blanco’ is definitely one to try out. Right on the corner of Caracoles street in the middle of town, it’s sophisticated all white décor and original delicious recipes attract both tourists and locals, filling up the restaurant every night. The staff are friendly and the meals are inspired by the owner’s travels around the globe.
Café Adobe – This is definitely one of the most popular places in San Pedro in the evenings. It offers delicious Chilean and international cuisine dishes on tables set around a huge bonfire, with the walls covered with pottery and paintings from L Mano Arte.
Tierra, Todo Natural – This is the only all-natural food restaurant in San Pedro de Atacama, specializing in empanadas, pizzas and pastries all prepared using natural wheat flour. Its flavours have transformed Tierra, a long with it’s natural juices and nutritional breakfast, perfect to enjoy on the restaurant’s sunny terrace.
San Pedro is located 1.670 kms north from Santiago de Chile. To get there first you have to reach Calama, the nearest city, which is connected to San Pedro by a highway with breathtaking views.
The fastest way to reach Calama is by plane and then from there you can get a 20 hour bus or hire a car for journey. For those who chose the adventure of driving to San Pedro, you have to take Route 5, the Panamericana Norte. I would recommend splitting the journey in two as it is very long. The first stop at Caldera (870 km) or Bahía Inglesa and then continue the next day directly to Calama (800 km), where you can then stop again before setting off down Route 5.
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