San Pedro de Atacama
The driest desert in the world is the heart and soul of one of the most famous and amazing destinations in Chile. Travelers from around the world each year are awed by the natural environment that surrounds San Pedro de Atacama. Dunes, archaeological ruins, lagoons, salt fields, valleys, hot springs and a geothermal field are some of the scenic beauties that can be found in this town and its surroundings. A must-visit for backpackers.Share this destination:
AccessIn order to visit San Pedro de Atacama it is necessary to go to the nearest city first, Calama.Private vehicle: Route 23: From Calama to the east (the trip has an extension of 102 km).From Santiago you must take Route 5 - Panamericana Norte. It is recommended to do a 2 day trip, with a first stop in Caldera or Bahia Inglesa and then continue straight to Calama.Bus: Buses leave every 2 hrs from the Calama bus terminals to San Pedro. The bus ticket has a cost of CLP 2.500 (one-way) and the trip takes 1,5 hrs. It is possible to take a bus from Santiago to San Pedro (only the Turbus company offers this service) or to Calama. The trip Santiago-San Pedro de Atacama has an approximate duration of 23 hrs and a ticket cost from CLP 30.000 (one-way).Airline: Since there are no direct flights to San Pedro, you must take a plane to Calama. The trip, from Santiago, has a duration of 2 hrs. The Calama airport has a wide offer of transportation services like transfers, taxis and car rentals. The TownThe locality of San Pedro de Atacama is a small town of 2.500 inhabitants located in one of the oasis of the Chilean altiplano. Once the cradle of the Atacameña culture, it is now a town that lives from tourism as well as being considered the archaeological capital of Chile. It is not for no reason that this is one of the most visited destinations in the country: the driest desert in the world, the biggest geyser field in the southern hemisphere, the third largest salt field in the world, the largest astronomical facility in the world, natural sanctuaries and historical monuments make this a must-visit for backpackers and travelers. The landscape that surrounds this locality is simply spectacular, and arid and desolate place that offers nonetheless a unique charm. More than a few decide to spend weeks, and even months in this place to enjoy the absolute silence, starry nights and the intimate contact with nature.Since this is a town that lives from tourism, it has a wide offer of hostels, hotels and campings, as well as restaurants and tourist services. It is a relatively expensive destination (for Chilean standards), however there are ways to spend less and still enjoy this amazing destination. It is not always necessary to pay for tours, many of the places of interest that surround San Pedro are located at a relative short distance. Hitchhike or renting a bicycle are good alternatives. You can rent a bike in San Pedro for a cost of around CLP 3.000 half-day and CLP 5.000 full-day. Regarding accommodation, you can find good backpacker hostels for CLP 8.000 per night, and campings for CLP 5.000.
Valle de la Luna
Declared Sanctuary of Nature in 1982, the Valle de la Luna valley exhibits the desert beauty of the area in its 17 km of dunes and impressive color-changing hills.The panoramic views and landscapes of the valley are among the most iconic and representative of San Pedro, its dry salt lakes, caverns and salty outcrops make it one of the most well known places in Chile and one of the most visited by travelers around the world. Its rocky formations, absence of flora and fauna, dryness and absolute silence make you feel like walking on the moon (hence the name of the valley). It is ideal to visit it at dawn or at sunset, when you will be able to enjoy an incredible display of colors. It is as well an amazing experience to visit it at night under a clear starry sky. The valley is located near San Pedro (around 15 km), therefore it is possible to get there by bicycle or hitchhiking without a problem. The entrance fee is CLP 2.000.
Valle de la Muerte
Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) got its name because it was said that whoever dared to cross it, would die in the attempt. Its rare rock formations and immense natural sculptures range across the Cordillera de la Sal mountain range.Its sand hills are an excellent place to do sandboard and trekking. Only 2 km from San Pedro, it is an obligated stop to enjoy the particular beauty of the Atacama Desert.Puritama Hot SpringsThe native word “Puritama” makes reference to "hot water". The Puritama hot springs are located 30 km north of San Pedro, over mountainous canyons. These hot springs, with a temperature of 30°C, are an ideal place to relax.If you visit the hot springs from Monday to Friday, the entrance fee in the morning is CLP 15.000 and CLP 9.000 in the afternoon. It is possible to get there on a bicycle, although it is recommended to do this only if you are in good physical condition since it's a 30 km trip with a lot of uphill sections.
El Tatio Geysers
80 geysers draw attention to the more than 100.000 travelers that each year visit this geothermal field. The Tatio geysers take their name from the native word Tata-iu "the grandfather that cries". This geyser field account for an 8% of geysers worldwide.Water emerges with a temperature of 86°C and because of these high temperatures in contrast with the low temperature of the air it is possible to observe steam vent activity. To enjoy this natural show you have to wake up really early in the morning, since the best time to see the geysers is between 6:00 and 7:00 AM (which means you have to wake up and start the journey from San Pedro between 4:00 and 5:00 AM).The geothermal field is located 90 km north of San Pedro and can be accessed in private vehicle or tour. The entrance fee for foreign tourists is CLP 5.000.San Pedro ChurchThree doors crowned by an arch and an adobe wall hold the oldest church in the region, its walls date back to 1744. The San Pedro Church is located near the San Pedro de Atacama square, and follows the Andean essence and style being the most important architectonic attraction in town.R.P. Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological MuseumIf you are interested in native archaeology and history, you have to visit the main archaeological museum of San Pedro de Atacama. Its name honors the Jesuit priest Gustavo Le Paige, who dedicated his life to the study of local archaeology. This museum is a must-visit if you want to know more about local history and culture.It has a CLP 2.500 entrance fee for adults, CLP 1.000 for students and seniors and it is free for children (up to 6 years old).
Salar de Atacama
Big flamingos take center stage in the waters coming from the San Pedro River and animals like ducks, rheas, guanacos, vicuñas, llamas and alpacas live in its 3.000 square kilometers. The Salar de Atacama (Atacama salt field) is the biggest salt field in Chile and accounts for 25% of the world's lithium reserves. It is without a doubt one of the most incredible natural wonders in the region: white clusters of salt that extend in all directions, beautiful lagoons and the Licancabur and Lascar volcanoes always on the horizon.Places like Chaxa Lagoon stand out, located in the Los Flamencos National Reserve (CLP 2.500 entrance fee). This lagoon is a scenario of spectacular beauty, an authentic mirror in the heart of the salt fields with several communities of flamingos. This lagoon is located 70 km south of San Pedro and is accesible by private vehicles, therefore hitchhiking is an alternative if you wish to save money. Another place that stands out is the Cejar Lagoon, where your body will float due to the high concentration of salt. This is a beautiful lagoon and worth visiting. Unfortunately the entrance fee increased to CLP 15.000 recently, which can be a problem if you have a limited budget. The lagoon is located 25 km south of San Pedro, and is accesible by private vehicle and bicycle (bring lots of water and sunscreen!).ALMA Astronomical ObservatoryThe ALMA observatory, the largest astronomical project in existence, is a single telescope of revolutionary design, composed of 66 high precision antennas located at over 5.000 meters altitude in northern Chile. The telescope was designed to open an entirely new "window" on the universe, allowing scientists to unravel longstanding and important astronomical mysteries.The ALMA observatory opens its gates to anyone who wishes to visit the largest and most important astronomical project on earth. Visits are authorized Saturdays and Sundays in the morning. Visitors must register in advance by completing and submitting a form in this website.
Precautions and Recommendations
1. Best season: Anytime in the year, due to the privileged weather in the region. The best months to visit San Pedro in summer are November and December; fewer visitors and more economic accommodation alternatives. Winter presents lower temperatures and a more extreme temperature oscillation, not a problem if you have warm clothing. The autumn-winter period is considered low season, with less visitors and lower prices in general.2. Gastronomy: San Pedro has a wide gastronomical offer, with several restaurants for such a small town. You can find exquisite dishes of typical Chilean food, grilled meats and international food. If you are looking for an economic alternative, you can find places with menus that start from CLP 3.000. There are also stores where you can buy food for cooking.3. Gear and clothing: Regardless of the season it is recommended to bring light and warm clothing. You must bring shorts, t-shirts, swimming suit, towel, sunscreen and also jacket, gloves and sweater. The temperature oscillations are extreme, which you have to consider specially if you plan camping in San Pedro (you can get temperatures below 0°C at night). You have to bring a sleeping bag suitable for these conditions. Bringing trekking boots is also advisable in case you want to walk and explore through the salt fields and valleys surrounding San Pedro.4. Always quote prices: San Pedro has a wide offer of services for travelers, so it is always a good idea to quote prices and negotiate to get better prices.5. Accommodation: Although there are economic alternatives for accommodation, it is important to reserve in advance because if everything is full you can end up paying a lot more.6. Water: In case you plan to do trekking trails or bicycle rides it is fundamental to bring a lot of water (2 lts or more depending on the distance to be covered), since in general there are no sources of drinkable water along the way. San Pedro has access to potable water, although drinking bottled water is recommended.7. Altitude sickness: Some of the trips and excursions, like the trip to El Tatio geothermal field, take you to places of considerable altitude. Many people suffer altitude sickness: dizziness, exhaustion, headaches and nausea. This happens because of the organism's lack of adaptation to hypoxia (lack of oxygen). It is very important to keep hydrated and avoid eating a lot before these trips. Coca infusions are a local remedy to prevent the effects of altitude sickness.8. Keep exploring!: San Pedro has an infinite number of places and corners worth visiting. In this article we have presented only some of its highlights. You can spend easily entire weeks in San Pedro traveling and exploring without getting bored.